In her interview for Voices in Wartime, Alexandra Sanyal shares how she wrote the poem that appears on the preceding page. The poem was published on the Poets Against War web site, and then republished a book that came about as a result of the web site’s popularity. Alexandra offers some poignant comments on how she writes poetry and shares how youth, when listened to, can offer a different perspective from many adults on conflict and war.
Can you tell us how you came to write the poem you submitted to Poets Against the War?
I was home because I had a cold and I couldn’t go to school and be around the other kids. But I wanted to be at school because we were learning about poetry and I really wanted to know about poetry. I really enjoy it. I felt cramped-in because I was at home looking out at the snow. I couldn’t go outside and run into the snow because I was sick, and so I felt crammed inside the house. So I decided to write a poem. So I wrote a poem on how I felt. I didn’t like the war at all and I felt I was against it, so I tried to blend it with what I was feeling because the snow so much made me want to go outside and feel it. So I wrote the poem. I can always remember how I looked out the window and I looked at the snow and I was writing a poem. It wasn’t really a good feeling, but it was a feeling I was inside when I could be outside playing with my friends. It wasn’t really a happy feeling.
Are you glad now that you went through that?
Very! I don’t think I would have written the same thing at school. At school I would have focused on what we were doing at school. But since I was out of school and I had my own mind to think about, I actually wrote one about war. I might’ve written one about flowers or something but I was just flowing and I wasn’t thinking about what we did at school, I was thinking about what was happening to me now.
How long did it take you to write?
Well, I wrote it fast, it took me about five-ten minutes. Then I went inside and my mom edited it with me, and we went over it and put it on the fridge. I didn’t know it would be such a big thing. But I still worked hard on it.
Were other kids in your class also writing poems about the war?
No, cause we didn’t bring up the war for a while in school, so not many kids wrote poems about the war. We weren’t focusing on the war. We were just focusing on the basic structure of the poem with rhyming words and stuff, but I already knew a little about a poem, so when I wrote the poem I already knew I was writing it about the war and not about a topic I would be doing in school.
What do you think about war?
Well, I think war means just fighting and killing and a lot of bad stuff. When I was younger I heard that people could get drafted and I got scared and sad that my dad would have to go to war. I was just scared because there was just plain violence and killing each other and I really didn’t like it.
Did you and your friends talk about the war?
A couple weeks after the poem we were talking about it a little, and we made signs. And I was talking to my friend about it, and the teacher started to understand, ‘cause we would bring [it] up in morning meeting, I heard about the president sending bombs or something. And then the teacher started to notice that we actually were concerned about this and we needed to talk about it. A lot of kids were feeling very sad about it. My other friend, his grandma died in 9/11, and he was just feeling terrible about war. So the teachers realized, they need to talk about this, it’s not just about killing each other, it’s about different points of view. Like the Iraqis and how they felt and how the Americans felt, and it’s not just killing, it’s more than that.
When you were writing the poem, did you think about how the Iraqis might feel or how kids might feel in Iraq?
I did. My dad reads me the newspaper every day at breakfast. I always look over his shoulder at the paper, and I see all these kids having people search their homes for bombs. I just feel so bad for them, I feel like their life is totally changing, they’re being invaded and stuff, and I feel, why can’t they understand that American children have the same rights as Iraqi children and if Iraqi soldiers came and searched our homes we would feel just as bad? One time my cousin wasn’t eating all his food and my aunt said, “If you don’t eat your food I’m going to send you to Iraq where all the kids don’t have food, they have to work for food and don’t have much food.” And I remember my cousin eating the rest of his breakfast and not saying anything, because even though he was small he thought about the war, too. And he thought, “They don’t have food? I’m eating all my breakfast!”
Do you think sometimes adults don’t believe kids think about these things?
