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This literary journal focuses on active-duty military and veterans

ISSUED — a literary journal featuring poetry, memoir, fiction and more, written by active-duty military, veterans and the friends and family members impacted by their service — is launching its second annual issue.

The journal aims to capture the nuanced realities of military life in the words of those who live it. There is a launch event at 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 15, at Changing Hands Phoenix.

Editor Rosemarie Dombrowski and managing editor Virgil Connor — an Air Force veteran and fiction writer with firsthand experience of writing’s potential to transform lives — spoke more about it with The Show.

Full conversation

VIRGIL CONNOR: I myself have PTSD related to incidents that happened in the military and I have worked really hard, kind of just being alone with my thoughts and writing is one of those things that's helped with that because it's where I can sit and just either keyboard smash or put a pen to paper and really get those thoughts down. And sometimes I write characters and it's like, here's my trauma, but like, let's crank it up to 11 and break the knob off. You know, because, you know, you want that sort of validation and I know that my experience, other people have maybe gone through the same thing and maybe they're alone with their own thoughts and they feel a little bit less crazy or uncertain or they feel validated that they're not alone.

SAM DINGMAN: So question for you both. On the website for ISSUED, you say, "We especially value stories about gender and sexuality, BIPOC experiences, physical and mental health, combat enlisting and separating family and relationships and returning to civilian life." Why hone in on those areas specifically?

ROSEMARIE DOMBROWSKI: The stories that have been in the marketplace, that have dominated the marketplace contemporarily, historically, have been the stories of white men. And, you know, we also wanted to avoid trauma porn, for lack of a better phrase. These are full lives of, of not just the enlisted folks or the officers, but their families, their extended families, their friends. So we wanted to make sure that we were encouraging stories about, you know, the entirety of that ecosystem, of that community and how it's impacted as well because then that makes this a journal for everybody.

DINGMAN: I'm really glad you brought this up because there are tropes to military storytelling also. And a lot of times those tropes are, as you pointed out, stories of like brave white men. A lot of times those tropes are valor. And the other thing that I think is, is interesting about the website is you say, we believe in the power of sharing both our suffering and our joy. And the other trope that comes to mind for me is there's a someone in the family who served. And it's like, but they don't know, talk about it, they don't talk about it. And here you are with this publication that encourages people to talk about it. So tell me about some of the narratives in the pages of ISSUED that might surprise people or that they might not be as familiar with.

CONNOR: One of the things that we're doing more in the future. We've got one this year is we're finding artifacts. And for me, there is like a level of joy and it might be a little bittersweet at the same time. But they are artifacts that either come from a family member that serve or someone that they knew while they served. We have one right now that's a poem that was given to a veteran in the Vietnam War and it was given to them by a person that passed away over there. And this is the first time that that poem is really coming out into the world and we have no idea who the person was that passed.

DINGMAN: So the poem itself is the artifact.


DOMBROWSKI: We don't know who the author is. It's called, "The poem by the unknown soldier," which we love.

CONNOR: And I think that there is a beauty and love and sadness in that at the same time, that someone whose voice was lost to time has been found, at least in that little piece.

DINGMAN: Speaking of artifacts, I read a little bit of the piece "When the War Was Young" by Brian Mackenhaupt. I don't know if I'm pronouncing that correctly, but there's a, there's an interesting artifact in that piece as well, which is this laminated slip of paper that he's given before he goes out on this mission. It's called a blood chit. And it says I'm an American. I do not speak your language. I, I will not harm you. I bear no malice towards your people. I guess the idea is if you're captured, you would show this to somebody in hopes that you would be taken care of. What was interesting to you all as editors about that, that piece? Maybe not, not necessarily the blood chit specifically, but about that piece?

CONNOR: The artifact itself to me spoke to a sort of, I don't know, like this reality that we go to other countries and we aren't expected to really learn much if any of the language. And they literally give someone a piece of paper with the language of the country that they're in, and they're just like, OK, you know, things go bad and you're by yourself and you're having to surrender and you're hoping they don't shoot, you, give them this.

DINGMAN: It's kind of absurd.


DOMBROWSKI: And it's a practice that goes back to at least World War II. You know, this attempt to kind of communicate our shared humanity. Brian's piece though, I believe is about his time in Afghanistan as a peacekeeper. He's there on a peacekeeping mission. So it's particularly ironic in that context.

DINGMAN: That does get to something else that I was curious to know from you both is, you mentioned that you don't want this to be a journal of trauma porn. But by necessity, encoded in the mission you do need to tell or want to tell some stories of traumatic experiences, sad things that have happened. So how do you find that line? If someone sends in a submission that is heavier, that is about a more traumatic experience.

DOMBROWSKI: I'm I'm gonna say this and then you can jump in however you want to jump in, Virgil. One of our Vietnam veterans, who happens to be a retired ASU professor, wrote a poem about his time on a ship during the Vietnam war and seeing a young man be beheaded on a deck. At the end of the poem, he is a much older man in therapy trying to come to terms with this. So that kind of full circle was really important to me. I think we've balanced trauma and recovery, loss and reclamation and hope. For me, that's just a microcosmic example of what I think the whole journal strives to do.

CONNOR: We think that it's important to acknowledge some of those struggles and some of the awful things that have happened to people while also attempting to show a way out because the military industrial complex never stops. And one of the deepest things that I do love about the journal ultimately is it's the question that isn't necessarily asked out loud, but it's, what does it mean to be human in this system? Because that is what we're looking for, is the human experience.

KJZZ’s The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ’s programming is the audio record.

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Sam Dingman is a reporter and host for KJZZ’s The Show. Prior to KJZZ, Dingman was the creator and host of the acclaimed podcast Family Ghosts.