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Lmw lecture Term 2 Week 1: Writing About Modern War Merveilles de la Guerre

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LMW Lecture Term 2 Week 1: Writing About Modern War
1. Merveilles de la Guerre
how lovely they are

signalling dark

peaks of coryphées eyes arms hearts

your smile your breathing

daily apotheosis of your comet hair

gilt on these gilt dancers whose belonging

is to bear young with their moments to die
how lovely these rockets

alphabetic inscribe

life entire and relative
departing I see them offer conceal selves

moving fingers over fire juggling

festival earth hungry opens long

pale mouth how aroma of toasted

skin becomes not disagreeable

if sky ate with land there

it would only in not nourishing

swallow souls

but I have run with sweetness

how this war all guts’ length

from me has flames crying

that I am here

have ploughed the beds I pour myself in

thousand little rivers at prow of trench

I am still on all sides

I am one beginning this thing for

epochs longer than flight of Icarus

I bequeath this story of Guillaume Apollinaire

who handled war and knew himself

everywhere contented in towns

behind in all remains of universes

in one barbed and trampled

in women cannon horse

top to bottom at all four points

unmistakeable heat of wake
certain it was lovelier

if I could have supposed all things

I am part of might

occupy me but

nothing can in

sense I am

over all only

am in me

Rowe, Jacqui, Apollinaire (Perdika, London: 2009)

[This is a version of Guillaume Apollinaire’s original poem, ‘Merveille de la Guerre’’ you can read the original here (in French):]

2. from Mother of Battles
Lady of the cypress and the cedar

Lady of the land between the rivers

Lady of the silence of the stones

the dusty silence in the olive grove

the dusty silence in the vineyard he

was toiling all the morning all

the afternoon at night he said

you looked like Madonna like Marilyn

Monroe like Greta Garbo like Jean

Harlow he said that your breasts

were like clusters of dates like

clusters of grapes on the vine

like clusters of dumb iron bombs

the voice of the B52 is heard in the land

9-11 February 1991

Hulse, Michael, Empires and Holy Lands: Poems 1976-2000 (Salt, Cambridge: 2002)

3. How to Kill
Under the parabola of a ball,
a child turning into a man,
I looked into the air too long.
The ball fell in my hand, it sang
in the closed fist: Open Open
Behold a gift designed to kill.

Now in my dial of glass appears

the soldier who is going to die.
He smiles, and moves about in ways
his mother knows, habits of his.
The wires touch his face: I cry
NOW. Death, like a familiar, hears

and look, has made a man of dust

of a man of flesh. This sorcery
I do. Being damned, I am amused
to see the centre of love diffused
and the wave of love travel into vacancy.
How easy it is to make a ghost.

The weightless mosquito touches

her tiny shadow on the stone,
and with how like, how infinite
a lightness, man and shadow meet.
They fuse. A shadow is a man
when the mosquito death approaches.

Douglas, Keith, The Complete Poems, ed. Graham, Desmond (Faber, London: 2000)

4. from The Walls do not Fall, (section 38).

This search for historical parallels,

research into psychic affinities,
has been done to death before,

will be done again;

no comment can alter spiritual realities

(you say) or again,

what new light can you possibly

throw upon them?

my mind (yours),

your way of thought (mine),

each has its peculiar intricate map,

threads weave over and under

the jungle-growth

of biological aptitudes,

inherited tendencies,

the intellectual effort

of the whole race,

its tide and ebb;

but my mind (yours)

has its peculiar ego-centric

personal approach

to the eternal realities,

and differs from every other

in minute particulars,

as the vein-paths on any leaf

differ from those of every other leaf

in the forest, as every snow-flake

has its particular star, coral or prism shape.

London, 1942

HD (Doolittle , Hilda), Trilogy (Carcanet, Cheshire: 1973)

5. The Body Is Pain
At the outpost now for three years,

by day, on guard. My nights the mandarin plans.

Clearing bamboo, slashing wood stands.

The body is pain. I can't complain.

My food is bamboo shoots and plums.

My fuel and friends are the bamboo.

In the well, one fish swims alone and free.

