I shall be reading my (acrostic) First World War poem from Towards the light (Kapaju Press, 2018) at this Remembrance concert in aid of the charity, Suffolk MIND. Details of the evening are on the flyer above. Do come and support this worthy cause.
My task for today (well, for this week, but I must make an immediate start) is to judge a local poetry competition linked to the centenary of the end of the First World War.
I knew from a fairly early age that the relatives of close family friends and indeed members of my own family had served in the conflict, but somehow the days around Remembrance Sunday were strange ones for my teenage self. They were evidently days that made people I knew well 'feel' something that I sensed was still beyond my grasp and strangely beyond my reach.
I studied the Peloponnesian and Persian wars at university in a detached historical way. I took courses on Homeric warfare in which we tried to link archaeological artefacts with passages in the text, thereby building up a rounded picture of the ancient world from the range of primary sources available. I loved the challenges presented by this approach, but war itself remained an enigma. Perhaps war is always an enigma.
Some years later I had the chance to study work by the war poets; and seeing, well, almost experiencing, conflict and service through their eyes lifted a veil from my own. The poems that spoke most directly to me about the aspiration for peace (something I felt deeply) and the reality of 20th century hostilities (something I almost wished to avoid) were those that tackled the subject from a slightly oblique angle. 'The Owl' by Edward Thomas would be a case in point.
I have returned to that poem many times. In four brief quatrains, the speaker presents a world of war that is vividly evoked but barely described. As I have mentioned above, I live with aspirations of peace, but at a moment when I was finally receptive to the exploration of modern notions of conflict (with the aim of increasing my understanding), it only took a handful of well-chosen words to extend my appreciation of human loyalty and sacrifice in the face of battle. The poet's employment of a double entendre, or play, on the word 'barred' is, to my way of thinking, a stroke of genius - and ironically it was one of the words in this poem that became a personal key, unlocking empathy and gratitude for those caught up directly or indirectly in the atrocities of the First World War.
It may be a bit soon to be mentioning the 'C' word while we are still in October, but members of the Association of Christian Writers have just brought out this anthology of stories, poems and reflections about the true meaning of Christmas. I am delighted to have a poem in the volume.
While fellow Suffolk poets were out in the balmy sunshine at Aldeburgh, declaiming their poems from these iconic steps, I was stuck in Ipswich, missing their company, their poems, the sea and, of course, the fish and chips that are such an essential part of this particular National Poetry Day gathering. There's always next year...
The portion in the photo above is actually from Whitby, a good way further up the east coast, but since I wasn't on the beach today, I wasn't able to post an up-to-date photo. But the thought of chips by the sea is already whetting my appetite for the forthcoming Poetry in Aldeburgh Festival in November.
Speaking of November, I spent part of the afternoon asking local shop managers and assistants if they would display a poster for me, advertising our local poetry competition on the theme of '100 Years of Remembrance'. I enjoyed some lively conversations, and am very grateful to all who took a poster (or several) to advertise the following categories...
I came home to the cheering news that my own competition entry in the Indigo Dreams Publishing First Collection Competition, one of 34 Long-listed collections at the start of today, had reached the Shortlist of nine. Hearty congratulations to the two winners, Ben Gwalchmai and Zoe Mitchell, whose collections will be published.
Twitter, in particular, has been alive with poetry-related soundbites. One tweet (I wish I could remember the tweeter) expressed the view that National Poetry Day was like Christmas, but just for poets. Leaving Christmas aside for a moment, this set me thinking about those who read and listen to the poems we produce and share: it seems to me that while there would, of course, be no poetry without the poets, there would actually be little point to poetry if it failed to reach beyond the people who penned/typed/texted and declaimed it. Thank you, therefore, to all who publish poetry, to all those loyal readers who purchase it and to all those who come along to listen with the brooding expectation of one with a seashell to the ear.