February 25th, 2015 16:02 EST
Fighting ISIS and Changing the World with Poetry
In many ways I am your every day person. I make my living working as a customer service agent taking calls from my home office for a car rental company. This is how I buy my groceries.
I am also though a writer, author, and poet. My life changed in the year 2000, I nearly died of complications of a thyroid illness. I had been writing poetry most of my life but had kept most of my writing in notebooks on a shelf in my house. At one point my family found themselves wondering what to do with my writing if I passed away. When it became clear my time had not yet come they convinced me, strongly, to start sharing my writing with others. I started up my poetry web site www.poetrypoem.com/apoetslaststand and started printing copies of my poems, putting them in sheet protectors, placing them in notebooks, and sharing them with friends and family members.
One day I went to pick up copies of my poems and one of the workers at the print shop asked if he could have a copy of my poem There was a Man " and asked if I would sign it for him. He told me that while he was making my copies the machine jammed. He cleared the paper that had stopped the machine and read the poem it contained. He said it made him break into tears and helped him decide to quit drinking. Like many of my poems, this poem is not simply words upon a piece of paper; it is a page from my life as well. When I was 12 I was coming home from a campout with a group of scouts. We were first-on-the-scene of an accident where a drunk driver took his car head-on into a station wagon that held a family of five. There were six people involved in the accident and there were six of us in our car. Each of us took a person. I had a sixteen year old boy die in my arms that night. The printer was the first person I know of whose life had been changed by one of my poems.
Also found a few online magazine that published my poetry including The Poetry Sharings Journal and Poetic Voices Magazine. I started getting comments in the feedback section of my poetry site from people from several different countries. Not long after the book was released I also received my first death threat. I had written a poem titled Prick Me, Will I Not Bleed " which was posted on sites in at least a dozen different countries within weeks after I wrote it. There was a site in Israel that also posted my contact information after the poem. Honestly this was not something I had prepared myself for but since then I have learned that not everyone wants the world to change.
I released my second book I`m Still Standing in 2003 and my third Everything Must Have a Beginning, a Middle, and an End " in 2004; both of these though I only released by putting them in PDF format and burning them on CD`s. In a lot of ways one could say I was doing e-books before many had ever thought of them.
In 2005 I received an invitation to represent the US at a poetry festival that was held in Amman, Jordan. I was able to take off work for two weeks and spent eight days in Amman with a small group of poets and spent five days after the festival as an official guest of the Royal Court.
In 2008 I released my fourth poetry collection titled Whispers, Tears, Prayers, and Hope. " It was published by a friend of mine who had started reading my poetry while he was stationed in Kuwait as a member of the USMC. I had been sharing my poetry with him for a few years by then and also several of the comments that people had been leaving in the feedback section of my poetry site. On the back cover of that book there is a comment I received from a man who had decided to leave a PLO terrorist training camp in Jordan because someone had shared my poetry with him. I feel this is one of the reasons I received my first Pulitzer nomination for this book.
After reading this comment several members of the USMC decided to start printing four of my poems and posting them in public places in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Poetry plays an important role in Arab cultures and they felt there had to be a voice that stood against the message of hate and violence that was being spread by so many others.
In May of 2014, I released my fifth poetry collection titled `When Words Escape You, You Can Use Mine` along with 2nd editions of my first three books. Used copies of the first book were selling for over $300.00 a copy and the 2nd two books had only been available as e-books from the Sony E-book library which they closed in March of that year. I had been one of the first poets to publish with them.
I received nominations for the Kingsley Tufts Prize in Poetry, the Center of the Book Award of Oklahoma, and also my second Pulitzer nomination for this book. I did not make the top five for the first award and have not yet heard about the other awards.
To me though, poetry stopped being about book sales or awards several years ago. To date I have saved over three hundred pages of comments people have left in the feedback section of my site. Each book now has several pages of these after the last poem of the books. I have heard from several hundred people that have decided to quit drinking and a few dozen people that have actually decided not to kill themselves with the help of some of my poems.
Besides sharing my poetry on the web and through my books I also started posting poetry videos on You Tube. www.youtube.com/amayhem1
I have posted videos for the four poems that were shared by members of the USMC as well as a few others. Last Saturday I posted my latest video which is titled Unmasked, a message to ISIS. " https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bfl0rv47FS0
Over the last year I had shared poetry with a teacher and students of an all-girls school in Afghanistan. Two of the poems are in my latest book. I heard a couple of weeks ago that members of ISIS had beaten the teacher and sent the girls home with black hijabs. This hurt me deeply. After the execution of the pilot from Jordan I felt I could no longer sit by and do nothing. Members of ISIS have been very good at using social media to recruit new members. I feel that we as writers need to provide a stronger voice to stand against their madness.
Yes, in many ways I am just your every day person. I make my living taking around 100 phone calls a day to buy my groceries. I am also a man who tries to fight terrorism and change the world with poetry. I can tell you that sometimes the world does listen.