City Paper is not for tourists
When it came time for Mike Maggio to dedicate his latest collection of poems and other writings, his choice was immediately clear: the shining beacon of freedom that is President George W. Bush and his cabinet. “I normally dedicate a book to my wife or my kids, but this time I thought, Well, why don’t I dedicate it to the people who really inspired me?” says Maggio.
“A lot of my stuff is not political at all,” says the 55-year-old Herndon resident, who works in IT at the Bureau of Indian Affairs and is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree at George Mason University. He’s got a book of poems, an audio collection of poems, and a collection of short stories under his belt, but unlike these earlier works, deMOCKracy has a tight focus: the U.S. invasion of Iraq. “I was so enraged, and still am, about what’s going on in Iraq and what we’ve done there,” says Maggio.
The 79-page collection opens on a hopeful note with a poem about the anti-war protest here on Jan. 18, 2003. “I was there. It was 10 degrees below zero…it was a very exhilarating experience because I didn’t think we’d have that many people, and we actually filled the mall to over capacity,” says Maggio. “At that point, that demonstration was before the invasion. So we were trying to do something that we hoped would prevent it.”
Two months later, the United States invaded Iraq. As the war dragged on and the death toll kept rising, the optimistic tone of Maggio’s work quickly gave way to that of confusion, frustration, and outrage. Subsequent poems, most of which were written during the war’s first three years, cover such specific topics as a helicopter downed in an attack by an Iraqi crowd (“Two Soldiers”) and the beheading of American prisoners by terrorists (“After the Beheading”).
The collection’s grim mood is punctuated by occasional forays into dark humor—such as the trio of short “notices” that point out the racial and sexual discrimination prevalent within America’s own borders, a “War of the Month Club,” and a Global War on Terror word-association quiz. Yet, even when Maggio is attempting to evoke a laugh regarding the war’s absurdity, his contempt for the administration directing the conflict is always palpable.
“It’s funny because my mother was over here on the Fourth of July, and I showed her the book, and she kept saying, ‘Why are you so angry?’ ” says Maggio. “As a poet, sometimes we write things that are not really expressing our own personal voice. The poetry should be expressing the anger of the nation, and the nation is angry. So that needs to be separated from me as a person.”
“But, yes,” he says, “I did definitely get pissed off.”