During my appointment as the 7th Parliamentary Poet Laureate (2016-17), I was privileged to receive commissions to draft poems on subjects as royal as the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Order of Canada (1967) and as proletarian as the 100th Anniversary of the Great Bolshevik October Revolution that established the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (1917).
I also received commissions to author the 200th Anniversary poem for the founding of Dalhousie University (1818) and for the centennial of the devastating Halifax Explosion (December 6, 1917). In all cases, I found myself reviewing the appropriate histories. Now, I’ve been commissioned to ink the poem honouring the Canadian troops who liberated Ortona, Italy, 75 years ago (December 1943).
I haven’t yet written the poem, which will be presented at the Canadian Embassy in Rome on Remembrance Day, 2018 (and, I expect, in Ortona itself in late December 2018). However, to write it, I’m reading Bill McAndrew, Les Canadiens et la Campagne d’Italie (1943-1945) (Art Global, 1996), Patricia Geisler’s Valour Remembered: Canada and the Second World War, 1939-1945 (Government of Canada Veterans Affairs, 1981), and Legion Magazine’s True Canadian War Stories, selected by Jane Dewar (1986, 1989).
I may yet interview a veteran of the Ortona campaign, and I’ve already visited Ortona (in September 2018) to take notes about the town, the Canadian cemetery, and the other memorials to our soldiers’ sacrifice. It may seem strange for a poet to do research for a poem, as opposed to depending on sheer inspiration. However, two well-known poets–Ezra Pound and Bob Dylan–have spent time in archives, and their jottings–for worse and for better–are vital, how-(not)-to guides, at least pour moi.
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