Friday, April 15, 2011

National Poetry Month Guest Blogger: Margaret Rozga on writing her new book, Though I Haven’t Been to Baghdad

Thank you to poet and professor Margaret Rozga for today’s guest post.

Her recent poems explore her thoughts about and reaction to her son’s military tours in Iraq and then Afghanistan. When I first heard her read some of these poems at the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature’s annual conference, hosted by Michigan State University, I immediately felt a mother’s deep fear and relief. I think you will quite enjoy the poems and insight that she shares below.

Margaret Rozga is a published poet and English professor at the University of Wisconsin, Waukesha. She blogs regularly and most recently about the current state of educators’ rights and funding in Wisconsin.

Guest Blog by Margaret Rozga

Chloe, you ask how I got started writing the poems about Matt’s tours of duty first in Iraq and then in Afghanistan.  The answer is long and convoluted. 

Tense with worry about him, I couldn’t write much of anything.  I kept a journal, but the journal entries barely hint at my fear for him.  Then a colleague, Alayne, happened to ask about the day he left.  I told her that he had walked out of our house, through the garage, into the sunlight on the driveway and into the vehicle waiting to take him to Fort McCoy.  As I watched him walk away, I wondered, “Is this the last time I’ll see him with legs?”


Alayne shuddered.  It may seem strange to you that until I saw her shudder, I didn’t realize the impact of what I said.  I had somehow isolated my words from their emotional content so that I could say them without realizing just what I was saying. 


I still wasn’t ready to write.  But at that point I knew I would use that phrase in a poem someday.  And I did.  I was able to write the poem after thinking much more about how I used language during these tense months, how I heard others use language at times of great emotional distress.  At such times, sentences get broken off before they are finished.  It’s as though we can’t help but speak of what is troubling us, but we can’t afford to speak too much of it.  We seem to be able to manage only thin, half slices.  I found the fragments could add up to a poem.  Here’s one:


The son

parks his pick-up
in the mother’s garage,
stays only long enough to

She turns
the pancakes, warms maple

He leaves his fishing rods
in the basement
tagged with names of friends
in case he doesn’t

When he walks through
the garage into the falling sun,
the mother wonders:
will she ever

Will he?


Then, you may also want to see the poem that emerged from my conversation with my colleague Alayne.  It doesn’t appear until later in what is now my book Though I Haven’ Been to Baghdad,  forthcoming from Benu Press.  It appears as a flashback in a poem about the day Matthew was wounded in a truck bomb attack in Mosul.  Here it is:

June 24, 2004

The son’s voice strange:
Ma. Ma?  Are you there?

A long pause as if he didn’t know
he’d reached the answering machine.
Oh, okay, then.  I’ll try calling later.

Next message:
This is Master Sgt. Bishop at the 88th
Regional Readiness Command.
Call me as soon as you get this message.

That evening:
This is Sgt. Scott in Mosul.
In the attack today…

When the son first left,
he walked through the mother’s house
through her garage out to his pickup
in the falling sun.

She watched him grow smaller, thought:
is this the last time
I’ll see him with legs?

As you can see by the date on the poem, it’s taken a long time, almost seven years to write this book.  The road from experience to poem is sometimes long and difficult.  But the urge to find words for these profound experiences is strong.  Actually I find it both compelling and essential.  I hope the poems do it justice.

Peace,
Peggy

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