He is a different kind of war reporter.
Acclaimed poet Tom Sleigh has penned a new collection of stories and poetry based on his observations from visiting war-torn areas of the world, including Syria, Lebanon, and Somalia. But the Boerum Hill resident, who will read from his book “Station Zed” at BookCourt on Feb. 19, said his goal in writing the tome was to concentrate on the day-to-day experience of living in conflict, rather than making any sort of overarching statements about war.
“Since I am not a real journalist and am an amateur, I do not have pressure to make sense of what is happening or make any sort of policy prescription,” said Sleigh, who has written six poetry books before this one. “I am interested in poems and prose to get the texture and feel of the place and what it is like every day.”
When Sleigh first visited Lebanon in 2007, someone set off a bomb in a downtown Beirut shopping district. He said he was surprised to see that the city’s fashionistas just continued going about their shopping and treated the bombing as little more than an inconvenience. He also observed the blast pattern, noting that the bomb had sucked all of the clothes out of the display window of an Armani store.
“That is the kind of detail I am interested in,” said Sleigh, who is a distinguished professor at Hunter College. “I am not much interested in what people would call their political convictions. I am interested in emotions, because they are hard to come to terms with and change a lot.”
Sleigh’s odyssey into conflict zones began with that first trip to Lebanon, which was a sort of diplomatic mission organized by an Arabic human rights organization. Sleigh said he was taken by the conditions that Palestinian refugees were living in, and that prompted many trips to other war-torn areas of the world. Over the years, he has sat in on interviews with hundreds of refugees from all over and talked to people who have lived the minutiae of the horrors of war every day.
“I try to be as truthful as I can be to what I am actually observing,” he said. “I do not want what I am thinking and feeling to get in the way.”
Tom Sleigh reads from “Station Zed” at BookCourt [163 Court St. between Pacific and Dean streets in Boerum Hill, (718) 875–3677, www.bookcourt.com]. Feb. 19 at 7 pm. Free.