War Poet.ca - A CFAP Project by Suzanne Steele

Notes from PhD Land: Doctor S.M. Steele is in the House!

A quick note to my readers to inform you that on Monday, 10 October, 2016 I successfully passed my viva, my PhD defence! The title of my dissertation is The Artist’s Dilemma: Truth, Process, and Form in the Great War Narratives of Robert Graves, Mary Borden, and David Jones. Relief and pride cannot begin to describe how I feel (and very tired). It all started with this project. Onward now!

— smsteele

Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation coming to Vancouver January 27, 2017!!!

Well they always say you’re never a hero in your home town. Well I just found out that Jeffrey Ryan and my Afghanistan: Requiem for a Generation is coming to the Orpheum on January 27, 2017 as part of the New Music Festival!!!! This major work for symphony, adult and children choruses, and four stellar soloists was commissioned by the Calgary Philharmonic in 2012 and produced by One Yellow Rabbit and supported by the Banff Centre. It was an SRO audience of 1700 as seen in this video. The work is based on my witness to 1PPCLI and Task Force 3-09 on their road to war and back again in 2008-2010.

I’m so pleased and excited that it is coming to my home town Vancouver. I’ve never had my work produced in Vancouver, nor have I given any major readings or lectures in my home town. A warning: tickets sold out very quickly for the CPO production so do purchase your tix soon. Watch this space for further details about the requiem coming to two other major Canadian cities!

— smsteele

Contact Information

This project is finished. A publication will be forthcoming in 2017.
To contact SMSteele for requests for reproducing her work, commissions, speaking engagements, etc., please contact:

Ian Arnold
Artist Representative
Catalyst TCM Inc. #310 – 100 Broadview Avenue
Toronto, ON M4M 3H3
416-645-0935 ph.
416-645-0936 fx.

Thank you loyal, amazing readers. Who knew we would go so far together?

— smsteele


walking on Broadway today I saw a guy on the sidewalk with a sign that said “Help a Veteran”. I stopped and asked him who he served with and he replied “Van Doos 1994 Rawanda and Ethiopia” as Transport. We chatted. I told him how I’d met Romeo Dallaire (read: hero hero hero – I don’t know how that guy can even put on his shoes and socks after seeing what he saw), then a little about my very limited exposure to war with the Patricias and asked him if he’d been in touch with OSIS (for operational illnesses), the Legion etc. and told him they’d all help him. He said they all wanted him to go to a Veterans hostel but he refused saying that it was “a dying house for vets”. He told me that alcohol is his drug of choice. We chatted for awhile. He’s maybe my age. I told him I believe he could push through all of this and that someone I know, a clearance diver (bomb disposal and cleanup post-bomb) has endured and found some peace through yoga and has become a teacher. I also told him I don’t give money to folk on the street but buy coffee and he said to me, “It’s just great that you stopped to talk to me”. As I walked away he looked at me and saluted.

They call me Ma’am.

— smsteele

The Calling

I think about the magus, Michael Green (our national treasure), so much since I’ve come home to Canada. He was a life changer for me as he acted as midwife to the war requiem. Our last social time together was spent drinking single malt and scheming future projects. No cigars were involved, thankfully, because rehearsals had just begun and I needed a clear head!

I was away for all of Michael’s memorials and only now have read his obits. Sometimes I am so caught up in the worries and complexities of life-life (relationships, finances, logistics), that I forget my real life, the artist life propelled by the need to create (there is no choice in this, it is spiritual survival). I need to think about Michael at these times, especially as the quote below depicts Michael.

The last time I was with Michael he was SO EXCITED about his Treaty 7 project/work. He said to me that it was his life-changing moment. We were going to talk about how I might be involved at a later date.

It’s so strange when one’s life-changing moment, following one’s true calling, leads, ultimately, to one’s death. I know of young Canadian soldiers who felt called to soldiery, some since infancy practically, and who died in the line of duty. I understand this (tho I recognise that friends from countries with military regimes, or that have been through war or are war-torn or occupied etc., or, conversely live in imperialist nations etc. cannot understand a Canadian military). My work has led me to confront my mortality straight on. In fact, when I felt like backing out on a trip outside the wire in Afghanistan, Barb Tobin-Anderson said to me, “Now you know how THEY feel”.

You know, the artist-life is weirdly perceived as being either elitist or bottom-feeding. Michael Green, like the late flamenco guitarist Harry Owen, another amazing visionary, taught me that every show is the most important. Harry taught me that an audience of one was as important as an audience of 1700 (the size of the requiem’s audience), or 11 million (the size of the BBC World Service audience for whom I have read my work three times). I think what both men shared was the ‘boy inside the man’ who was never ‘buried’. As a mother, a then-wife to someone else’s career and life for many years, somehow the girl gets lost. Yet it is that freshness of spirit that truly elevates our artistic spirit, the artist life, and helps to recreate a vision of the world anew.

