Shrapenel: Tales of a Soldier Dad
Every soldier has stories: some they hold tight and close to their hearts, some they will share at appropriate times. The poems in this book are based on my remembrances of my father, Jim Alexander, who served overseas with the Canadian Armed Forces, Lincoln and Welland Regiment, during World War II. Sometimes, when we’d be together, sharing tea or a wee dram, he’d suddenly recant one of his stories. I always wanted to listen, to hear them, and I have never forgotten them. These are stories that are fascinating as well as horrifying (Once in a French Chateau), some even painted with the black humour that can accompany a will to live (A Tough Old Bird), and some border on the miraculous (Tiger, Tiger, and The Sweater). Many returning soldiers were so traumatized by their experiences that they could never talk about them. I am most grateful to my father that he was able to share parts of his life, which at the time, was still very difficult for him. He seemed to sense the importance of his experiences. The events experienced by front line soldiers need to be shared and remembered. In this way, the true horror of war never leaves those of us lucky enough not to have to slide or sleep in mud and blood, aim guns at our brothers on the other side, or to dig slit trenches at the drop of a helmet. Maybe by remembrance, we can pull together as a species, end the horror of mass violence, and learn to survive together, and focus instead, on saving this amazing planet from ourselves. Becky Alexander
Shrapnel explodes into our perception in Becky Alexander’s graphic yet tender Tales of a Soldier Dad. We are pierced in heart and memory as a veteran reveals events seldom told, cajoled from him through his relationship with a receptive daughter. This bond has forged a legacy for Canadian poetry that will be treasured as a document of history, a tribute to family, to the lands that abide beneath rude subdivisions, our home-farms, and to the fellowship of men who earned our freedoms fighting in a terrible war. The humour and courage of Becky Alexander’s remarkable dad shines through the grey-green eyes of an intrepid Scot. Once decorated by the King, he keeps that close, a piece of history sometimes told, captured in Becky’s poem: The Military Medal. The language of the book is vital and immediate. We share Holland with its dignity of struggle, the humble of home-coming and what we would give “for one more hollered morning/full of wake-up calls and whisker rubs.” The subliminal life threads of ties that bind are skilfully woven here, so cleverly that the poet becomes narrator of an epic tale, as in The Sweater. Alexander’s birthday party poems reveal aspects of her family, and her dad’s gracing of them, in little cameos of precious time. A fine poet will always capture the wider connections to human experience. Becky does this throughout the unfolding of her dad’s life, as it plays out against the backdrop of war survivors, the rare appreciation for life, its work, duties and its loves, the homes they built and gardens coaxed to both sustain and decorate. Jim Alexander declared “feeling the Highland breeze/he said cold was his first lesson.” He ruggedly overcame, with a twinkling eye, every obstacle life could conjure. These poems endear him to us, as he takes his place in history. The last poem of the book On Raven Wings, brings the raven, nemesis and necessity of the Highland hero, fully into all our levels of understanding. It is a powerful poem, knitting the lost and lovely things of our world into the fabric of clan myth and memory: “those black feathers/eyeing the grave.” We feel the keen sense of loss, as well as the poet’s wonder at the river of life that may eddy in “a new Shangri-La.” That was the raven’s message, ”heart to heart.”Shrapnel—Tales of a Soldier Dad, is a book that will reveal many a level of existence to the questing reader.
Katherine L. Gordon
Author, Editor, Publisher, Judge and Reviewer.
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