By Daniel Ford
Poetry is not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about our armed forces.
However, as Ron Capps, founder of the Veterans Writing Project, pointed out in our 2014 interview, “returning warriors have known for centuries the healing power of narrative.”
Poet Michael Lee Womack, a shy kid from North Carolina who served in the U.S. Army during Operation Iraqi Freedom, took that notion to heart when putting his experiences to paper.
Womack answered my questions recently about his love of poetry, his decision to serve in the military, dealing with PTSD, and the inspiration behind his poetry collection From a Soldier's Perspective.
Daniel Ford: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Michael Lee Womack: During my four years of high school. I was very shy, especially whenever it came to speaking to the ladies! Most of the poetry that I had written during those years had consisted of poems that were directed to the lovely ladies that I was to shy to speak to. Whenever I couldn't actually find the words to speak, poetry had become my much needed voice, and whenever I was in high school my nickname was "Romeo."
DF: What authors and poets did you worship while growing up?
MW: I have always been a fan of The Famous Poet Known As "Shakespeare" and The Famous Best-Selling Author Known As "Zane." I would love to one day have one of my poems featured in one of Zane's erotic novels. One of my favorite poems of all times is "Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer's Day?" by William Shakespeare. Even though Zane writes novels, I am a huge fan of her due to the fact that I admire her usage of imagery/her ability to paint a picture with words.
DF: What was the first poem that you read that made a real connection with you?
MW: The first poem that I read that had really captured and cultivated the soil of my passion for poetry was "Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer's Day?" I was able to connect to it because whenever I was a novice writer/poet, most of the poems that I had written were about the beautiful women that I was too shy to speak to.
DF: How did you go from a shy kid who loved poetry to serving in the U.S. Army?
MW: Whenever I was in school I was very fond of history, and joining the U.S. Army gave me the opportunity to be a part of history. While I was serving in the U.S. Army I had deployed twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. My first duty station was Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, and while there it was important for to visit Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial. Joining the Army gave me the opportunity to experience things, and see places that I would have never have been able to see or experience had it not been for me joining the Army.
DF: What made you sit down and write From A Soldier's Perspective?
MW: I realized that I am not the only veteran that has ever battled with suicide, depression, or PTSD. Writing this book supplied me with a process to help myself, while also supplying me with a process to help others. Writing this book was very therapeutic for me, and I am confident that reading this book will be very therapeutic for those who read it.
DF: What did you learn about yourself and your PTSD during your writing process?
MW: During the writing process of my book, I learned that one of the best ways for me to conquer my PTSD was to conquer the depression that stemmed from it. I had discovered that the best way for me to get back to "loving me” was for me to get back to doing what I loved doing the most, writing poetry.
DF: What has the response been from veterans that have read your collection?
MW: Increasing the awareness of PTSD and the affects that it has had on so many veterans who have returned from war is very important to me. I am a huge advocate for increasing the awareness of PTSD and the affects that it has had on so many veterans, and I have gained much respect from other veterans who have shown a lot of support for my efforts in doing so.
DF: What advice would you give to aspiring writers or veterans who want to writer down their own experiences?
MW: As a veteran who has battled with suicide, depression, and PTSD, writing this book was very therapeutic for me. I am confident that writing about their experiences could be very therapeutic for those veterans who choose to do so. I encourage other veterans to write down their experience, or to keep a journal about whatever pain they might have so that they don't bottle up their pain and allow it to explode. Even if they just write a personal journal, writing about their own experiences and pain can be very therapeutic. Whenever I was piecing this book together it was just like piecing together a puzzle. This book of mine is a short compilation of poetry, however there were a vast number of topics that I wanted to discuss. I would jot down my ideas into a journal, and those ideas were like puzzle pieces. Just how that journal helped me piece together From A Soldier's Perspective, writing the book helped me piece back together the pieces of my life.
DF: Can you please tell us one random fact about yourself?
MW: I have been a huge Carolina Panthers fan ever since they played their first season in 1995, and I hope to one day make it to one of their games.