Free Poetry for Veterans

Providence’s Frequency Writers hosts a free, six-week poetry workshop for veterans of war.

A while back, poet Tina Cane read a short story composed almost entirely of undefined military acronyms. Never having served before, Cane felt alienated as a reader. But there was something powerful about it, too.

“Every niche has its own shared vocabulary,” she says.

For the first time ever, Cane and Providence-based Frequency Writers will encourage veterans across generations to explore their common language through poetry. Beginning April 6, Frequency hosts a free, six-week poetry program built for women and men who have served the United States at home and abroad.

Cane, who will lead the class, says her biological father served in Vietnam. He wasn’t a constant in her life, something she attributes to “the aftermath of what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder,” she says. “It definitely imprinted my view on the real impacts of war.”

And over her lifetime, Cane says she’s felt disconnected from the soldiers fighting overseas. “This constant influx of information makes us aware of the details of crises, but there’s nothing to do with the information at that time,” she says.

To get a better sense of their perspective, Cane read literature by recent veterans of war and, eventually, she came to the determination that all veterans should have the opportunity to write. “Everyone starts somewhere,” she says. “Part of it is my interest as a writer, part of it is my interest as a citizen, and there seems to be a need for it."

The workshop, held at School One in Providence on Wednesday evenings from April 6 to June 15, invites veterans to write about whatever inspires them, from their experiences in combat to civilian life. “I feel that people have other roles in their lives they might want to explore: being a parent, if they’re stuck in waitressing job….” Cane says. “The content is not specifically geared toward combat experience or the armed forces.”

Cane would like to see intergenerational veterans with all levels of writing experience enroll in the class. “I’d like to case a wide net,” she says. “Veterans are coming from all walks of life. Some may be serious writers and some may have never written before. Some may want to write about war and some may only want to work with form — the craft of writing, not necessarily the content. My job is to facilitate that, from a writer’s perspective, and be sensitive to the needs of the group from different angles.”

Frequency is applying for grants to support the workshop, but board member Janaya Kizzie says it’s important to offer it for free, either way.

“Frequency, as a nonprofit, as an organization trying to build a network of writers — we didn’t want money to be a factor. We didn’t want those excluding factors to be a force in this,” she says. “We will provide every means we can to make things comfortable, safe and expressive for veterans, and we’re excited to see what they will bring to the class and the community as well.”

According to the workshop description, each class will center around a piece of writing, either by a participant or by a published poet, which will serve as a springboard for original writing and peer discussions. Participants may also attend a reading by poet and Iraq War veteran Brian Turner at Moses Brown in late April.

“I guess when people have been through something, writing is supposed to be cathartic,” Cane says. "But I’d really like to make people feel like they know more about what goes into good writing and to feel more capable exploring it and then creating with it.”


Interested in participating? Email to register. Learn more about this workshop and other Frequency programs here.