Much gratitude to Ash Bowen for inviting me to participate in The Next Best Thing Self-Interview this week.

What is the working title of the book?

War Reporter.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’ve been working with Paul Watson, a combat journalist, for several years now, adapting his life and work into a play. Maybe a year or two into the play I started to feel that there were poems here also. In some ways, the episodic nature of Paul’s work lends itself more easily to poetry than the tighter narrative structure of a play. But I also felt like the play hadn’t told the entire story, an ongoing story. Just this week Paul has been sending me emails and footage from Aleppo in Syria and I’ve been working them into new poems.

What genre does your manuscript fall under?

Poetry.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Oh dear, a frightening question. Truly I can’t imagine better than the two actors who played “Paul” and “Dan” in the production of my play Body of an American, directed by Bill Rauch last fall at Portland Center Stage: William Salyers and Danny Wolohan. [More info, and their pictures: http://www.pcs.org/body/]

What is the one sentence synopsis of your manuscript?

A friend of a friend had this to say, which is as good a guess as any: “These are poems that look at the man watching the war, at the man describing the man watching the war, and at us reading about the man describing the man watching the war.”

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

In some ways the poems have come rather quickly. Maybe in the last two years. But that’s in the context of almost six years of correspondence with Paul, two trips to visit him (once to Ulukhaktok in the Canadian Arctic, where many of these poems are set), and the composition of the play and a chamber opera. [The opera will premiere in April at Stanford, directed by Rinde Eckert: https://ccrma.stanford.edu/~brg/visitations/]

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I heard Paul on NPR’s Fresh Air in 2007 promoting his memoir Where War Lives [http://www.amazon.com/Where-War-Lives-Paul-Watson/dp/0771088221]. He described how when he was taking his Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a US serviceman desecrated in the streets of Mogadishu, he heard the dead man’s voice say to him, “If you do this I will own you forever”--and I immediately felt haunted by his haunting. Much of Paul’s writing relates the trauma of war to more personal, private traumas that everyone deals with. And working through this “Paul” persona, a hybrid of Paul and myself really, I’ve been able to write more honestly and with more insight about the dissolution of my family of origin--in itself a mystery of love and mental illness that I may never solve.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Because so many of the poems are derived from Paul’s own writing (including the “raw” data of recordings and transcripts), not to mention our emails and conversations, there’s a strong documentary element here. While the text is ultimately my doing, for better or for worse--Paul simply and generously provides material, he’s never editorialized--in some ways this is a very collaborative book.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

War Reporter is set to be published in September 2013 by Hanging Loose Press in Brooklyn and CB Editions in London.

My tagged writers for next Wednesday are:
Nathaniel Bellows

Erica Dawson


Caki Wilkinson
DAN O'BRIENis a poet and playwright in Los Angeles. His collection War Reporter is forthcoming this year from Hanging Loose Press in Brooklyn and CB Editions in London. His play about Paul Watson, The Body of an American, premiered recently at Portland Center Stage.