THE BLOG

First World War Poetry

31/10/2014 15:51 GMT | Updated 30/12/2014 10:59 GMT

For too long the images of silhouetted soldiers trudging across mud swamps have dominated the imagery of the Great War. These images do not bolster empathy for the modern British citizen interested in the commemoration of the Great War. In fact, they have the converse effect of creating too much distance between us and them, between the ease of modern life and the tragedy of the trenches.

What, exactly, are we meant to feel, if anything, during these centenary remembrance years, if the outstanding images, memories and relics concentrate on such a narrow sphere of the conflict.

And what, exactly, are we supposed to do? Are we supposed to think about the war every now and then? Watch television programmes about it? Listen to radio plays about the Western Front? Nod our heads when we pass the village memorials?

What on earth was this centenary meant to evoke? Anything? Should it mean anything to us?'

Well, not if we keep thinking the Great War is too exalted to analyse or too entrenched in pathos and tragedy to begin to question its legacy. So, I began to conduct my own investigations into the Great War, to see what personal relevance this conflict still had over me.

And, lo and behold, I discovered the Great War was entirely relevant- and not just to me, but to all of us.

I discovered was how the stain of the war's reputation as being a futile, cruel conflict was not borne out by the people fighting it at the time. People had altogether mixed reactions. By and large, Britons on the outbreak of war acted as all people do on the outbreak of war, in a combination of fear and fun. And this is key, for by far the most emphatic thing which I found in my research into the war was how totally human, how recognizably human, the people involved were.

That people, just like you and me, only a hundred years ago went out to fight without knowing if they'd return. And wars, for all their machinery and strategies and sense of distance, have people at their heart. People facing dilemmas and making choices and not knowing what the consequences will be always occupy the very centre of a war's drama.

So I decided to write some poems.

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Poems which focused on why the war still had relevance to us today, one hundred years on. Poems which dealt with the sanctity of memory in our busy, modern lives based around the speed and size.

For example, in the poem Daddy, I have a young child asking her father what he is planning to do to commemorate the Great War. In The Didsbury War Memorial I compare the memorial's incongruous place between the supermarkets and shops of an affluent suburb in Manchester. in Hear It, I imagine the Armistice Bells heard along Oxford Street, London. In The Ditch, I imagine a man digging a trench in his own back yard in testimony to the fallen.

Many of the poems are deliberately removed from the conventional, sombre and maudlin ones we've inherited from Owen and Sassoon et al. This is not to denigrate the legacy of the Great War's poetry, but to recognized people need to be shown why the war is still relevant to them.

My collection, This Thing of Memory, is coming out on on Armistice Day, 11/11/2014.