The Voice Magazine Volume 22 Issue 18 2014-05-02
Patrick Woodcock uses poetry to document the suffering of humanity in war-torn countries—a kind of poetic nonfiction. (See Voice review of Echo Gods and Silent Mountains: Poems, his book of poems based on his time in Iraqi Kurdistan.) Recently he took the time to answer Wanda Waterman’s questions about recovering from witnessing suffering, what it’s like to live among Kurds, and the necessary conditions of his creative life. (Also read the first, second, and third parts of this interview.)
Recovering from Scenes of Suffering
I’m not sure why, but for some reason I’ve had a few problems coping with things this year. Images that didn’t bother me too much at the time have reappeared in dreams and nightmares and really thrown me off for a few days at a time. And although the Kurdish North of Iraq did have its moments, Fort Good Hope (Northwest Territories) and Azerbaijan have been far more unsettling for me.
I visited a couple of children’s cemeteries outside of Baku, Azerbaijan, to take photographs, and now I really wish I hadn’t. There’s a city north of Baku called Sumgayit. A colleague had told me that it had a large children’s cemetery. Because of the enormous amount of industrial pollution in the city, it had an incredibly high rate of stillbirths, miscarriages, and children born with birth defects. The infant mortality rate was also very high.
So I paid a taxi driver to take me there, but he got lost and after asking for directions took me to the wrong location. I ended up in a small town called Saray and was directed to the corner of a cemetery there. It was obviously incredibly sad to think there was another cemetery for children. As I walked around taking photos of the stones and chipped pieces of wood that stood as tombstones. I noticed a hole in the ground. It was about the size of a rabbit hole–there was nothing else around it–no gravestone or marker. So I stuck my hand and camera down inside it and took a few photos to see what was inside. It was an extremely bright day so I could not tell what I took a photo of by just looking at my camera’s screen. (Read the rest here.)