A Draft Dodger’s Wife Remembers

by Ronnie R. Brown

A Beret Days Book

The Ontario Poetry Society

Reviewed by Sylvia Adams


Ronnie R. Brown is well-known and respected not only in Ottawa writing circles but also throughout Canada. With six collections of poetry, work presented on radio and adapted for stage, and poems published in numerous literary magazines, she has earned accolades since the beginning of her career. Her States of Matter, (Black Moss Press, 2005) won the Acorn-Plantos People’s Poetry Award. This latest chapbook has won the 2013 Golden Grassroots Chapbook Contest.


A collage of three photos graces the cover: in one a striking girl, earnest and assured, meets our gaze; in another, a tall man in graduation robes poses, the girl leaning toward him; in the largest, a flowering tree, symbolic of promise, towers over the same couple.


As the young, determined wife of a draft dodger, Brown shared her new husband’s fervent opposition to the Vietnam war. The ensuing years take us on a rocky ride from bland assurance that a Phi Beta Kappa destined for grad school could not possibly be drafted through attempts to discover ways to avoid the inevitable. Parenthood, friends tell them, will exonerate Jim from service. Parenthood doesn’t happen.


Migraines, grueling medical tests, financial and employment worries and a relative’s divorce haunt them as they make the decision to leave all that is familiar to make a new life. Sixteen poems take us from their first thoughts of emigrating from Massachusetts to Montreal, Canada – “it sounds foreign, exotic, like/ Fiji, Bora Bora” – to taking stock more than forty years later: “We stay in this country/ that is not like home, until,/ eventually, it becomes home.”


Even through their most desperate days, the poet’s trademark wry humour shines through: picture the couple in “Travelling On” as they drive north: “‘We look like a scene from/ The Grapes of Wrath,’ he says” while she holds “a pot of ivy his mother/ rooted from my wedding/ bouquet.” Later, Jim asks, “What the hell are you doing?”  “Looking for beavers, moose/ and Mounties” she replies, “try[ing] to pretend I wasn’t serious.” Just after Labour Day, they arrive in Quebec where, to her dismay, the poet encounters unanticipated chilly weather. “Ah, Madame/…summer was yesterday,” she is told. “I pray this is a joke…”


These twenty pages of poetry embody all the requisites of a good novel: suspense built by retardation of action as goals resist and often recede; the ability to evoke empathy in the reader through characters we can identify with; appropriately humorous touches; the climax in “Turbulence” as the poet learns that Jim’s guaranteed permanent job is terminated after a month: “…you said it would be like home,/ you promised!”; and  denouement where they “hang in, hang on to/ what is, to one another.” We are with her all the way, to relief when the rewards – a son, successful careers, firm bonds of family and friends – finally appear.


In the closing poem, the poet’s recurring dream reprises her arrival in Canada and the decision made “when she was young: of/ that night, that time/ that war.” That war, with all its side effects, stays with us.





Sylvia Adams is the author of a novel, an award-winning chapbook, a children's book and a full collection of poetry, Sleeping on the Moon, which was the 2007 runner-up for the Lampman-Scott Award. She is an editor, a workshop facilitator, and a founding member of The Field Stone Poets. Recent work will appear in a forthcoming Queen's Quarterly and the anthologies Happenstance and Aesthetica.