Meet Telling: Southwest Veteran Jason Calabrese

The Florida Humanities Council partners with The Telling Project, a national effort to bring veterans’ stories of military service to local communities. “Telling: Southwest Florida” features five veterans from the Army and Marine Corps. Three performances will occur at the end of the month in Naples and Fort Myers.

Each week, we will tell you a little more about each veteran. Today, we spotlight Jason Calabrese, a U.S. Army Sergeant.

Jason Calabrese joined the United States Army after the September 11th attacks in 2001. He served in the Army from 2002-2005. One of his initial deployments was to Germany. He is a current National Guard Reserve Member. He served in Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2004 to 2005 with the 1st Infantry Division.

“My experiences, and those who served with me, are unknown to most civilians state side,” Jason told us. “It’s

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Performance Schedule:

WGCU
Florida Gulf Coast University
10501 FGCU Blvd S, Fort Myers
Get Directions.

May 4 at 7pm

This program contains adult language and themes of war and combat violence. Audience discretion is advised.

akin to being an astronaut who just returned from the moon. People want to know what it was like, and I want to share so the memories are not lost.”

Jason uses his experience in the Army as an inspiration for writing. In addition to serving as a Human Resources Specialist with the 164th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, Jason is a professor of English at Florida Southwestern State College.

To learn more about Jason’s story, and to hear from four other military veterans, join us for Telling: Southwest Florida later this month.


Below is one of the poems Jason wrote about his military experience.

The Shores and Shoals of Iraq

From Baghdad’s straights to Port Fallujah,
the tides of the past have receded back
and Democracies’ setting sail to the
Shores and shoals inside of Iraq.

And back home we’re all on board
And greet our leader with applause.
We tow the line to distant shores
All for our Captain’s worthy cause.

He’s set the course ahead
And checked the maps and charts,
for us infidels whose minds are set
on winning Muslim hearts.

And if we’re stung by seaward pests
or bugs that bite when they attack,
we’ll use great big gaping nets
to catch those pesky gnats.

And we’ll sail ‘till the Captain yells
“Land ho, we’re safe from harm.”
And we’ll greet our Muslim brothers
with shaloms and open arms.

And the Sunni’s will dance and sing
and hold the Shiite’s hands
as the bells of liberty ring
bringing peace throughout the land.

And when insurgents exchange
olive branches for their guns
then and there we’ll know
our work is truly done.

And when we see a splashing tail
Or red sky at the dawn,
we’ll cast off for the next great whale
Ahab sets his sights upon.


Florida Students Recite Poetry

On Saturday, March 11, nearly fifty students representing schools and districts across the state gathered in Tampa for the state’s Poetry Out Loud competition. These young poets practiced their craft for months, first competing in classrooms and later with other students. School winners then traveled to the University of South Florida for the opportunity for scholarships, funds for schools to purchase poetry books, and the chance to compete in the national competition in April.

Each poet is required to memorize three poems of their choice, and all poets recite their first two poems. The top ten poets then recite their third poem in the final round in order to determine the state champions.

Physical presence, voice and articulation, appropriateness of dramatization, evidence of understanding, and accuracy of the recitation are some of the judgment criterion for presentations. Some of Tampa Bay’s biggest consumers of literature served as judges for the event. This included Dr. Helen Wallace, St. Petersburg’s Poet Laureate; Dr. Jay Hopler, a professor of English at the University of South Florida; and Maureen McDole, the founder of Keep St. Pete Lit.

And the winners are…

Reed Worrell, a senior from SAIL High School in Tallahassee, placed third in the competition. He says the top historical figure he would like to meet is Shakespeare. “I could go ask him how he thinks his plays should really be interpreted, and then I could tell people how it should really be done,” he argued.


Nia Getfield, a junior at Haines City High School, took second prize. Nia enjoys learning about the Harlem Renaissance and some of the era’s most famous figures like Marcus Garvey. As part of her future plans, Nia will apply to Marymount Manhattan College in New York City.


Alexis Schuster, a junior from Winter Park High School, was named Florida’s Poetry Out Loud champion. She recited the poems “Try to Praise the Mutilated World,” by Adam Zagajewski; “Sanctuary,” by Jean Valentine; and “The Days Gone By,” by James Whitcomb Riley.

Alexis enjoys writing, volunteering, and public speaking. Her favorite book is The Tenth of December, by George Sanders. “It is all very beautiful and intricate,” she says.  “And it does a wonderful job of creating worlds in a unique and strangely accessible way.”

When asked which historical era she would prefer to live in, Alexis insisted on the present. “Right now, the world is a terrible place in many ways. The only way to better the world is to start from now, not the past.”


We congratulate all poets, our runners up, and state champion for all their hard work. Alexis will compete in the national finals April 25-26 at The George Washington University for an opportunity to win a college scholarship. More info about the national competition can be found on the Poetry Out Loud website.


