War Poet.ca - A CFAP Project by Suzanne Steele

everyone has an opinion

I find this war artist project fascinating on many levels.

Because I do not come from a military background, and grew up in an era that was decidedly anti-military, the discovery of military culture has been really interesting. It’s been like visiting a new land.

The military has all the hallmarks of a culture: governance, hierarchy, language, history, mythology, food, technology, clothing, ritual (the religion substitute), art (music, design, aesthetics), society (kinship/relationship), and even territory, homes, cities, land masses (hangars, regimental headquarters, bases.)

I continue to be grateful to the soldiers for letting me catch a glimpse of their world, a world I will never belong to. (thanks M, D, D, D, J-P, CO, WO, Sgt, MCpl, Maj., Lt… thanks refuelers, cooks, transporters, maintainers, recce, admin, all the Coys… etc. etc.)

Another of the fascinating aspects of this project, are the reactions I receive when I tell people what I’m doing, where I am going, what I plan to do with this. There is no indifference.

Yesterday, after flamenco class, one of my fellow students approached me to congratulate me on the project. She said she enjoyed the site, the idea of what I’m doing, and expressed respect for the soldiers.

Last week, I received an email from W, a woman in my little community, who complimented me on my “full frontal engagement!” Sort of brings a whole new dimension to the concept of embeddedness wouldn’t you say?! Humour aside, I was really appreciative of W’s support of my project and my work. What I especially appreciate from W, is that she GETS IT. Part of the anti-war generation (and actually, who the hell is pro-war anyway?), W understands my job as witness.

I’ve had many, many people support me through words (over 100+ letters, emails) and actions. One woman, a psychiatrist who works with soldiers who suffer with PTSD, actually got up from the dinner table I was sharing with her, and shook my hand and hugged me. A young restauranteur here in our city got up and kissed me on the cheeks when he heard what I was doing. He was ex-reserve. A Loyal Eddie I believe (but don’t quote me.) And of course, there is that fabulous endorsement from the owner of my “office,” (the green, torn couch, circa 1976, [the kind of couch mothers used to cover with plastic and reserve only for guests] @ Caffe Fantastico ), David, who sends coffee with me when I go out with the infantry.

Equally fascinating are the hostile reactions to my project. A CanLit poet yelled at me when I told him that I was going to participate in the CFAP and go to Afghanistan, “why the fuck do you want to tell those guys’ [the soldiers’] story? they get enough attention on the front page of the newspaper.” I don’t know his personal history, but I think perhaps he is of the generation that crossed the Canadian border to avoid the draft. Whatever. All I know is that I was surprised that another artist would not see the rich vein. Later, he asked me how I got the gig and how much did it pay anyway?

Then there was L, who should have known better, a professional in a sensitive position, he couldn’t help but let me know that he thought I was engaging in propaganda. (Check a dictionary definition of propaganda, or listen to the Nov. 11th, The Current, interview with the military historian, for a full understanding of the meaning.) This seriously compromised our relationship which should be free of judgement.

Friends and family have for the most part supported me in this work. Some have been a bit mystified. I’m sure if I was being paid a huge amount of money, that they would be less mystified. I get no money. That’s normal. That’s what being an artist is generally about.

Finally, one of the things that I find most interesting about my project, is the overall lack of interest in it from my fellow poets. Certainly, the amazing Ariel Gordon in Winnipeg, a handful of Scottish poets, a few of my St. Pete’s colleagues, and of course, my glorious Edmonton Raving Poets, all are supportive and interested, but there is a stunning silence from CanLit. Perhaps that I’m a nobody is part of it. That I belong to no school, no academy, no nothing. Perhaps, that my work is raw and undisciplined, uneven, not post-modern, not modern, not anything, and slips and slides from prose to poetry and back, and that I present it in Beta, it is not deemed worthy of comment. Who knows?

All I know is that I’ve had over 12,250 hits on my site in 3 months, and that someone wrote to me that reading my work had re-instilled a lost love of poetry for him. So I guess, that’s all I need. To keep on writing.

Over and out.

5 Comments (Closed)

Mike Gravel

What you’re doing here is important. These are stories that need to be told and you are telling them with grace and great skill. Thusfar, the tone of this endeavor is – by my reading – decidedly neutral. You’re not grinding any axes – you’re telling the stories. This probably explains the polar reactions, as many people are uncomfortable, or unfamiliar, with narrative subtlety (they’re used to getting their skulls cracked by the mainstream media).

The reactions that you have received are a blessing. An artist does not, should not, fear negative reactions. Her true bane is indifference.

Jan 18 2009 · 08:20

katherine jane

OMG. Can Lit. What would you expect from THEM? Connected at the hip, art-not-for-art’s-sake-but-what’s-in-it-for-me-and-my-career-and-maybe-an-interview-at-the-CEEB-and-a-grant …

Forget about them, sms. They’re on the gravy train and they’re the reason I hardly ever pick up a book by a Canadian author. Narcissists, most of them, with only “a Canadian story” to tell.

I’m not looking for “Canadian stories.” I’m looking for human stories with which I can relate. I don’t care if they happen in Saskatoon, on the corner of Avenue Road and Bloor Street, or in Antigonish. I want a story where heart speaks to heart and where I might learn something about love, life, humility, spirit, courage, sacrifice … all words/concepts that CanLit seems to have dropped from their repertoire.

Soldier on. Tell the soldiers’ stories. That’s what Canadians need to hear.

Jan 18 2009 · 22:22

Alex VanderWoude

I have always found it disturbing that so many members of the artistic community, which prides itself on its sensitivity, are so hostile to members of the military. In many ways it seems to be a kind of badge of membership, where you must be opposed to and, better yet, contemptuous of those people who volunteer to work at the sharp end of the spear. Or even at the blunt end, come to think of it. Perhaps they wish that there was no spear at all (a wish they have in common with the very people they deride) and believe that participating is the same as perpetuating. If my speculation is accurate, then to an extent they are correct on that last point. However, what they overlook is the fact that unilateral disarmament will not necessarily lead to cessation of all hostility. If it does not have that desired outcome then the alternative will almost certainly be much worse. I loved the way this was put by Eowyn in The Two Towers: “Those who have no swords can still die upon them.”

Jan 19 2009 · 15:35


one of the pleasant surprises I’ve received while doing this project has been the support I’ve received from artists that I previously would have thought would be of the “thumbs down” school, i.e., anti-war = anti-soldier. that they understand what I’m trying to do is really great. but I'm equally interested in the hostility that I've encountered, and am fascinated when it is directed my way.
thank you MG, KJ, AW, for your words and your interest. if nothing else, this project has got people talking.

Jan 19 2009 · 20:55


Reference the anti brigade, Robert Burns, that great observer of life summed them up to perfection (English translation!)
“Oh would some power the gift to give us
to see some folk the way they see us”
Carry on S, you’re doing a grand job! Rabbie would be proud!

Jan 22 2009 · 15:14

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The page you're reading contains a single diary entry entitled everyone has an opinion. It was posted here on January 17, 2009.


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