These three poems from the 1990s are all responses to war, a subject I don't deal with much, for lack of experience. Their publishing history is undistinguished. 'An anthem dated 1925' was self-published, in a poetry address book I circulated to friends in 2000. The other two appeared in what I call payload anthologies: 'The start of the war' in Guardians of the state, edited by Ian Walton (Peterborough: Poetry Now, 1992), and 'Blue' in Best poems of 1995, edited by Cynthia A. Stevens and Caroline Sullivan (Owings Mills, MD: Watermark, 1995).
In 'An anthem dated 1925', the anthem in question is Faire is the heaven by William Harris.
AN ANTHEM DATED 1925
Nostalgia aches for endlesse perfectnesse,
the Archangels and Angels, the eternall
burning Seraphins, bright Cherubins
with golden wings all overdight, the heav’n
where happy soules have place. John Rutter sees it
as a cathedral window. I see autumn:
people dwarfed by a cathedral wall,
stones to the memory, and mortal tongue’s
receding semitones, seven years after
war ended war, the twenties still aware
of gaps, and blanks, and overflying silence.
'The start of the war' is a squib I wrote in 1991, following the invasion of Iraq.
THE START OF THE WAR
Admit, if only in a graceless mutter,
America had grace enough to take
a mouthful, anyway, of bread and butter
before rushing on to the cake.
In the immediate aftermath of the war, I was duly humbled to learn that a friend of mine was going to Iraq, with a group of peace activists, to survey the devastation. This was the artist Caroline Dobson (now Caroline Saltzwedel). Of the images she produced from her experiences in Iraq, one which particularly moved me was Invasion of privacy, from her visit to a bombed-out hospital. My response was this:
Concrete structure, reinforced.
The shelling couldn't break
down the frame. The lower wards
have creaked back from the ground.
On the top floor, not used, hang
for anyone to see
bits of wall and ceiling, ends
of steel, sky stretching whole
round invaded privacy
again, sky stretching whole,
blue, silent, unearthed.