Monica Haller

War Veterans Book Workshop 2010

by Julia Bradshaw

War Veterans Book Workshop is a poignant, quiet place to be in South Hall. I was lucky to visit on Thursday afternoon with few visitors around, so I could spend time with one or two of the books produced by the veterans in this intense workshop. About five veterans of recent wars or who had suffered some form of trauma during their military service took part in the workshop. They each created materials, handwritten diarist entries and longer pieces of prose, which, together with photographs and mementos, they scanned into a computer. These materials were then brought into a software template Haller provided. Each left the workshop with a bound book of their experiences. One was almost two inches thick and filled with memories, routine events and slippages between the factual and the emotional.

Installation image of some of the pages in process created by Pamela J. Olson with Monica Haller

Workshop assistant and writer Patricia Briggs said that Haller worked closely with each veteran. Every scrap of paper was scrutinized and discussions held as to what each person was trying to communicate. Pieces of paper were pinned to a board and then cut in half and marriages between one train of thought and another were developed. This was a very intense process and the results show this. Some of the books on display are extremely heart-wrenching. These men and women suffered death of close friends and relatives and one participant writes of a 1983 rape that, to this day, still needs processing. Each veteran was carefully screened prior to taking part in the workshop and Haller also had medical staff on call, should the process of working through some of the issues be too traumatic.

Jim Wilson’s book “Objects for Deployment tells of his five years in the military from a 2004 West Point graduate and recalls his time in the service which included tours of duty in Pakistan and Iraq. The book feels matter-of-fact and factual. This is an honest account, with some history and technical details for the non-military person.  Pamela J. Olson also took part in the workshop and writes of a traumatic event that to this day haunts her. This book is particularly poignant and I was struck by the emotion created by some of the simple page layouts, where the reader can leave the page with two or more thoughts. The juxtapositions and scraps of handwritten text felt like poetry at times. Olson writes to her reader “Now, I am talking about this trauma out loud, to you, in a safe place. This is the first time I have ever done so in detail… I want to be a whole person. Up until now, my life has been fragmented, like my memories”.

Page layout from Pamela J. Olson’s Book.

Participant Ian P. Sharpe gives a different reason for writing. In his book he answers the questions he is most commonly asked such as “Why did you enlist?” and includes photographs and his own questions: “They give you awards for surviving attacks. They give you achievement medals that arrive three years later. Does this signify a successful military career? Is this what it means to be recognized?”

Visiting South Hall, I suggest that you carve out a quiet thirty minutes in South Hall and sit down and read some of these experiences. Haller is creating a terrific archive of veterans’ stories that, because of her mature guidance and unflinching feedback, is incredibly enriching. You will be able to meet some of the participants and hear their stories on Saturday 18th September from 1pm – 4pm in South Hall.

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