News: Poets take on military life

Published in the June 5 2010 issue of The Edmonton Sun. News

Poets take on military life

Suzanne Steele remembers waking up at 4 a.m. with military cooks to watch them feed the Canadian army.

She remembers riding in light armoured vehicles with soldiers and spending a day living among Afghan locals wearing a burka.

Steele was the first poet chosen in 2008 to participate in the Canadian Forces Artist Program, where artists are invited to join soldiers overseas to record daily operations and capture the spirit of the Canadian Forces.


However, unlike most artists in the program who only get to experience life with soldiers for a short period of time, Steele was given the opportunity to follow 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (1 PPCLI) in Edmonton for more than a year prior to their deployment to Afghanistan.

“I got a chance to watch them the whole way,” Steele said over the phone from her home in Victoria, B.C. “I had an extraordinary and unique experience.”

Steele spent months flying back and forth from her home in Victoria to CFB Edmonton to watch as soldiers trained to go overseas.

In Nov. 2009, she flew to Afghanistan with the battle group to witness first-hand soldiers’ lives in the war.

“Before I did this I had a cookie-cutter image of what it meant to be a soldier,” she said.

Over a span of 18 months, Steele wrote poem after poem about military life and posted them on her website,

Now Steele is part of a team of three involved with a unique Edmonton-based military poetry project called In Arms.

In Arms’ aim is to collect war poetry from poets, family or friends of soldiers, and even soldiers themselves, as a way to show Canadians a side of the war they don’t usually see.

“It’s an experience that so few of us really have if we’re not in that world,” said Alice Major, In Arms member and Edmonton Poetry Festival president. “I believe profoundly that art is one of the best ways at expressing and creating dialogue.”

In Arms hopes to create a dialogue among Edmontonians about the Canadian military.

Poetry will be collected over the next several months, culminating into a poetry reading performance at the Royal Alberta Museum on the eve of Remembrance Day 2010.

Donna Yakibchuk, whose son returned to CFB Edmonton after a tour in Afghanistan earlier this week, has contributed three poems to In Arms.

She said writing war poetry while her son was overseas was the perfect outlet for her feelings as a mother of a soldier.


“It’s a whole new area of emotion,” Yakibchuk said. “You end up crying for everybody.”

From June 16-23, Steele will visit CFB Edmonton for a series of events related to the return of 1 PPCLI.

“That will bring it full circle for me personally,” she said.
In Arms will also be reaching out to military personnel during that week to participate in the poetry project.
Submissions to the In Arms project can be made at

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