5 Questions with Poet Lisa Stice

Editor's note: The Aiming Circle is launching a monthly series of short, 5-question interviews with military-writing practitioners. For the first few installments, we'll focus our attention on 21st century war poets—practitioners who are breaking metaphors, formats, and stereotypes, while offering fresh narratives and observations.

Lisa Stice is a poet, mother, military spouse, the author of the collection "Uniform" (Aldrich Press, 2016), and a Pushcart Prize nominee. She volunteers as a mentor with the Veterans Writing Project; as an associate poetry editor with 1932 Quarterly; and as a contributor for The Military Spouse Book Review. She received a BA in English literature from Mesa State College (now Colorado Mesa University), and an MFA in creative writing and literary arts from the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Q1: How would you describe your poetic persona or authorial voice to someone who hasn't yet read your work?

Lisa Stice: I'm stronger and braver in my poems than I often feel in real life. My authorial voice is a conglomeration of my inner voice—all those thoughts and fears that are difficult to say aloud—and a wrangling and taking control of the outside voices of others, who impact and interact with my life. Because my inner world and outer world are sometimes at odds, my syntax can be fragmented at times, and the diction draws from my own lexicon, along with military terms and influences from other poets of conflict.

Q2: How did you come upon poetry as a regular practice? What do you find particularly motivating, rewarding, and/or useful about the form?

Lisa Stice: Although I'd written poetry since elementary school and taken workshop classes in my undergrad years, poetry didn't become a regular practice until I reached my thirties. I had to mature to fully appreciate it. Poetry is like contemporary dance; it heavily relies on emotion and what we keep hidden inside us. I needed to live a bit.

I love that poetry is less about what's happening and more about those psychological forces that make us human. The surface details are just the vessel that carries the heart of the poem. Poetry brings focus to my life. I can sit down and give attention to one thing, which helps me bring clarity to what I'm struggling to make sense of, or finds the humor in what was I stressing about, or allows me to feel more comfortable to actively confront an issue.

Q3: What role(s) does your poetry potentially play in "bridging the civil-military gap"? What does that phrase personally mean to you?

Lisa Stice: I see the "civilian-military gap" as a product of a volunteer military. Some civilians don't personally know anyone in the service, which means that we need war writing more than ever. For some, there's an assumption that only service members and veterans can write war poetry and that those poems should only live in the war zone, or in the fresh return home from deployment. In fact, we all experience the war in some way. A civilian can have a personal response to news reports. A spouse, like myself, can provide the perspective of the home front. I'm also beginning to see more collections from veteran poets that reveal other sides of their lives.

As a military spouse, I'm in that in-between zone. I'm a civilian who is regularly exposed to military culture. Because of that, my poems include influences from both: bathing my daughter while we sing "The Ants Go Marching" with distant mortar training providing accompaniment; combining language from classic children's books with words from Sun Tzu's "The Art of War"; worrying about recent news of a helicopter crash while I'm on my way to a dentist appointment. The familiar helps make the less familiar more accessible to broader audience.

Q4: If you could send one of your poems to a reader 100 years in the future, which would it be and why? Also, who do you imagine that reader might be?

Lisa Stice: "Brides and Grooms" from "Uniform" marks the spot in my life when I discovered accomplishments don't have to be grandiose, and that I can't expect life to follow my plan.

My audience would be the same group at three different stages in life: They'll first read "Brides and Grooms" in high school American Lit. Because they're the life-has-been-pretty-easy kids, whose biggest concerns are classes and extracurriculars, who see their futures as direct paths to dream careers. Because the most tragic thing that's ever happened to them will be being forced to read "this stupid poem," they'll swear off reading anything written by Lisa Stice ever again.

The same group will read "Brides and Grooms" again in undergrad survey of lit, and because their lives haven't changed all that much since high school, they believe their plan for life is right on course. The most tragic thing that's ever happened to them will be to again read "this stupid poem," they'll write essays attacking my poem. (The essays will receive Cs, making them hate it all the more.) Then, years later, when everything turns out far differently than expected (not necessarily bad, just different), and they've experienced true tragedy and loss, and their fridges are covered in kids' crayon art, they'll come across "Brides and Grooms" again while flipping through their old survey of lit book. This time they'll say, "It's so true." And they'll decide to keep that book on their shelves.

Q5: What single piece of writing (or reading) advice would you think helpful to share with other practitioners of military-themed storytelling?

Lisa Stice: I have two pieces of advice:

1. Don't think your perspective must only come from the combat zone in order to be count as war/military writing. We need to hear more voices, to create a more complete historical record and literature: Contributions from the combat zone, service members in non-deploying jobs, veterans drawing comparisons between past and current conflicts, the homes of family and friends of service members, civilians who pay attention to the news, and anyone else who is touched either directly or indirectly by war.

2. War can be a heavy and emotionally difficult topic to carry over the course of many pages. Including some humorous moments in the mix is good for our hearts, and our readers.