War Poet.ca - A CFAP Project by Suzanne Steele

should I or shouldn't I continue to write?

my inner struggle. everyday I think I’ll flick the switch off this site. though thousands read it. every day I try and understand what the search for the colour of the dust of Afghanistan, way back in 2007 when I wrote my first line of Elegy for an Infantryman and got stuck on the colour… white, brown, red?… has led me to. a life unrecognizable from that of domestic cosiness in a little cottage on the west coast of North America, to this foray into PhD-land in a new country, and oh yes, with an 18 month, no three year really, excursion into the heart of a battalion, then a war zone, then home again to a different kind of home, all of this along the way.

I wonder why I expose my poorly-written prose, unfinished thoughts, when my colleagues are so very careful. well-trained. and I am so wanton with words and thought. and I think to myself, -“enough’s enough, time to get serious. time to learn your craft. time to understand theory, form etc. etc., enough of amateur hour blah blah blah”_

and sometimes, especially after a particularly unpleasant piece of mail (and there have only been 3 or 4) that chooses my private property, this site, as a Blue Rocket (!) for their insecurities, I doubly wonder…

until I receive a letter over the electronic transom which touches me. touches me deeply. especially as I, in the early throes of PhD-land am exploring the flip sides of the coin called witness.

this morning, so unexpectedly, a letter from a widow. we’ve never met. I won’t give her name (I always guarantee anonymity unless people wish me to identify them). her beloved was lost in A’stan. she has children. here’s what she wrote me:

I am glad you write, that you care to share the pain of war, of soldiers and our families. I am glad you care. Thank you. Keep writing, the world needs to know, to understand, to get it. He and I and his children need the world to get that his life gone, his mission, his sacrifice, our sacrifice was not in vain. That more than anything, is why I say, keep writing, your words are balm on our wounds. God Bless you and your good heart of compassion.

this astonishes me and humbles me. all I’ve ever done is try and find the correct colour of the sand in Afghanistan. honestly.

that I’ve also been allowed into the centre of the hearts of families, soldiers (one in particular), their friends, has been perhaps the most surprising of all. and one I struggle with. daily.

3 Comments (Closed)

Chris Hennebery

I find it hard not to let other people define me and therefore influence me in my decisions to paint/document soldiers lives. This week I received a letter from CFAP informing me I was not accepted into the program and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t cut deep. Its not unrealistic to want the acceptance and recognition of your peers… But after talking to a few soldier buddies they reminded me why it is I took on the Painting to Afghanistan project and again I was humbled. My paintings are now finding their way into messes and regimental museums, which was the point of the project. Paint the soldiers for the soldiers. My paintings might not hang in Ottawa, but I’m fine with the company they will keep.

Jan 18 2012 · 15:06

Alex VanderWoude

With all due respect to Chris Hennebery’s work, I’m glad that the words on this site are available to us civilians, not just to soldiers. Our troops get it, but most of us don’t. We need to, and the work here on warpoet.ca, incomplete and unpolished as it may be, helps. I’m very glad I followed that link on smalldeadanimals those many moons ago. But ultimately it’s up to you, sms; don’t let guilt or brow-beating or a misplaced sense of duty turn this into a chore.

Jan 19 2012 · 23:51


When you started this project all those years ago, you had no idea what you were getting yourself into. You had opportunity to leave, but your heart would not let you. Why would it let you stop now? Nobody said this was going to be easy, which is what we tell each other when we are deployed to these places. Just words? Maybe, but you have the power over these words and are able to let others understand. The words probably would not be as powerful, in my opinion, were they “polished up” rather than straight from the same heart that will never let you quit this journey.

Now go do your homework!

Jan 20 2012 · 09:19

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The page you're reading contains a single diary entry entitled should I or shouldn't I continue to write?. It was posted here on January 18, 2012.


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