Congratulations Haiku Winners!

The public cast more than 760 ballots to select these top three winners in our Hurricane Haiku contest:

1st Place
Janie Seal

Paths and cones on maps
Pit of my stomach, churning
Please not here, or there.

2nd Place
Douglas Burkett

Forceful winds and rain
Nature’s violent tango
Tear up the dance floor

3rd Place
Jim Gustafson

If enough wind blows
It is given its own name
A breeze is nameless

Hurricane-Haiku-Winners-PageWe will send these poets Visa gift cards ($125 for first place, $75 for second, $50 for third) —- and feature them in our upcoming Florida Book Awards issue of FORUM, our statewide magazine (coming to you in September). If you don’t already receive FORUM, sign up for a complimentary one-year subscription, here.

Our great thanks go to the two runners up:

Robin Nigh
Grey sky like charcoal
Green palms are the painters brush
The storm is artful

Stacey Marquis
Spaghetti models
slice through the state, as we wait
and wait – for our fate

The competition was fierce. The five finalists were chosen from more than 350 haiku entries. Below, take a look at a larger sampling of this treasure trove of hurricane wisdom, wit, and lore. Each offers a personal insight and perspective on the unpredictable season we face together every year.

A Samplin’ of Haikus Submitted

Ragin roiling surf
Slate clouds hurl needle sharp rain
Winds howl: HURRICANE

Blown to Bits we are
Leaves in the teeth of the night
No ground below us

Perfect life Homestead
Newlywed then nearly dead
Hurricane Andrew

The strongest storms are
named for women because you
can’t survive either.

the shrill wind bellows
I will bury your condo
like Spanish treasure

Nautilus of wind,
you roar ashore and frappé
our false confidence.

First year bought flashlights
Fifth year, batteries and beer
Decades later, eh

Branches snap like bones,
Flood exhumes a shallow grave.
Fright night theatre.

Hurricane tattoo
Described the man perfectly
Calm eye. Destroyer

Waters slash, floods birth..
Rapacious winds whip to raze.
Memories scattered.

Hurricane winds lash
Action Weather alerts blast
To safety we dash

Florida summer
Days of never ending rain
Or a hurricane.

Stupid weather man,
why do you stand in the storm,
We know its raining!

They call me Tempest,
Furiously, intently,
I sweep clear my path

Hurricane winds lash
Action Weather alerts blast
To safety we dash

Deep eye of the storm
Calmly watches strong palm trees
Bow down to the wind

Category 5:
the atmosphere’s expletive.
Batten down or flee.

Wind plays warning flute
trees bend low, hope not to break,
in the dark, we wait

Breaths of running gods
Devour what my father built.
I watch. Mother turns.

She’s phenomenal!
Eerie calm, so still her eye;
sirens’ lullaby.


Hurricane Haiku VotingHurricane Haiku Ballot Box

Haiku ready? Come!
Cast your votes and have some fun
while we still have sun

It’s time to vote for your favorite Hurricane Haikus! Vote below by awarding stars to the five finalists. The three haikus with the most stars win prizes (Visa gift cards: First place $125; Second $75; Third $50) and get published in the upcoming Florida Book Awards issue of FORUM, our statewide magazine. Voting ends on July 17 at midnight EST. We’ll announce the winners in our July 21 ENews. (You’ll have an opportunity to sign up for FORUM and ENews after you click “Submit Vote” below.)

These five finalists were chosen from more than 350 entries in our Hurricane Haiku contest. We loved reading them! Each one is a nugget of personal experience and perception—witty, wise and, yes, woeful. Together, they create a sense of community about this unpredictable season we go through every year. We’ll share a wider sampling of haiku entries after the contest ends.


Write a Hurricane Haiku

It’s that hurricane time of year, Floridians—and that calls for a poem.
Express your thoughts in our Hurricane Haiku contest! The top three haikus win Visa gift cards: First place, $125; Second, $75; Third, $50. Deadline for entries is June 30 at midnight EST. Florida Humanities staff will select five finalists. Three winners will be chosen by a public vote on our website. Voting begins July 11 and ends July 17 at midnight EST. We’ll announce the winners on July 21 and publish them in the fall issue of FORUM, our statewide magazine.

Here’s how it works:

  • Write a hurricane-themed haiku in our online entry form below.
  • Your poem must follow haiku format. (First line, 5 syllables; Second line, 7 syllables; Third line, 5 syllables.)
  • Only one entry is allowed per person.
  • Only Floridians are eligible to participate.

To kick this off, we wrote some haikus to inspire you:

Wind whistling by
sideways rain slices my eye
Party time–stop by!
–By Brigitta

breeze turns to tempest
Mother Nature is angry
fear like flood rising
–By Jacqui

Lights out, matches wet,.
Roof blown off. Wind took the cat.
Gosh, I want a beer.
–by Jon


Hurricane Haiku Entry Form: