on Cousins in Arms
The poem is a meditation on two soldiers killed in WW1 and how they are remembered over time. It also deliberates on the forgetfulness of future generations and contrasts it with the loquacious commemoration of the poet Edward Thomas. Deft and ironic! A fluent, articulate poem about laconic commemoration.
Dutifully, the poem questions the value of the sacrifice the soldiers made, hinting that they might have been shot as cowards. There are points in the poem when we share vivid moments; the way the soldiers’ bodies fell, the spring offensive, the lines that ‘ try to place him’. It’s quite a technical achievements to bring that off, I think.
One very interesting theme is language, it’s potential and limitations, from ‘stories’ that are confirmed or denied, ‘bare facts’ , ‘ranked’ and ‘proof’, ‘mark you down’ represent the laconic ways in which the two soldiers are remembered. I think the treatment of language in this way is a strong idea running through the piece, perhaps much more so than the way it draws on celebrated work of Owen, Brooke and Co.
It is interesting to see the technical effect of the change of tense, from past to present, in lines such as,
‘We cannot know they way their bodies fell’
‘He vanishes at Arras’
‘He is not found’
These examples contrast with the past tense ‘what ends he served’. The time shifts don’t sound forced, either. The effect is to thrown details into relief so they take place now, in our time, where they ‘lie in wait’, as does Charlie Vince.
A fine poem, John. I especially like the way the poem explores language, it’s riches and impoverishments. This contrast is especially rich in such a ceremonious and articulate piece of work.
19th September 2014
on Poland Train
There is a gradual emergence of verbs describing mental processes in ‘Poland Train’. Towards the middle we find the train is a ‘comet’ with a black tail; near the end we encounter the engine-driver’s glib comments on his own conclusions with words like ‘thought’, ‘what I cannot understand’, and ‘knew’, so very different from the opening stanzas with their physical emphasis (‘The stench’, on the train’s movement and on the striking contrasts;’needles’ of the dials, ‘fire,’shake’ and ‘shiver’. Also the worn out valves and poor coal reflect the moral debasement of the society in allowing such horrors. The development provides the poem with its ironic bite, its vatic stance about the difficult topic of the transportation. I think abstractions need to be prepared before the reader encounters them and you achieve it here. Contrasts of the physical and mental kind help a great deal, lending a control, so keenly required, in a poem about the Holocaust.
Notice, too, the juxtaposititions of huge and tiny- the tidy footplates and the fire; the tear of condensation and the huge train; the universe of the night and a man’s spit into the firebox. Along with sudden patterns of language like the repeated ls in ‘ the load, the line’s end or how long…’ they alert the reader to the unexpected, man;s insignificant place in the scheme of it all and in the end, to the ‘ramp beyond the arch’ which means death.
The poem conveys throughout the easy glibness in the engine-driver; the age-old attribution of guilt to the execution of Christ ‘Jews! I hear my father’s voice again…’ and with references like , ‘sinless son’ and ironic twist of ‘his Lord’. Also, the appalling ‘give more speed and help them on their way’. (I thought the Nazies made use to Luther’s Satanic preachings about the Jews, too. Could this have been touched on?)
that time and debt had lent a false respect’- a fine iambic beat to support the abstractions ‘ time’, false respect’.
A well-wrought poem, John, and on such a tricky subject. It deserves a wider audience.
Posted by John Williams on 12 May 2011
I love the poem ‘Doctor’s Notes’. It shows wonderful control of a difficult theme.
I especially like ‘ tongue tattooe…beasts’; ‘mark them down for cocktails in the club’; and the superbly wrought short sentences at the end which carry a punch ‘ The notes/ are thrown away…; ‘ Each scalpel, saw and knife their only epitaph.’
Brill! Clearand principled – not often we find both in a poem.
I have difficulty with only one line, I feel: ‘evident brutality becomes a fact’. I think it’s a bit heavy, committed you might say. Perhaps a lighter expression might carry the reader along more effectively, though i can’t at the moment suggest what might work.
Posted by John Williams on 16 December 2011
It’s a brilliant poem – the selection of personal and historical detail; the, at times appropriately violent, economy of language; the suppressed anger; the elegiac cadences; the pathos.
Posted by DAVID SELZER on 01 December 2010
ON A MOSCOW TRAIN
How good this piece is! Evocative, wry and a little nostalgic. And how right, ironically, are the echoes of Larkin’s ‘Whitsun Weddings’as the train approaches the city.
Posted by David Selzer on 21 August 2009
Angio – great little poem, John. It’s intriguing how you use the physiology of the heart to record the impact of experience.
‘In there are muscles which on Impulse send us on our way’ seems especially potent, returning us to our day.
Have you sent it away to a magazine? You might try Envoi and its new lively editor.
Posted by John Williams on 25 June 2009