• Two poetry anthologies

    Heroes – 100 poems from the new generation of war poets.
    Edited by John Jeffock.

    This collection is sold in aid of ABF: The Soldiers’ Charity. It is a neatly produced little hardback, and the poems in it have been selected by poets Carol Ann Duffy (the Poet Laureate) and Simon Rae, with General Sir Richard Dannatt. The final choice was made by poet and soldier Captain John Jeffock.

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    These impeccable credentials alone however, are not enough to make me recommend it. There are many of these charity anthologies and some of them are produced and bought with the best of fundraising intentions, but never taken off the shelf and read. I don’t believe this will be the case with ‘Heroes’. The poems in here are worth your consideration, and many of them will stay with you for a long time. What poetry can do is provide a concentrated dose of emotion – a heightened set of images in very few words. These poems connect the reader to the writer in an immediate, honest way. They are written with great integrity and feeling, and certainly poetic talent is also on display.

    It would be unfair to pick out particular poems from the hundred, since there is bound to be one in there that speaks directly to you in some way, and it may not be the one that I like best. However, to give you an idea of the range of poets and their subjects, here are three brief quotes.

    Winding in a corkscrew of torque and pitch
    we plunged downwards from cloudless heights of blue
    to roll seasick through steep banks and sharp twists.
    Jagged shards of shadow and light stabbed through
    our porthole views over Afghan plains.

    (from ‘The Thousand Mile Stare’ by Colonel Simon Marr, MBE)

    Poetry: what a load of shit,
    Angst-ridden teen and upper-class twit.
    Can’t reveal my true inspiration.
    Can’t heal the indignation.
    Who deals with civvies’ condemnation?

    (from ‘Decompression’ by Sergeant Mark Gumley)

    Looking at the bed that holds my daddy
    Sleeping in a mind of unconsciousness,
    Dreaming of space and eternity.
    I remember the way he slept,
    I remember the way he lay.
    (from ‘A child’s memory of war’ by Olivia Hill (11) – daughter of Major Stewart Hill)

    5 Ms Winos for a little book with a big impact, that will make an excellent Christmas present.

    Enduring Freedom: An Afghan Anthology

    Foreword by His Grace, the Duke of Westminster, with an introduction by Sir Andrew Motion. Compiling Editor Ryan Gearing.

    I know - two anthologies of war poetry in one night. What can I say about this, that I did not say about ‘Heroes’? Actually, Enduring Freedom is a fundraising anthology for Combat Stress. Because of this association, it is attempting to position itself rather differently from the more inclusive anthologies. In this book, there are more often short collections of poems from the various poets. Many are serving, some have sons and husbands who are serving.

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    There are also contributions from those still fighting against PTSD, depression and anxiety. Because of this focus, this is definitely not a trite or banal collection – there is no false pride. There is anger, cynicism and despair. The poets are not afraid to be controversial –Michael Brett’s poem ‘The Entry of Osama Bin Laden into Paradise’ and JJ Brown’s poem ‘the Conservation of Angular Momentum’ are good examples.

    So Enduring Freedom is an edgy, lively poetry collection with a dark heart. Because of this, I liked it even more than I liked ‘Heroes’. The poems are born out of Afghanistan, but they resonate into any life, and deal with the core of all good poetry – the human condition.

    Again, it is hard to pick out quotes, since it is my very subjective choice, and I am in no way implying that the quotes come from the best poems in the collections, but as we prepare for Remembrance Day, the direct, elegant phrases of ‘War Memorial’ by Sheila Webb stood out.

    …Today we praise the ‘fallen’
    The many and the few
    The young, the brave, the valiant
    The ones we never knew. And every blood-red poppy
    Worn in each lapel
    Represents a thousand -
    A thousand men who fell.
    But numbers are just numbers
    It’s the names we can’t forget
    As they are set in concrete
    Like our everlasting debt.

    5 Ms Winos for a poetry collection that deserves to be a lasting memorial.