Sometimes adults try to hide [things] from their kids, so their kids don’t have nightmares. But kids aren’t just little babies, and they want to know about this. But grown-ups don’t see that, they say “Oh, it’s OK, nothing’s gonna happen, don’t worry.” But the kids wanna know, “What if it might happen?” And I want to know, “Why is President Bush this way? Why are we doing this to Iraq?”
So you wrote the poem and you put it on the refrigerator?
Yes, we put it on the refrigerator because my mom said, “This is such a beautiful poem!” And my Dad said, “It is such a beautiful poem!” And I was very proud of myself that I wrote a poem. It showed that I was really listening in school and that I got the point of a poem.
What happened after that?
We talked about it, and we started saying poems at dinner time and stuff, rhyming words. I got the hang of writing poems very easily after that. My mom was going to read something to my dad, it was the part in the paper that said where you could put something on the Poets Against the War web site. She said, “You could put your poem on the web site! It’s such a beautiful poem, people will really appreciate it.” So I was glad about that. We talked about it and we fixed it a little. My mom actually put it on and told me, “You never know what’s going to happen, we’ll find out, but it’s a great poem.”
How did you feel when you saw your poem on the web?
My mom said, “Do you want to come see your poem?” I said yes. And she came up and she showed it to me and I just paused for a minute, cause I was thinking, wow, I’m actually on a computer? My poem is actually in there, and what will happen, and where will it go, and who will find it, and will people actually read it? I felt really proud of myself that I could actually get it on the computer, that my mom and dad actually thought it was good enough. Before I just wrote simple poems and little poems, and I didn’t feel they were as good as many poems, because I had read other poems and they were a lot better. So I was glad to see that I was one of those big poets too, who wrote great poems and got to put them on computers.
Later on, did anything happen to your poem?
They showed it a lot to people and they all liked it, so I kept feeling more comfortable with it. It was a good poem, it wasn’t like at school some people draw pictures and they take them home and show it to their parents and someone says, “Oh, what a beautiful picture.” Other people actually liked it, too.
The main thing is, are you happy with it?
Yes, I’m very happy with it.
Did it appear in the book Poets Against the War?
Yes. When I got the book I said, wow, I’m actually in the book, I’m not just on the computer, I’m not just writing it. OK, this is a big step. So I showed it to my teachers, and they all liked it and said, this is a big step for you and this is great, and I’m really proud of you. And I felt really good then, I felt like I had moved up a step.
Do you remember the first time you saw your poem in the book?
The first time I saw it was when we got the book. I felt the same way as when I saw it on the computer but more WOW, I’m actually in a book. And I called my friend and said, “I’m published in a book,” and they said, “You’re not published in a book!” And I said, “Yes, I am.” Everyone enjoyed it and it wasn’t just a little poem.
When you had your poem put on the Internet, did you think about the other poets?
I thought, these grown ups had longer poems, and maybe my poem doesn’t fit in with all these grown-ups, but then I thought, I’m showing what a kid thinks about war, and I think I’m doing OK, even if it doesn’t fit in with the long, detailed poems that grown ups write. It’s going to be saying what kids think.
Does it make you feel better seeing your poem is out there?
It made me feel better when people started noticing it, and whenever people came to the house they would say, “Can we see Alexandra’s poem?” and they would read it and they would like it, and I said, maybe it will fit in with the grown ups’ poems.
Do you think that children have something to tell adults about war?
Yes, I think, grown-ups are always saying how war is terrible and some are saying how let’s fight for freedom, but if you ask kids I think kids would say, you shouldn’t be killing people like this, fathers, mothers. My friend, her dad’s friend had to go to war and she feels really bad about it, she was like, why are all these grownups going to war, what’s the reason? And I feel the same way. I would be really sad if my dad had to go to war.
Do you think kids see it more clearly?
I do think kids see it more clearly. I think from their side they see it as, they should be peaceful, not violent. Like kids say, “I’m going to beat you up.” That’s only bullies or kids who might not have the same feelings as other kids. I think kids can see the point of people who say: War is bad, we need peace, we’re not gonna’ be with war.