When our government was on the verge of invading Iraq in January of 2003, how did you feel? How would you characterize yourself at that time?
I was feeling pretty upset because it seemed like we were on our way to going to war and there wasn't anything anybody could do about it. It seemed like a done deal from the outset. It seemed to me that nobody wanted it—nobody. Every person I talked to didn't want it, but it appeared it was going to happen anyway. And it was frustrating. At that time, I wasn't really a political person per se, I wasn't what you'd call an activist. I was interested in what was going on in the world. I tried to participate to a certain level, but I had been pretty lazy about it. I tried to know what was going on, but that's about it. I had never been out in the streets before this time.
Could you tell us about how you describe yourself in the poem? Did you think of yourself as someone whose writing would be read and heard?
The description I gave of myself was something like "an ordinary person in an ordinary place." The reason I used that as my description was partly because I wanted it to be understood that it wasn't just crazy left-wing people who were against the war. And it wasn't just people who were activists or people who had an agenda or something. It was ordinary people in ordinary places—people you know who have jobs and homes and lives just like everybody else. And we ordinary people weren't really happy with what was going on.
Do you think the poem connects so well with people because it is written from an ordinary place?
I think people can relate to the poem on different levels. Part of why it seems to touch people is because it came from a normal person, not some highfalutin’, special somebody. Just me. I think it helps to connect one individual to other individuals as opposed to having some person on high dictating the message down to others. It's just all of us communicating with each other.
In another part of the poem you said: “I am sorry for your loss/ Sorry, too, for my part in it/
For my apathy, my inattention.” Those lines resonate for me a lot. What where you thinking when you wrote this?
I was thinking mainly of the previous Gulf War, how it was in the news and I didn't really pay that much attention to it. I knew there was talk of bombing and there was talk of going to war and I didn't really pay attention to it. I let it float to the back of my head and I didn't think about it too hard or do anything about it. I felt pretty apathetic. I didn't want to be that way this time and in the future. I thought, "I'm not doing anything about this. I don't like that and I don't want to be like this anymore."
What prompted you to write the poem?
I was putting together a collection of links to various anti-war and peace-related web pages when I came across the Poets Against the War web site. I became interested in the whole idea of writing a poem and submitting it along with thousands of other people who were also submitting poems. It was something that I could actually do about what was going on. Not that I expected I could stop the war by writing a poem, but at least it was something I could do. Just because something is inevitable doesn't mean you have to be complicit with it. So I decided to write a poem.
The actual writing took me a day or two of thinking about it and writing snippets and then another day reorganizing the lines. So it took me two or three days to get it to a point where I wouldn’t be too embarrassed to submit it. I really wasn't expecting a lot of people to single out my poem from of the thousands of poems other people were submitting, so when I thought it was okay, I went ahead and submitted it.
Was it difficult for you to write this poem?
Writing poems can be hard sometimes, but when I really have something to write about it usually just comes out. It wasn't hard for me to write the poem—that's one of the reasons I wanted to do it. I knew I could without huge effort on my part. It was something that was already in there and just wanted to come out, so I just wrote it.
I write poems every now and then when I have something to say. There are probably ten or twelve poems I've written in my life that I haven't wadded up and thrown away. When I have something to say, I write a poem. Not that I think of myself as a "poet." But I'm not very expressive emotionally. When my emotions get pent up, every now and then there has to be a release valve. So I write a poem and then I'm okay again for a while. So that's how poetry is for me.
How have people reacted to your poem?
It's crazy the way people have reacted to it. People have come up to me and said "Your poem gave me goose bumps!" and "I'm so glad you wrote that poem." I think maybe a lot of other people have similar images in their heads from previous wars—maybe not just from the previous Iraq war but from bombings in Sudan or Vietnam, or images of other wars and violence. I think that my poem somehow pulls on that collective image. People can relate because we've all been exposed to these types of images in one form or another.
Then I got an email saying "We're publishing a book of a collection of the poems from the Poets Against the War web site and we'd like to include your poem." And I thought, "Are they talking to me?" They sent me a release form, which I initially ignored. Then when they asked me again, I went ahead and sent the release form to allow my poem to be added to the book. I felt like that was pretty special because there are a lot of famous poets in the book—a lot of really, really good poems in there. I never expected my poem to be in a book. I was just putting it on the web site to have solidarity with all the other people who were writing poems. Sometimes the reaction to this one poem has been a little bit overwhelming.
Do you think Poets Against the War has helped more people get involved and had a beneficial effect since the war started?
It's easier to get involved and swept up in a movement when you see a whole bunch of people around you participating and what you're doing is in the news or on the Internet. But over the course of time it's just like a bell curve. Things fade and unless there's something to keep the momentum going, people slide back into inattention until some other major event happens later on.
Maybe more people are paying a little bit of attention, and maybe people will get involved earlier on the next time something like this happens. But there's always going to be that drop. I mean, there is still war in Iraq. People are still dying, there's ongoing violence, but it's not at the front of people's minds anymore. It's hard to say whether the whole Poets Against the War movement really had any effect as far as changing this situation or the things that happened. I think perhaps that more people were made aware; more people were brought into that state of attention than would have otherwise been.
After reading your poem several times, it struck me that it's a snapshot of your life. Do you see it that way?
I guess you could say that the poem was kind of like a snapshot of my life because it codified what was going on—the past thoughts in my head from the first Gulf War and the present events surrounding my daughter and her school. What was happening with my daughter at school fit so well.
It occurred to me that she was about the age that the little girl from Iraq would be now, assuming that kid is even still alive. I hope she is alive and I hope she is well. It occurred to me that my daughter has had a pretty good life. Not perfect, but she's had a decent life. She's never had to worry about soldiers storming down her street or taking her parents away or dropping bombs on her house. So it seemed like those two things went together, the opposite sides of two coins, moving boxes while other people are being bombed—it's a juxtaposition.