This week we’re featuring a poem from our brand-new newspaper-man summer issue, 35.2. Dan O’Brien’s poetry and fiction have appeared in 32 Poems, Alaska Quarterly Review, Crab Orchard Review, and elsewhere. His play about war reporter Paul Watson, The Body of an American, is the winner of the 2011 L. Arnold Weissberger Award and will premiere at Portland Center Stage in 2012. He holds a B.A. in English & Theatre from Middlebury College, and a Master of Fine Arts in Playwriting & Fiction from Brown University. Dan has served as a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University, the inaugural Djerassi Fellow in Playwriting at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and twice as the Tennessee Williams Playwright-in-residence at Sewanee. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, writer and actor Jessica St. Clair.
These poems come from a collection called, not surprisingly, The War Reporter. Five years ago I began corresponding with Paul Watson, a journalist most well-known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a fallen American soldier in the streets of Mogadishu in 1993. When Paul took that picture he claims he heard the dead man speak to him: “If you do this, I will own you forever.” The purpose of my work with Paul has been to try to use poetry to bridge the distance between an “average” person like myself, and someone who has witnessed some of the signal atrocities of our era, in places as far-flung as Angola, Kosovo, Rwanda, Iraq, Afghanistan (the list goes on). The poems are derived from his memoir, Where War Lives, his journalism, recordings and transcripts he has shared with me, and most valuably our emails and conversations. Some of these poems take place in Ulukhaktok in the Canadian High Arctic, where I visited Paul there in the winter of 2010 while he was enjoying a brief respite from war reporting, covering the “Arctic and Aboriginal Beat” for the Toronto Star. He’s now based mainly in Kandahar. Our peculiar collaboration has also produced a play, The Body of an American, but after finishing the play I found I couldn’t let his story go. In a very personal way, his voice continues to haunt me.
The Poet and the War Reporter Paul Watson Go For a Sled Ride