As National Poetry Month comes to a wrap, we had the opportunity to discuss the power of poetry with 2022 Tillman Scholar, Anthony Ornelaz. After enlisting in the U.S. Air Force in 2006, Anthony served in Turkey, Italy, Kuwait, and Germany and is now at Syracuse University, where he’s pursuing an MFA in creative writing. His work—a collection of poetry—centers on military service, America’s nuclear apparatus, and his involvement in and proximity to both. Anthony hopes to inspire those who do not normally occupy artistic spaces. He is also striving to carve out new spaces in the field of poetry that allows for new perspectives and experiences to exist and flourish.
As we caught up with Anthony, he shares that he poetry was a natural passion from an early age, without a singular source of inspiration.
“The overall feeling to write started early and remained constant. Writing poetry felt as natural as breathing or sleeping, as such, it just happened,” said Anthony. “If there was an inspiration, it came from the idea that I could express myself through poetry. That the poems I create are not necessarily art, but just building blocks of expression and extensions of the quiet parts of myself. Although, I think it would be cool to have a singular moment to point to with a smile and say, ‘My origin story is….’”
Anthony references poets Brian Turner and Czeslaw Milosz. He notes their work in Turner’s Here, Bullet and Milosz’s Postwar Polish Poetry transcends language, with both demonstrating a powerful, yet painful, human experience.
‘Whether an experience is good or bad, time and space are needed to understand its impact. Poetry is that space,” Anthony said. “The ability to reflect, articulate, and perhaps even one day share something impactful through a poem is cathartic. The military experience, broadly conceived and broadly connected, is complex, varied, and generational—and by its nature, the poem has the room to accommodate it all and do safely and without judgment. I think we, as Tillman Scholars and the larger military community, tend to carve our own paths through the world, and creating space for poetry is just another tool to expand and explore the self while progressing in the world.”
While his work primarily focuses the military experience, Anthony sees the potential for impact for his work in the civilian community as well.
“I would like fellow veterans and those in service to see a little bit of themselves in my work. And if they do see themselves, they feel a sense of literary connection and understanding to my work. Or, alternatively, if they don’t see or feel themselves in my work, they use that as a jumping-off point to start writing themselves” he said. “Regarding the civilian community, I would like them to see that the military community is diverse in people and experience. That there are profound beauties in the mundaneness of our service. And that the invisible bonds we form with one another extend through time and across great distances.”
Through his training, Anthony has worked in interpretation and translation, seeing it as an amazing opportunity to help others hone their art. His passion for poetry goes deeper than expressing himself to a place where he wants to be an advocate and resource for others on their artistic journey.
“Art often informs art, and there is a lot of room to make meaningful and artistic connections. I think it must begin with looking at yourself and assessing the things you enjoy. Whether it is music or painting or writing or dancing or… you get the point, that’s where you start,” he said. “Then you find out how the things you enjoy are created, who creates them, and where they tend to exist.”
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