Planting the Oar


THE TELLING PROJECT is pleased to develop PLANTING THE OAR, a new initiative enabled by a generous grant from the NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES as part of their “Dialogues on the Experience of War” program.

PLANTING THE OAR will continue and deepen conversations initiated by Telling Project productions around the country by facilitating discussion groups that will trace the theme of “homecoming” through iconic literary texts ranging from Homer’s The Odyssey to the present. These texts will be placed in conversation with a Telling Project script and performance.

The PLANTING THE OAR initiative takes its names from Odysseus’s final gesture in Homer’s epic. The homecoming veteran of the Trojan War is commanded by Tiresias,

Carry your well-planed oar until you come
to a race of people who know nothing of the sea….
whose food is never seasoned with salt, strangers all
to ships with their crimson prows and long slim oars,
wings that make ships fly. And here is your sign –
unmistakable, clear, so clear you cannot miss it:
when another traveler falls in with you and calls
that weight across your shoulder a fan to winnow grain,
then plant your bladed, balanced oar in the earth….
then journey home and render noble offerings up
to the deathless gods who rule the vaulting skies,
to all the gods in order.                                                                                                                               – The Odyssey, Book 11, Trans. R. Fagles.

This final ritual has deep resonance for veterans transitioning from military service to civilian life. Implicit are dynamics many must face, carrying with them weight and knowledge that the civilian world to which they return can scarce imagine.

PLANTING THE OAR will draw on Odysseus’s journey to prompt crucial questions: How are veterans understood by civilians? How are civilians understood by veterans? What does the act of planting the oar mean? Does it mean literally leaving behind of warrior-mentality, or does it imply something more complex? If so what? Is it possible, necessary, desirable, for veterans to simply “move on” from their service? Is closure possible or is it a comforting myth? What does it mean to be a “veteran” and how are they understood to negotiate that identity in a civilian world?

PLANTING THE OAR will train Discussion Leaders in communities across the United States, and will facilitate the 8 week discussion group program.

If you would like to know more about PLANTING THE OAR, email Project Director Max Rayneard –