Writing Trauma: A Workshop for Veterans and their Families

Facilitated by author and 2016-17 Rachel Rivers-Coffey Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing Bruce Weigl / Sponsored by the Appalachian Veterans Arts & Humanities Collective
Wednesday, September 28, 2016 / 4:00pm-7:00pm
PSU Parkway Ballroom

Writing Trauma: A Workshop for Veterans and their Families is designed to help veterans and their families take charge of traumatic memories, lessening the control those memories may exert.

Describing the workshop, facilitator Bruce Wiegl wrote, “Writing about personal trauma is a difficult thing to do, but almost 30 years of experience working with veterans of several wars has taught me that it is also a powerful tool that can be restorative and even life-saving. To accomplish this, and introduce you to this idea, we’ll all participate in an exercise designed to put you in the position to take charge of your traumatic memories so that they no longer have control over you. We’ll also focus on making the writing of these traumas a literary and artistic problem rather than an emotional problem.”

Joseph Bathanti, former North Carolina poet laureate and professor of creative writing, shared his thoughts about Weigl and the power of his workshop: “To my mind, Bruce Weigl is the most prominent, the most searing, soldier who came home from that (the Vietnam War) and starting writing poems. As Weigl states in his best-selling prose memoir, ‘The Circle of Hanh,’ ‘The paradox of my life as a writer is that the war ruined my life and in return gave me my voice.’ I find that in so many writers’ work, those just getting started, and those as decorated as Weigl, that the very experiences that haunt, even scar, them are precisely the stories that ultimately liberate them. I’ve certainly seen that up close, and in breathtaking ways, with the combat veterans I’ve personally taught in writing workshops.”

Parking is free on campus after 5 p.m. We recommend the Library Parking Deck on College Street (from King Street, turn down College Street at the First Baptist Church). To reach the Student Union, cross College Street and follow the walkway between the chiller plant and the University Bookstore, passing the Post Office and entering the Student Union on the second floor. For further parking information or a map, please see http://parking.appstate.edu.

About Bruce Weigl

Soon after turning eighteen, Bruce Weigl enlisted in the Army and served in Vietnam for one year, beginning in December 1967. He was awarded the Bronze Star and returned to his hometown of Lorain, Ohio, where he enrolled in Lorain County Community College. As Weigl states in his best-selling prose memoir, The Circle of Hanh (2000), “The paradox of my life as a writer is that the war ruined my life and in return gave me my voice.” Weigl earned his BA at Oberlin College, his MA at the University of New Hampshire, and his PhD at the University of Utah.

Weigl is the author or editor, translator or co-translator of over twenty books of poetry, criticism, and memoir, including The Abundance of Nothing (2012), which was a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, The Unraveling Strangeness (2002), Archeology of the Circle: New and Selected Poems (1999), After the Others (1999), and Song of Napalm (1988), which was also nominated for a Pulitzer. He has also written several collections of critical essays, has published translations of Vietnamese and Romanian poetry, and has also edited or co-edited several anthologies of war poetry, including Writing Between the Lines: An Anthology on War and Its Social Consequences (1997) and Mountain River: Vietnamese Poetry from the Wars, 1948–1993; A Bilingual Collection (1998). Weigl’s own poetry has been widely anthologized, including in Best American Poetry (1994), The Morrow Anthology of Younger American Poets (1985), Against Forgetting: Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness (1993), and American Alphabets: 25 Contemporary Poets (2006).

Weigl is past president of the Associated Writing Programs, chaired the judging panel in poetry for the National Book Award. He has won numerous awards for his work, including the Robert Creeley Award, the Paterson Poetry Prize, the Poet’s Prize from the Academy of American Poets, the Cleveland Arts Prize, and two Pushcart Prizes. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Yaddo Foundation.and the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry. In 2010 Weigl received the Peace Medal from the Vietnamese Writers Association.

After teaching at Penn State for many years, Weigl returned to Lorain County Community College where he is currently Distinguished Professor in Arts and Humanities and directs the Creative Writing Institute.

Weigl also serves as the 2016-17 Rachel Rivers-Coffey Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at Appalachian State University.

Selected Books

The Abundance of Nothing - Available from Northwestern University Press
The Abundance of Nothing

By Bruce Weigl

Throughout his award-winning career, Bruce Weigl has proven him-self to be a poet of extraordinary emotional acuity and consummate craftsmanship. In The Abundance of Nothing, these qualities are on full display, animating and informing poems that combine rich, metaphoric imagery with direct, powerful language. Deftly weaving history and everyday experience, Weigl transports readers from the front lines of the Vietnam War and all the tangled cultural and emotional scenes of that time to the slow winds of the American Midwest that softly ease the voice of the veteran returning home. Though the poems struggle with themes of mortality and illness, violence and forgiveness, the poet's voice never wavers in its meditative calm, poise, and compassion. Elegiac yet agile, ethereal yet embodied, The Abundance of Nothing is a work of searching openness, generous insight, and remarkable grace.

Available from Northwestern University Press

The Unraveling Strangeness - Available from Grove Atlantic
The Unraveling Strangeness

By Bruce Weigl

The Unraveling Strangeness represents the record of a man in the middle of his life who comes back to his home after being away for twenty-five years. It is a moving reflection on the deep and abiding connections to place, family, and old friends.

“[Weigl’s] subjects reveal a great deal of wisdom about life. Weigl is a meditative poet without being sententious; he writes about nature and death without melodrama or pity.” - Ken Tucker, The Baltimore Sun

Available from Grove Atlantic

The Circle of Hanh - Available from Grove Atlantic
The Circle of Hanh

By Bruce Weigl

In this piercingly honest memoir, Bruce Weigl, who has established himself as one of our finest American poets, explores the central experience of his life as a writer and a man: the Vietnam War, which tore his life apart and in return gave him his poetic voice. Weigl knew nothing about Vietnam before enlisting in 1967, but he saw a free ride out of a difficult childhood among volatile people. The war completely changed his life; there was a before and then one irrevocable after. In the before, the injured and beaten always had a chance; in the after, young men lay in his arms with throats torn by shrapnel, pleading with him not to tell their mothers how they had died. In the before, Weigl pretended to be dead in mock battles with his friends; in the after, he watched as a boy from his unit whispered to Vietnamese corpses while caring for their inert bodies as if they were dolls. Weigl returned from Vietnam unprepared to cope with life in the aftermath of war. One day he was squatting in a bunker, high on marijuana and waiting out a rocket attack; two days later he stood in his parents’ house, breathing the old air. For years, he struggled to adjust, sleeping in different rooms each night and leaping at a person’s throat if a hand reached to touch him in his sleep. He turned to alcohol, drugs, and women in an attempt to escape his confused purgatory, but only found himself alone, watching other people’s lives from the shadows. Eventually finding his way back into the world after a long time in a zone between being and not being, Weigl drew solace from poetry and, later, from a family.

Yet, it is not until a harrowing journey back to Hanoi, to adopt a Vietnamese daughter, that Weigl is fully delivered from the brutal legacy of the war. This act of salvation and recompense to a nation he helped to destroy lies at the heart of his memoir and infuses it with a profound sense of humanity and transcendence. Moving from childhood to the war to a final act of compassion and hope, The Circle of Hanh is a powerful recreation of a deeply haunted life and, ultimately, a stunning work of redemption.

Available from Grove Atlantic

Song of Napalm - Available from Grove Atlantic
Song of Napalm

By Bruce Weigl

Song of Napalm is more than a collection of beautifully wrought, heart-wrenching and often very funny poems. It’s a narrative, the story of an American’s innocent’s descent into hell and his excruciating return to life on the surface. Weigl may have written the best novel so far about the Vietnam War, and along the way a dozen truly memorable poems.” - Russell Banks

Available from Grove Atlantic


Many thanks to the following partners and sponsors: the Office of Equity, Diversity and Compliance; the Office of Academic Affairs; the College of Arts and Sciences; the Office of the Provost; the Military Affairs Committee; the Department of English; the Office of Multicultural Student Development; the University Bookstore and The New Public House & Hotel.