Image Poem Iraq
Image Poem Iraq is a book of poems about photographs I took during the Iraq War (before and after the U.S. invasion). The book was Mary Bast’s idea; she’s an artist and poet in Gainesville, Florida, and works a lot with ekphrastic poetry (poems that are about—or are related to—visual images).
Mary thought the Iraq photos might inspire poets to talk about the war, about the people depicted in the photos … about sadness, or love … Neither she nor I had any idea what poets might write about the images (or, more accurately, I think, about how they see the war).
So, this past fall and she and I recruited poets for the project (sending out invitations, along with the photographs we felt were best, to specific poets). Now, after two months of editing and design, the book is going out to potential publishers.
We don’t know what form the published book will take, or who will publish it, but in its current form there are 12 photos, and 27 poems written by 22 poets (in a few cases, poets submitted work they’d already published; for those poems, they asked that the poem be ‘associated’ with a given image). Those of you who’re familiar with modern poets may recognize some of the names of the contributors (in no particular order): Naomi Shihab Nye, Philip Metres, Kim Stafford, Virginia Konchan, Mark Kraushaar, Paul Merchant, Andrea Hollander, Amaris Ketcham, Jacey Blue Renner, Dawn Lonsinger, Drew Myron, Roy Beckemeyer, Roy Jacobstein, Maria Rouphail, Richard Merelman, Barbara Gregg, Dunya Mikhail, Maria Terrone, Margo Roby, Melissa Reeser Poulin, Zoe Piponides and Jennifer A. McGowan.
Since working in Iraq in 2003, I’ve tried to talk about the war and how I feel about Iraqis, what happened to them, and what happened to us (‘us’ meaning ‘we Americans’ as a consequence of the war). I’ve never been satisfied with what I’ve written or said. I’ve come to believe that poetry, more so than journalism, is a more powerful way of talking about emotional things. It’s not that I’ve outright abandoned journalism; it’s just that I’m looking for a better way to talk with people.
I’m grateful these poets poured their hearts, their talents into being that voice—the one that reaches past numbers, names, dates and places—and reminds us that above all (or so I feel) the world is made of soul. I’m grateful for their work, and Mary’s idea, without which we wouldn’t have this opportunity to address the war (and each other) in what I believe is the first book of its kind. One in which (I hope) readers will find beauty, joy, hope and solace.