Jason Poudrier is an instructor at Cameron University, Lawton, Okla., a former high school teacher, a Purple Heart recipient, and an Iraq War veteran. He is author of the 2012 poetry collection "Red Fields" (Mongrel Empire Press), and the 2011 poetry chapbook "In the Rubble at Our Feet" (Rose Rock Press). He is a recent graduate in fiction from the Red Earth MFA program at Oklahoma City University, and is working on a collection of short stories. He is active in veterans issues at the local, regional, and national levels—the latter including leadership roles in the national non-profit Military Arts & Experience.
Q1: How would you describe your poetic persona or authorial voice to someone who hasn't yet read your work?
I’m a realist. I focus on the senses, to illuminate experiences in order to evoke emotional responses and meaning. Depending on what I am trying to do with a poem, I will adjust the persona. In "Red Fields" the majority of the poems are from the perspective of a young soldier or veteran, primarily me. However, a few poems in the collection stray and are told from differing perspectives—voices that sometimes contrast starkly from my primary persona. Although much of my work is driven by a self-reflective "young veteran" voice, I find that some of the poems that get the most literary attention are ones in which I morph the voice of the poem fully into a persona separate from myself.
Q2: How did you come upon poetry as a regular practice? What do you find particularly motivating, rewarding, and/or useful about the form?
I came upon poetry in a Techniques of Poetry class taught by John Morris at Cameron University. I was intrigued by the concision of the form. I was captivated by the abilities of great poets to evoke emotions by capturing and sharing moments of time in a minimal amount of lines or text.
I am motivated by the desire to have my work impact others in the same ways the works I read impact me, and I am motivated by the reward of poetry—the release of emotion when a poem is written and shared with others.
Poetry requires a depth of processing—slowing down my mind and body. Writing poetry for me is appreciating life—the light and the dark, and finding meaning, resolution, and a way through.
Q3: What role(s) does your poetry potentially play in "bridging the civil-military gap"? What does that phrase mean to you?
Bridging the civil-military gap means helping civilians, those who do not have first- or second-hand experience of armed conflict, understand what happens in armed conflict. I focus on sharing direct details, and to share the ramifications and long-term consequences of war on those who have waged it.
Quantitative data lets us know how many people have died, what the monetary cost was, who was involved, but it's only in the qualitative descriptions of war, that wars become real in the mind of the reader. Through the art of poetry, qualitative experience is refined to the essentials: the details … the moments ... that can forever change a soldier. And I hope those moments, once shared, can change the reader as well.
My poetry has assisted me in understanding my own experience as an experience, as something that is not inherently me, but something that I have lived through and was a part of. To kill someone is not natural. In some of my poetry I use references to Looney Tunes cartoons and characters, to attempt to draw a parallel in the disconnect I personally experienced between my actions and thoughts. War seemed absurd and removed from my inner reality. That internal disconnection is similar, I think, to the disconnection of what many civilians think war to be, and what actually happens.
Q4: If you could send one of your poems to a reader 100 years in the future, which would it be and why? Also, who do you imagine that reader might be?
At this time in my writing career, I would send my poem titled “Iraqis” that is published in my collection "Red Fields." I would send it because it is a poem about understanding—an American soldier working to understand the concept of what it is to be an “Iraqi.”
Time is fleeting. It is already, at the time in which we're having this discussion, 15 years since the war in Iraq began, 10 years since I wrote the poem, and 5 since it was published. In the human experience, one hundred years is a lifetime, but in the arc of humanity, it is merely a stone's throw away.
I imagine the reader as another soldier or veteran trying to understand the experience of war. I hope that they, too, would take time to consider the perspectives and the lives of the people they have viewed through their weapons' sights.
The crude metal sights of my M16 rifle may long be gone, 100 years from now, but, unfortunately, I'm also certain there will be an equivalent.
Q5: What single piece of writing or reading advice would you helpful to share with other practitioners of military-themed storytelling?
Not write for fame and money, but for self. If you do not get satisfaction out of writing, there is no point. Also, you have to be willing to write with the idea that no one will ever pay you for your writing. Yes, there are great small presses, mid-level presses, and even self-publishing is easier now more than ever, but don't worry about that right now. Your first mission as a writer should be to write the best damn poetry or stories you can write.
If you focus on writing the best poetry you can write, you may find yourself taking a longer road. You may end up taking classes you didn’t think you would ever take. You may end up reading esoteric articles about the importance of line-breaks.
You may read other poetry, some about war, but much of it not. You may join a writing group and go to public poetry readings. You may meet others like you, who are traveling similar paths.
And what you may find, through all of this, is that you end up writing poetry worth reading. People may still not pay you to publish your works—maybe they will, but that's not important—but people will want to publish it and share it in journals and on websites. People will start reading your work, and they will tell others. You will start changing the world one person at a time, through your words. You will do that.