When Jacqueline Carmichael read through her grandfather’s letters from the First World War, she was struck by how much he sounded like a contemporary young person.
George Vowel joined the fighting when he was 22 years old and served for more than four years. During that time he was in correspondence with a young woman back home. Those letters made it back to Carmichael’s family and ultimately her possession.
Fascinated by those letters and journals, Carmichael, a Port Alberni-based writer and journalist, wrote articles, did more research and even walked in her grandfather’s footsteps in Belgium and France. She soon realized she had enough material for a manuscript.
Last month Carmichael released Tweets from the Trenches: Little True Stories of Life and Death on the Western Front. The chronological, footnoted poetry book draws from letters, historical accounts and memoirs from different perspectives of people affected by the First World War. She said she wanted to include lesser-heard voices, like First Nations soldiers and women on the front lines.
“The whole idea of the Tweets from the Trenches was the postcards, the letters, the telegrams, they were these little, tersely scribbled things that these guys were sending out in such urgency and desperation – it reminded me very much of social media these days and I felt like these were the Tweets of their day. They just took a lot longer to get there,” she said.
“This was like a text he would send home, but it just took longer to get there. So I thought if I framed it up that way it might help people form current generations understand these people better.”
Carmichael will read from her new book at the Green Olive Room on Sept. 19 at the opening of WordStorm Society of the Arts’ 15 Minutes of Infamy 2018-19 spoken word series. The evening will feature storyteller Rachel Muller, local poets Shayne Grec and Carla Stein and songwriters Donna Konsorado and Amy Stephen.
Carmichael will be reading a piece about a Nanaimo couple that went to war, the man serving as a soldier, the woman as a nurse.
“Right after the armistice was declared she wrote this very touching letter from a wife to her husband saying, ‘We’re going to be together again, I can’t wait’ and it was just lovely,” she said.
“So the book captures some of the horrors of war and some sadness of war, but also there were these moments of lightness.”
WHAT’S ON … WordStorm Society of the Arts’ 15 Minutes of Infamy 2018-19 poetry series begins at the Green Olive Room, 150 Skinner St., on Wednesday, Sept. 19 from 7 to 10 p.m.