Complicity is a theme that runs through all my poems,” says Greg Delanty, an Irish-born poet, recent Guggenheim Fellow and professor at St. Michael's College in Burlington, Vt. “We're involved in things we don't want to be—killing people, hurting people.” So when he saw an exhibit of the Combat Paper Project—a collective of American war veterans— earlier this year, in which paper, prints and broadsides made from military uniforms were displayed, he was immediately drawn to both the beauty and symbolic possibilities of paper cut and beaten from the clothing of war. So taken that he talked with project cofounder Drew Cameron, a 27-year-old vet, about publishing a collection of his poems, The New Citizen Army, on the paper.
At the time, says Delanty, he hadn't been planning another book. He was in the midst of two projects: one for Norton tentatively titled Living Poets Translate Anglo-Saxon Poems; the other for New Island Press in Dublin, Ireland, The Selected Poems of Seán ´O Riordáin in Translation. But, he recalls thinking, “The paper is fantastic and there's a suitability about it, to print the poems on uniforms.” He especially liked the idea of marrying the paper with some of his newer work, like the title poem, “The New Citizen Army,” about the “civic veterans” who get up every day and don society's uniform. More than two-thirds of the poems in the collection are new and have never been published in a book.
For Cameron, a former sergeant in the artillery who enlisted in the army at 18 and served four years of active duty, including eight months in Iraq, and another two in the National Guard in Vermont, the chance to create a more commercial publishing program was part of his long-range goals. He had learned the art of papermaking from his father (retired air force), who studied it at the Iowa University Center for the Book, and then had been reawakened to the possibilities of paper at a class in Vermont. Initially, Cameron and Drew Mattot had started the Combat Paper Project as a way to reclaim the experience of war. Veterans of the Iraq War, Desert Storm, Bosnia, Vietnam, Korea and WW II have all participated to date.
Through the Combat Paper Project, Cameron has created artist portfolios and limited editions of two, three or five copies. And he has contributed his own writing to two books—a 30-page chapbook, Move, Shoot and Communicate (2007), and a longer collection of writing and art, Re-Making Sense (2008)—both published through Warrior Writers, a nonprofit group, which, like Combat Paper, grew out of Iraq Veterans Against the War. “There are a lot of different layers for myself and other vets,” says Cameron, who sees both papermaking and books as a way to transform anger and guilt and to broadcast IVAW's message. “It's also about trying to make sense of the horrific things in the world. We can't do it alone. Otherwise we're isolated and self-destructive.”
Cameron travels extensively to conduct workshops at colleges, high schools and art galleries. What appeals to him about Delanty's poetry, he says, is that it, too, seeks to build bridges and deconstruct walls. As part of their collaboration, Delanty secured a grant from St. Michael's to cover the cost of the first printing of 1,000 copies of The New Citizen Army. Combat Paper Press will handle marketing and sales, as well as the layout, design, printing and hand-binding of the 60-page books, which will have covers made from combat paper. Delanty is willing to tour to help promote the book. “This, for me, is the best book I've ever done. I'd love it if it works for them,” he says.
With the publication of The New Citizen Army in September, Cameron, who received a degree in forestry last year and also operates a paper mill, the People's Republic of Paper, will be able to add one more element to the work he already does making combat paper. “Combat Paper Press brings the last additional component of our mill. We're interested in paper, print and books. It's really exciting,” he says. And he's already thinking about how to publish the press's second book, a collection of poems by his friend John Turner, a former Marine.