The Red Cloth
Sad, idle, I think of my dead mother,

her mouth chewing rice, her tongue removing fish bones,

The Red Cloth drapes the mirror frame.

Men of one country should love one another.

The Outpost Soldier
Here are only cliffs and crags,

bird tracks, beasts shuffling, locusts chirring,

and jungle trees rustling their music.

A bird calls out from a gnarled tree.

I've lived in the forest for three years.
Ca Dao Viet Nam: Vietnamese Folk Poetry, trans. John Balaban (Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend: 2003)

[Audio samples and translations available at his website:]
6. Normal Journey
I have not seen any horrors,

I have not seen a dragon in the land,

I have not seen the Kraken in the sea,

nor a witch or a policeman

at the outset of my day.

Pirates have not overtaken my desires,

thieves have not broken down the door of my life,

my absence has not been long,

it only took me one lifetime.
How come you saw scars

on my face, sorrow in my eyes,

and bruises in my bones and in my heart?

These are only illusions.

I have not seen any horrors,

everything was extremely normal.

Don’t worry,

your son is still in his grave, murdered,

and he’s fine.
Barghouti, Mourid, Midnight and other poems, trans. Radwa Ashour (Arc, Todmorden: 2008)

7. from Heroic and Elegiac Song For the Lost Second Lieutenant

of the Albanian Campaign
Now with a still wind in his quiet hair

A twig of forgetfulness at his left ear

He lies on the scorched cape

Like a garden the birds have suddenly deserted

Like a song gagged in the darkness

Like an angel's watch that has stopped

Eyelashes barely whispered goodbye

And bewilderment became rigid . . .

He lies on the scorched cape

Black ages round him

Bay at the terrible silence with dog's skeletons

And hours that have once more turned into stone pigeons

Listen attentively.

But laughter is burnt, earth has grown deaf,

No one heard that last, that final cry

The whole world emptied with that very last cry.

Beneath the five cedars

Without other candles

He lies on the scorched cape.

The helmet is empty, the blood full of dirt,

At his side the arm half shot away

And between the eyebrows—

Small bitter spring, fingerprint of fate

Small bitter red-black spring

Spring where memory freezes.
O do not look O do not look at the place where life

Where life has left him. Do not say

Do not say how the smoke of dream has risen

This is the way one moment this is the way

This is the way one moment deserts the other

And this is the way the all-powerful sun suddenly deserts the world.

Elytis, Odysseus, Selected Poems, trans. Keeley, Savidis, Sherrard, et al (Anvil, London: 1991)
8. from The Futurist Manifesto
3. Literature has up to now magnified pensive immobility, ecstasy and slumber. We want to exalt movements of aggression, feverish sleeplessness, the double march, the perilous leap, the slap and the blow with the fist.
9. We want to glorify war — the only cure for the world — militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for woman.
F.T. Marinetti, ‘The Futurist Manifesto’, 1909.


Some further reading:
‘Exit Wounds’

Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy commissioned war poetry from a range of contemporary poets, for the Guardian.

An audio critique of ‘Exit Wounds’ by myself and Simon Turner.
‘Poetry by Brian Turner’

The Times provides a selection of poetry from soldier poet Brian Turner’s recent collection, Here, Bullet (Bloodaxe, Northumberland: 2008).
‘Blood, bombs and bards: poetry from the frontline’

Cathy Galvin on the poetry of contemporary British soldiers, with a link to samples of poetry by them. Worth discussing in terms of aesthetic quality vs. emotional impact.
Other Men’s Flowers, ed. Wavell, Lord A P (Cape, London, 1944).

An anthology first published 1944, but has stayed in print ever since; originally very popular among soldiers, with a section on war poetry, but possibly not indicative of anything more than the idiosyncratic tastes of the editor (like this lecture).

Scanning the Century: The Penguin Book of the Twentieth Century in Verse, ed. Peter Forbes (Penguin, London: 2000) is on the secondary reading list for this module and is a solid mainstream poetry anthology. This is currently out of print but can be obtained from or, and the library has several copies.
George Ttoouli

Any questions about the lecture, please feel free to email.

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