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Two popular and long-established collections of  war poetry of the
First World War

Minds at War
A comprehensive
anthology of poetry of the First World War. All the greatest war poems of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon and war poems of over 70 other notable poets. All set in the context of the poets' lives and historical records. With historic photographs and cartoons.  Edited by David Roberts.
 400 pages £15-99 (UK)

Out in the Dark
Anthology of
First World War poetry recommended for students and the general reader.
19 poems by
Wilfred Owen
, 27 by Siegfried Sassoon and over 90 more war poems by 45 significant poets including women writers. Contextual information and basic notes on many poems. Illustrated.  Edited by David Roberts.
185 pages - £10-99 (UK)

Falklands War Poetry cover

WAR POETRY 2013 - Iraq revisited, Afghanistan . . .

WAR POETRY 2013 - Poems about The Boston Bombing (15 April 2013), Iraq revisited, Afghanistan, elsewhere . . .

Boston bombing
[Two bombs exploded at the end of the annual Marathon race in Boston, USA, on 15 April 2013.]
Michael Brett
War Intelligence Michael Brett
Wartime Time Michael Brett
Memories of War - Basra 2007 Ed Poynter

Michael Brett

Boston Bombing

What haunts you after an explosion

Is the eggshell nature of things,

The art forms and the dreams of madness:

The red pools, the Jackson Pollock zigzags

On grey paving slabs;

The houses sliced like cake; paper doorways;

The darkness, shock and night snapped shut

Like a pocket watch whose machinery

May be glimpsed like anemones

Waving –phosphorescent- on the darkened floors

Of barroom confessionals and consulting rooms

Whose bulbs overwinter in silent places:

Basements, lock-up garages, rucksacks and holdalls;

Or sometimes in those man-made wild places

Where no-one goes

Save the homeless and detectives, pathologists,

Under motorway ramps and railway arches.

These and subleased apartments, paid for in cash

Are sometimes states in waiting,

Like Lenin’s in Percy Street

With a policeman hiding in the grandfather clock

Who does not speak Russian;

These are the invisible other cities

Plotting against our kingdoms of the necessary nonsense,

The fables agreed upon

That stop all Romes collapsing beneath the weight

Of Sistine ceilings and marble angels, oil;

The Dr Dee levitation of shared assumptions and paper money

For –in truth-bombs show us everything we need to know:

That everything is just a house of cards

Save our need to eat and who we love.

Michael Brett 2013

War Intelligence

Move my desk to the window so I can see the angels.

Our Fundamentalist troops say the heavy guns talk like God
And everyone knows his bookmarked pages are the roads to the front.
His words are underlined with men lying with green arms over green faces,
Where shells polish the air to blueness. We are weak.

So as doctors look for sanity in dementia
And listen at the bedside of a feverish world,
And rummage in its pockets for foreign coins and bus tickets,
Our people look at captured maps and speeches on the television;

Our plague doctors steal from the Bedlam of the human heart
And with long paper beaks, interpret its ravings; memorise its car numbers,
Its restaurant bills, its train times, like obsessives counting lamp posts;

And like Seventeenth Century physicians, they taste the king's urine
For its sweetness, probe the enemy king's stool for clues
As to his health and confidence: will he campaign in Spring?

So move my desk to the windows so I too can see the angels;
So I too can pick the pockets of the dead
And through their wedding rings see the future.

Michael Brett 2013

Wartime Time

In wartime, time changes as brushwork changes in paintings
From Da Vinci silk to hogbrush; and it seems
That you are entering a time inside -or under- time,
Following Alice's rabbit into a folding time and space
That billow as sails do, filling with sadness
Killing King Aegeus and deepening black upon black,
Louder until eardrums burst and bleed;
And time itself begins to swing as railway tracks
Or firemen's hoses do;

And everyone's hand on your shoulders-their eyes-
Are kindly and say Welcome to the Utopia,
The Blessed Communism of the bomb
That soldiers miss when they leave. Here,
Caressed by its warm wings we are all equal,
-Beloved and cursed alike- folded like tents
Into the Buddha's curving bellies of the shock waves;

And I dreamt I saw you there, poised like a scream
In the instant before bursting; a glissando grace note
Poised, ready for its Beachy Head suicide note;
To strike wingless at the sea below, each wave folded
Like the instant;

And there are so many instants, each folded
Like umbrellas in a gentleman's club;
Like polite caved bats in rows -as bombs in storage-
Clicking as they watch you, as air to air missiles do
When you walk past them.

