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Emotions moved writer to take a risk: powerful poem became multi-media project.

The Virginia Tech shootings grabbed me like everyone else. You want to make sense of the senseless. But nothing helps.

People typically don't commit suicide unless they're mentally ill. Do they kill themselves, or do they succumb to the disease? I can't answer that.

The whole thing was like the biblical story of Job.

Who that day woke up deserving to die? It doesn't make any sense.

Sometimes life is like that.

Then the Thursday morning after the shooting, I read an obituary of professor Liviu Librescu in the New York Times. His son Yossi said, "He was passionate about life. He had no fear of death."

That night I was competing in a poetry slam. I came home, put the movie Gladiator in my DVD player and skipped ahead to the appropriate scene to make sure I remembered the lines right. In about thirty minutes, I wrote the whole poem.

I threw my emotions of trying to understand the event into the poem. I've got a degree in theology. I spent a semester studying in Jerusalem.

I had something to say I wanted to share with people.

I was nervous about sending the poem to the NCEW list-serv. I didn't want to be called a meshuggenah, a Yiddish word which, I believe, means "crazy idiot."

The response was exactly the opposite. People want to share it with their rabbis. It was great.

The list-serv responses were great and I mentioned it to my editor. Our photo editor assembled a Flash video and everything came together. We also had a great display in the newspaper. In the end, I was one part of a larger team that worked together to produce something memorable for readers.

One reader told me the Flash presentation illuminated things for him that he missed in the written version of the poem.

When it was in the paper here, I also received several positive responses. If anybody didn't like the poetry, they didn't contact me.

My favorite response came from a reader who was outraged at a piece I wrote where I called Cindy Sheehan a "caricature of herself."

She wrote, in part, 'After I read your article I immediately went to my computer to let off the steam that was coming out of my ears. Then the next day, you wrote a poem in honor of my new hero, Liviu Librescu, and I related in a totally different way to your writing."

I could have presented the ideas in my poem in a more traditional essay, but I thought the poem worked better and gave people a more emotional way of experiencing the piece.

I was asked how I mustered the courage to try something this different. I don't know that much extraordinary courage was involved. My job everyday is about mustering courage and finding what I can say that's worth our readers' time.

What Professor Librescu did was really courageous.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Brian Lewis moved many on NCEW's list-serv with his poem about Liviu Lebrescu, the professor who died while saving several students during the Virginia Polytechnic Institute massacre in April. The poem evolved into a multi-media project at his newspaper.

Brian Lewis is associate editorial page editor at the Springfield News-Leader in Missouri. Email: blewis@
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Author:Lewis, Brian
Publication:The Masthead
Article Type:Obituary
Date:Sep 22, 2007
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