Harrison City woman explores military relationship with poetry
When her boyfriend was deployed to Afghanistan, Jenna Szypulski wrote poems to cope with her fears over his missions to provide security for fuel deliveries to U.S. bases.
But the writing didn't stop after Matt Pyle's seven-month tour ended in October 2011. Though they no longer were separated by nine time zones, Szypulski's writing reveals the estrangement she felt as he readjusted to life on American soil.
Szypulski's anxiety, loneliness and confusion are captured in “Fully Loaded, Automatic: Poems From the Homefront,” her collection of 26 poems published last month by the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg's new Littleburg Press. It's available for purchase through Amazon.
“Fully Loaded, Automatic” is the first book from Littleburg, which was developed through a class last semester to showcase student writing. Undergraduate students edited the manuscript, which Szypulski, 24, of Harrison City submitted as her senior project before graduating in spring 2012 with a degree in English writing.
Szypulski admits the poems are a raw, diary-like examination of a tumultuous point in their three-year relationship.
“It can be something that I can hold in my hands and tell about this chapter in my life and his life,” she said. “I think (readers will) take from it the amount of emotion that someone would have for someone else. What I wrote was what I felt. I didn't sugar-coat it.”
Though the poems give a peek into their private lives, Pyle, 26, said he supports her writing. He said he thought it was a good idea for Szypulski to put her emotions on paper, but he wasn't sure at first if he wanted to read them.
Pyle said he tried to discourage her from watching too much television news about the war, but she read 12 books about Afghanistan and Iraq while he was away in Helmand Province. He called her about once a week, but told her little about the daily dangers of being in a war zone.
“That's a lot to put on the family and her,” said Pyle, who served with Military Police Company Bravo, a Marine unit based in North Versailles. “I didn't want to have her worrying any more than she already was. For me, it was just ‘worry about myself,' while she was worried about me.”
In one poem, “Trek,” Szypulski wrote of a jog she took while Pyle was abroad. It describes her as whispering to herself: “Are you safe? When will you call? Do you miss me?”
Upon his return, she grapples with a lack of attention and affection. As she longs to be closer to him, she joins him at a shooting range in a couple of poems.
In another, the title references poet Bruce Weigl, a Vietnam veteran and writing professor at Lorain County Community College in Ohio. When she asks how to “get my soldier to talk to me,” the piece says Weigl's answer is: “Just love him. Love him. He'll talk when he's ready.”
Lori Jakiela, the Trafford resident who is the faculty advisor for Littleburg, said Szypulski gives a voice to those who are left behind when a loved one is serving overseas. She said she hopes the book gives a boost to Szypulski's professional writing life.
“They're so timely, and I think she's going to get a wider readership than she could have gotten otherwise. She's writing things that are going to matter to a lot of other people, and I think they're going to connect with that.”
Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400 ext. 8671 or firstname.lastname@example.org.