My friend Donnie McNeill sent me a poem yesterday for Poetry Scotland’s ‘Open Mouse’ page, and I was pleased to post it. It’s about death in Afghanistan. We have a mutual friend who used to live in Edinburgh – Suzanne Steele – who’s now an official Canadian war artist currently in Afghanistan with their troops, and she has also posted the poem on her War Poet blog. The blog is a ‘must read’ one for me, with some memorable reflections on her life with the troops. I salute her courage, and I hope and trust that she’ll come back safely.
Like many other poets, I’ve read the poetry of the First World War, and my recent trip to the Somme brought it into sharp focus for me. Finding the names of so many of my relatives made it a very personal pilgrimage, and I couldn’t help but write a poem about the experience. The poem’s ‘in submission’ just now, so I won’t post it. It’s not about the conflict itself, or the fighting, just my reactions to the things I experienced and thought about. It couldn’t be otherwise. There’s a Canadian connection there too, as one of my relatives had emigrated to Canada, but came back to fight with the Canadian battalion, and died in the battle.
As one who has travelled a lot in Europe, Russia and Japan, I’ve seen the aftershocks of war often enough, in people and places, but the experience of living through war is something I can only read about and imagine. I’ve written poems about the Normandy landings, because I’ve visited the area several times, and I know what happened there. Encountering the Terezin/ Theresienstadt concentration camp in the Czech Republic made me despair at the inadequacy of poetry to confront the monstrous reality of what went on there. That’s why the poem has the title ‘Where Poetry Fails’. It needed a higher art than mine to express it, but all I had was my art, so it had to do.