Books

NEW! AFGHANISTAN CONFESSIONS! (Hagios October 30, 2014)

Canadian troops arrived in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, though with a much larger presence following 2006, served as fully committed war-fighters until 2011, and in training and support roles until 2014. Stationed in Kandahar Airfield (KAF), Canadian soldiers led the fight in southern Afghanistan, maintaining Forward Operating Bases (FOB’s) “outside the wire,” in the heart of Taliban territory, seen by most observers as the most dangerous place to fight in the country.

This was the first time since Korea that Canadians at home were seeing our soldiers as war-fighters, boldly upsetting our dearly held notion, since Lester Pearson’s Nobel in the 1960s, of our forces as blue-helmeted peace-keepers.

Few of us will ever have to shoulder the burden of taking another human life, or seeing the death and destruction common to all wars. As thought provoking in subject as they are accessible to read, Afghanistan Confessions challenges assumptions Canadians may have about the conflict, and the thousands of soldiers that fought Canada’s longest war.

I was never a soldier, but traveled to Kabul with the assistance of the Manitoba Arts Council and the Winnipeg Arts Council in May 2008. I interviewed  members of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) based in Shilo, Manitoba, on my return.

During the time I was working on this collection I established an email correspondence with Neil Maclean, a career soldier, introduced to him by another writer and a running partner in civilian life. Maclean agreed to serve as a sounding board and as a technical advisor making sure I was using proper Canadian slang and military parlance, and referring to military weapons and equipment correctly.

The soldiers I interviewed had their own ideas of why they were there, inside or outside the wire of Kandahar Airfield, probably different motivation for each of them. Only a few are raised in the collection including classical notions of giving and getting glory, seeking adventure, doing a professional job, supporting a family. There were many others given in interviews from a need of structure and love of routine, to the camaraderie and the tight loyalty of a fighting unit, and service to Canada.

This collection is dedicated to my mother Susann Enns, raised in conservative Mennonite southern Manitoba in the 1930s. Mennonite fundamentalists did not believe in educating women beyond what they need to know for Kinder, Kirche, und Kueche.[1] Girls were usually taken out of school after completing Grade Eight, more education than most Afghan girls receive even now.

While these poems stay in an imagined Afghanistan, our soldiers do not.  The damage continues at home with many returning veterans suffering PTSD and some taking their own lives. Even career soldiers are getting war weary. As Neil Maclean, who served three tours in Bosnia before going to Afghanistan, texts after checking the galleys of his afterword –


“In Germany, transitioning to the Middle East. This will be my third war. Getting a little old for this.” – Neil Maclean.



[1] Children, Church, Kitchen

Jimmy Bang Poems (Turnstone, 1979)

My first publication was Jimmy Bang Poems in 1979. I left town before it was released, and came back in January 1980. I hadn’t received a copy, so I wanted to go to Mary Scorer’s on Osborne to buy a copy. Foolishly I asked my dad for a ride, and told him the truth when he asked why.  But instead of just dropping me at Confusion Corner, he insisted on coming into the bookstore with me. I quickly picked up my copy from the rack displaying Turnstone chapbooks , paid, and fled. My dad in the store, turned to the first poem “They fucked/for a girl/so they said.  ….Planned for comfort/got me/instead.“ Mom said later over tea before bed that Dad was upset, but would get over it. She said “having read Margaret Laurence I know what goes on in books these days. Dad prefers the older stuff.”

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Correct in this Culture (5th House, 1985)

Correct in this Culture, was published in the fall of 1985, edited by the owner of 5th House, Caroline Heath, a fabulous editor. I did the revisions by mail in my brother’s farmhouse near Aubigny where the Manitoba Writers’ Guild was inaugurated, using the St Agathe Post Office.

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Lucky Man (Hagios, 2005)

A lucky break. Paul Wilson had just become part-owner of Hagios Press, who I knew from my time at the SWG. He had heard I had been putting a manuscript together including poems since 1985, and asked to see it. Twenty years between books, for family, for work, for exploratory writing like Involuntary Tongue, which I read to a startled group of my friends and colleagues in  a Regina warehouse space I had rented, preparing them with my favourite cocktail, the Rob Roy. Question then as now was, so who is going to publish this stuff? This stuff was Involuntary Tongue, click here for more in Works.

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boy (2012)

Paul Wilson and Hagios, again looking, me again finding. This time poems even before Jimmy Bang set in my home-town of Gretna, with a beautiful (still standing) red brick post office with a flag, and a weather station providing temperatures often read on the CBC.

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