War Poet.ca - A CFAP Project by Suzanne Steele

Writing May Day

A few thoughts on writing this project in response to some remarks made to me either in person or by emails from my readers.

Warpoet is my public site for this project. It is my sketchbook of ideas and work in progress. It is raw, unedited beta material. When I say unedited, I mean formally edited – I have no official editor. Having said that, I am very lucky to have a few careful readers who point out errors, grammatical or otherwise, and for this I’m grateful.

Warpoet consists of a number of projects in actuality. May Day is a series of fictional letters from someone named S to a fictional WO, M, who is serving in Afghanistan. May Day started as an online project with the MayDay poetry project, the genius of Winnipeg poet Ariel Gordon, who kindly allowed me to participate.

Ariel’s May Day project invites a few poets from across Canada to write a poem a day for the entire month of May, and post them for critique and enjoyment. Last May I started my own May Day series spontaneously as my contributions. My fellow poets seemed to really like the letter format and indeed one of them wrote how much fun it was to “read someone’s mail”! I have ‘borrowed’ the title, May Day, for my own project as a working title because I find it fitting, a call for help of sorts I suppose, from my main character, S. I asked Ariel’s forgiveness in using the title before I asked her permission and thankfully, she said it was okay. Still, I need/want to acknowledge her creative and generous genius once again.

With May Day, I’m exploring the contemporary military experience of Canadians at war, and the civilian response to it, in a very personal way. Through M, we get a direct account of what’s happening overseas. Through S, we see her perception/interpretation of the ‘life’, and through the young Lt. J, we begin to see the effect of the war on someone suffering PTSD. Another dynamic is that M, being slightly older, with 20 years in, gives us insight into the “old” army, whereas J, a young 26 year old officer, represents the “new”. S is 32, almost half-way between the two soldiers in age.

Typically when writing May Day, I will take a concept or bit of information that I’ve learned while with the troops or read about, e.g., Notional or NVGs or the Rawa Tander Battle, and will think about it for a day or two or even a few months, and let it percolate until one day I sit down and the story spins out. I never know what’s going to happen with my characters, it just does. I don’t know if J will return to Afghanistan, or what happened to him over there (at least not yet), nor do I know whether M will return, or if S will dump him or ? This is the great fun of the writing.

How much comes from my life?

Well I dance flamenco but after 8 years am only a raw beginner. I have just started solo work. I certainly did not dance on New Year’s Eve at an all night party (although I did sing!) As with all fiction writers though, I have “stolen” some dialogue and fragments of character from my life, from my friends’ and family members’ lives and from newspaper stories.

Is there a WO M or a Lt J?

No. But there are elements in both taken from men I have met both within and without the military. And S? She doesn’t exist either.

And why are their names only initials? I want them to be anonymous I guess. I want them to be ‘everyman’.

Is it poetry?

Not really. Is it prose? Who cares? It is what it is.

As for the annoying lack of punctuation and the weird little stops and starts, this is intentional. I mean for it to be breathy, jerky, temporary and unpolished. Life is breathy, temporary and unpolished.

3 Comments (Closed)

Douglas Hill

May Day, in “beta” just as-is, is easily one of the most engrossing things I have read in a long time. I don’t “engross” easily. I like the breathiness, the sense of spontaneous mainly unselfconscious emotion. I agree with the May Day participant who said “how much fun it was ‘to read someone’s mail’”— that’s how I feel about it. It is intensely personal, and the rough syntax enhances that sense.

Jan 05 2009 · 12:02

Alex VanderWoude

I enjoy the May Day posts more now that I understand that they are fictional. Before, I felt slightly uncomfortable reading them because it seemed somehow like voyeurism. The fact that they were on a public website obviously indicated that they were intended for general consumption, but it still felt a little weird. To me, reading someone else’s mail is not fun, but rather a gross breach of manners. I guess my emotional response is a compliment to your mad writing skillz!

Jan 08 2009 · 09:26


it’s a great compliment Alex, that you would take May Day as being real. I think everyone enjoys reading letters. I personally really enjoy reading collections of letters from other times. here’s hoping that I get at least some sense of our era in this project, and as always, that I get some of it right, both militarily as well as from a dramatic/personal point of view.

remember too that this is all unedited, first draft material, and will have lots of holes in it plot-wise and otherwise.

Jan 08 2009 · 11:32

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The page you're reading contains a single diary entry entitled Writing May Day. It was posted here on January 05, 2009.


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