Patrick Woodcock (R) with a Yezidi elder at the Lalish Temple, Kurdistan Region. Photo: courtesy of Patrick Woodcock.
Canadian poet and world wanderer Patrick Woodcock sees himself as an “almost-Kurd.”
After spending two years in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Region -- mostly in Duhok -- where he lived through the cold and heat, hung out and hiked the mountains and broke bread with the Kurds and taught them English, he came as near as he could to feeling like a Kurd.
That sentiment is scattered throughout Echo Gods and Silent Mountains, the collection of poems he published about his Kurdish experience.
The book is by far the most beautiful, deep and touching collection of poetry written on Kurds by a non-Kurd.
Woodcock speaks and feels like a Kurd when he writes: “For as long as our city sits on oil, we will sit in blood.” Or “The pond remembers another time: when flames were for light and children didn’t have to run from their light.”
But why did he step out of his comfort zone, the peaceful Canada where even many Kurds themselves have sought refuge as immigrants escaping bitter hardships and shattered lives?
“I am Canadian, and lucky to be so, so I have no right to close my eyes and run away from anything,” Woodcock says. “I feel I have a moral obligation to witness as much as I can and help whenever possible. To hide within the safe geographical bubble of my country of birth is criminal as far as I’m concerned,” he says.
Woodcock is a poet, wanderer, writer and witness who has lived in Iceland, Russia, Bosnia, Colombia, Oman and Saudi Arabia.
He now lives in Azerbaijan, where he looks to meet more Kurds while working on another book about Kurds. “I will hopefully get the chance to meet the small Kurdish population of Azerbaijan over the summer – there are about 6,200 Kurds here. I look forward to seeing how they feel about being an extremely small ethnic group in a country of many,” he says.
Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper described Echo Gods and Silent Mountains as “a noisy, conflicted affair, unwilling to sacrifice complexity for theme.”
What distinguishes Patrick Woodcock from other Westerners who, for a variety of reasons, call Kurdistan home for a phase, is his genuine empathy and his non-condescending perspective.
He does not apply Western Standards to judge the wounded Kurdistan, does not look down upon Kurds’ mistakes and miseries, no traces of self-importance or self-interest is found in his personality and his writing.
“I sleep better when I have written something I like,” says the poet, who does not write for profit, ego or fame. “I am also kinder, funnier and more tolerant after I have written. I guess my writing helps me navigate through this odd life we are given – this life that, in the end, makes absolutely no sense to me.”
About his most inspiring moments in Kurdistan, Woodcock says there were many, but then singles out meeting his friend Siyamand’s father as the experience that had the most lasting effect on him.
“He is 88, and has suffered two strokes. He spent his life fighting as a Peshmerga – he saw his village destroyed and gutted. But he still would come out with us to the irrigation pond near his old home in Binavy. He would sit and talk and pray and smile. It was beautiful to watch him stare at the mountains.”
“Kurds are certainly the toughest people I have ever met,” he says, describing them as,” An odd mixture of optimism and fatalism.”
Woodcock, is the author of this and seven other poetry books. Always Die Before Your Mother was one of the top Globe and Mail bestsellers. His poetry has been published in the United States, Britain, India, Colombia and Canada.
More about the book: http://www.ecwpress.com/books/echo-gods-and-silent-mountains
A video of Woodcock’s reading: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=GXRPJdM82Ns