War Poet.ca - A CFAP Project by Suzanne Steele

road trip

Art is the symbol of the two noblest human efforts: to construct and to refrain from destruction.
Simone Weil

home from a road trip to E’town and Calgary, v. tired from being on the go non-stop, camping out in someone’s comfy digs (thanks Lt.), saying farewell, doing a dog and pony show with MCpl. (he did brilliantly) at the school for the performing arts (amazing audience, just the best with their intelligent questions, their attention, their willingness to keep an open mind), doing a television interview with CTV, then a dash down to Calgary to embed with good friends, and give a talk at the University of Calgary’s Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, then home (my dogs went crazy when they saw me, then I went crazy once I saw the holes they dug in my garden!!!)

the school for the performing arts gave the MCpl. and me a stainless steel water bottle with the Weil quote on it. I’ve never read her but many of her quotes that I’ve come across, have had great meaning to me in the course of my life, and this one clearly stands for what I’m trying to do with my work, to create, to record, to find the light, the humanity, in the midst of war.

at the U. of C., a member of the audience pointed out that each war has been expressed in a specific form… WWI, poetry, WWII, film, Vietnam, music… she asked me what form I thought would be used to express Afghanistan. I told her that because it is the digital/joy stick generation fighting the war, I believe the art form will be something digital, interactive etc. … in fact, my observations of contemporary “trench art” (art produced by soldiers) is that it is heavily digital… YouTube, cell phone film, Twitter, blogs etc…

I told her that this web site is an important and appropriate manifestation of my war art… it is transient, unmediated, interactive (thanks soldiers who send work, thanks readers who send letters, paracord, books etc.), multi-discipline, and plays with form (e.g. txt messaging as a poetic form)… and that because the publishing cycle takes anywhere from a year to three years, that my work, even though some of it is quite frankly crap (well a lot of it actually), I feel compelled to get it out, “while Canadians are being injured and/or being killed”, as the Scottish Canadian poet Tom Bryan suggested I do.

I also told the audience that this “instant” publishing isn’t really new. Rudyard Kipling’s work that he wrote during the Boer War was published weekly… newspapers and broadsheets readily published his poetry. Kipling acknowledges the immediacy of the work might not lend itself to greatness, but still it was important work at the time.

so while this work I present might not be Wordsworth’s ideal of poetry as “emotion recalled in tranquility” because quite frankly, this has been a year of physical, emotional, challenge for me, I believe it is worthwhile for what it is. only time and distance from this war, will give any of us a sense of perspective/value.

yesterday at the University, a mother of a soldier came up to me and thanked me for this work. she told me it helps her. her son is amazed at how much she understands his world.

last night I received an incredible message from a young student who thanked me for helping open her eyes to an existence – the soldiers’ – of which she knew nothing, and for challenging her and the audience to bear witness. these are her words:

Yesterday, you came to talk to us and read some of your poetry aloud. I just wanted to drop you a line and tell you how utterly riveting I found it. I apologize in advance for the incessant ramblings that may ensue.
All of what you talked about and expressed to us was, I admit, quite controversial, but I am so glad that I do not go to some sheltered Catholic school where they might censor anything you were trying to tell us, because war really is something that is so important for kids my age to hear about from different points of view. So often nowadays, all we hear about is the latest roadside bomb killings, and millions of facts that aren’t actually coming from the horse’s mouth. Now, I do admit, I’m still not exactly pro-war, but actually being given the chance to listen to another side of the story, was invaluable.
I really identified with what you said about being a witness and not a judge. I personally find it very hard to judge a situation with out hearing all of the various opinions of others, and even then it proves a difficult task. This does lead to some pretty hard times for me justifying arguments in Social classes. As soon as I hear the other side’s argument I find myself readily changing my opinion. This is much like what happened to me yesterday. Hearing about what it’s actually like for the soldiers out there fighting so we can stay in our nice air-conditioned houses, and hearing about how ignorant some people are with their assumptions of them as humans…ohhh it just made my blood boil. I’d like to see them try and spend a day in the shoes of those men and women. I know I sure couldn’t do it. I swear in the first second I’d be begging to come home!
Anyway, thank you so much for giving me and my peers the chance to hear your two cents and don’t let anyone’s stupidity stop you from continuing what you’re doing. What you have to offer the world is inspirational. I have got to say I admire your bravery for actually going to Afghanistan to expand your art and knowledge. Not in a million years would I have the guts to do that. Good luck be with you and everyone else during your time there. And again, Thank you so, so much.

I don’t get paid very much for this work. in fact, I don’t get paid at all unless I’m asked to speak. publishing my work I’m lucky to see $100 for a huge amount of stuff…. so no financial reward, no fame (and I don’t care about that anyway), etc., but hearing from a soldier’s mother, a young student, or a reader who says he’s learned to love poetry again, means very much to me. it gives me the courage to carry on.


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The page you're reading contains a single diary entry entitled road trip. It was posted here on September 16, 2009.


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