Michael, it’s 1 1/2 years since you’ve been gone. I still can’t quite believe it. Thank you for everything.
“Every show they ever did was the most important show they ever did – that’s what I learned from him,” Mr. McCulloch says. “He was a guy who accomplished a lot in this world, but he never kind of buried the boy inside the man. He was always the little boy as well, which I loved about him and I hope to emulate.”

— smsteele

Lazarus 57

We were war crazy, Lazarus,
the eve we slipped under the blanket
of winter Solstice. Angel choirs sang
‘O Holy Night’ in Saint Albert, & cornmeal snow
swish-chh’ed swish-chh’ed with every snow-shoe click
along the track we laid beside the frozen lake.

Elk Island was pregnant then with wolf-watch.
& we brewed espresso, ate grapes, dark chocolate,
laid traps for joy in the icy wake we made, as snow angels
we looked up, up, up at the black corbeau
circling, told us, the one lost in the desert, Andrew, was okay.

Wolves blinked cool and amber while the ancestors’
night-vision-green/sparkly fingertips stretched across the skies,
they, aurora borealis, looked down upon us, and blessedly smiled.

— smsteele

Notes from PhD Land: Up to London to meet our new Prime Minister

I am frequently invited to an astonishingly wide variety of places because of my work as a war artist and my research on the Great War. Last spring, for example, I was under Vimy Ridge in the tunnels and souterrains_ with British munitions experts and archeologists from the Durand Group. I was looking at the thousands of pieces of graffiti and carvings made by Canadian soldiers from 1917 onward.

Last week I was invited to Canada House in London to meet our new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The crowd consisted of approx. 150 and ranged from an Admiral to bankers to consultants to functionaries to scholars to artists (this list not necessarily reflecting societal worth!). In the last stages of the PhD, I found this trip to London to be a great relief. It was wonderful to be amongst such creative Canadians living over here and to meet the new PM. There was a joyous atmosphere that day as Trudeau articulated our country’s values. It was oddly like a renewal of vows stating, This is who we are. There are approx. 250,000 Canadians over here. Astonishing, yet not astonishing. Opportunities abound for us over here. The UK has been very, very good to me, filled with opportunities, including the award to come here and do my doctorate. But I want to come home. I will come home.

I missed the 11 November ceremony and reception at Canada House this year due to illness. Because of this I hadn’t seen the new installation commemorating our Afghan war dead that sits in the foyer of Canada House, Lest We Forget. The installation is part of a fundraising memorial project sponsored by the Veterans Transition Network and consists of individual squares, rather like a large mosaic, that pieced together, present a montage. I was startled to realise that each square had the names of military personnel KIA, and that I was literally standing in front of the 12 who died with Task-Force 3-09, all of with whom I spent time on Ex or in theatre. I later searched the website for the project and couldn’t find any information about the artist who designed the project, nor if the NOK were in involved with the project. I took pictures of those squares that have the names of the five from Delta Coy, the ones I knew best. I was going to send the photos to the mothers but decided against it because I don’t know if they were involved in the project, and if not, they might be startled.

The Veterans Network is helping military pers. transition towards wellness. Recently I learned that one of the CIED naval divers with TF 3-09 has become a yoga instructor having left the service. I know this man and when I read his story was sad to learn of his struggles after returning home from war. Yoga, he says, in a newspaper article, saved his life. I’ve seen photos of him and he looks so well, so happy. We lost touch when I came to England. I hope that organisations commemorate the return to health and well-being in works of art as well as those of memorial. Not instead of, but as well. Our war narrative needs to be broad and deep. I hope I have, in part, contributed to this.

— smsteele

Six years ago

Margie rolls up my sleeve
alcohol rubs, inoculates me:
tentanus, typhus, denge fever,
polio, measles-mumps-rubella (MMR),
diphtheria-pertussis, varicela,
Hep A and Hep B,
& the new kid on the block:
H1N1 flu vacine,
then she gives me Wurthers toffee,
says I’m G2G, ready for flight.

But Margie, you forgot the innoc
that would prevent the shock
of jealousy, envy, faithlessness,
PTSD, despair, cowardice
on the home front, and need.

— smsteele


Suzanne Steele

WarPoet.ca is one of smsteele's Canadian Forces Artist Program projects. Through text, audio, images, video and contributions by Canada's military personnel, warpoet.ca examines and records the contemporary Canadian war experience. More →


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