This is it.

Michael Brett 2013


Ed Poynter

Ed Poynter was an Infantry Officer in the British Army. He served in The Rifles (and before that The Royal Green Jackets) and saw action in Iraq in 2007 with 4 Rifles (TELIC 10) and Afghanistan in 2009 with 2 Rifles (HERRICK 10). He left the army in April 2010 and is now working as an English teacher in Sussex. 

Introductory note: ‘Memories of War’ is set here and now (April 2012) as I stare at the screen of my desktop PC and find my thoughts drifting back to the summer of 2007 in Basra, Southern Iraq. - Ed Poynter.

Notes on acronyms follow the poem.

The quotation that opens the poem is from Shakespeare's Henry Vth. See below the poem for an extended quotation from Henry Vth's speech.

Memories of War

“Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages.
What feats he did that day.” And so he does...
again and again and again and again.
And he wishes he didn’t.
Countless hours spent staring, thinking, mulling
over events and faces, names and places...

...I’m caught in an all-shredding cloud
spewing dust, grit, copper and flame.
No noise – just a punch in the guts that lifts me,
then changes its mind and drops me; unscathed.

Snap... Ping.
Single rounds; fired with calculated deliberation by a man –
much like me – focused only on the control of his breathing,
while he draws a bead on my head
and, with sweaty finger, takes up the slack on the trigger.

A thump on the head from a Rifleman
riding top-cover behind me.
A target indication, “Muzzle flashes... 3 o’clock!”
Lines of green tracer arc towards me
zapping and buzzing like demented bees
while I crouch low in the open cupola.

I feel again that self-loathing sense of uselessness
as my GPMG* grunts, burps then jams;
choked by the cloying convoy dust;
willing only to spit out single shots
as raw red fingers grapple with the red-hot gas plug.

Looking down at my hands now...
I feel again the warm, slippery sensation
as I rip and wrench through tattered clothing
to apply tourniquets,
and use fingers and fists
to punch and push ‘HemCon’*
into ragged spurting holes.

I feel the lack of resistance as I place my hand
on where a man’s chest should be
as he lies, sealed in a black plastic bag, under a union flag.
I feel my breath catch in a silent hugging embrace
where men cry and hold and clench
and search each other’s eyes for meaning.

I hear the melancholic bugle
provide formality and ceremonial approval,
then a verse from Abide with Me
carried on an evening breeze.

I see the crumbling, fizzing brickwork
on a tracer-riddled minaret;
the burning white car with burning steering wheel
joined by welded burning hands to blackened burning body;
the eviscerating flash of a UGL* grenade as it hits its mark
and three men are reduced to smouldering lumps;
the smudged smears of deep red on boots
and trouser legs and hands and faces,
and the rusty-brown encrusted residue left under finger nails – even after washing.
Damned spot! Whose is this?
How can I eat with these hands?

Names, names, names – some ready on the tip of my tongue;
some permanently reverberating between my ears;
some I struggle to recall;
some attached to faces;
some I didn’t know... till afterwards.
Too many names. Too many faces,

and places... always hot, always sticky, always dusty;
sometimes daylight, sometimes night;
an alley, a junction, a mosquito-plagued ditch,
a front-room, a stair-well, a roof-top,
a shrapnel riddled portaloo,
the briefing room,
the cook house,
my bed.

Some more vividly recalled than others.
Some accompanied by sounds:
radio chatter, armoured tracks,
deep thumping bangs, staccato orders,
whines and whistles of incoming mortars
or rockets, speakers playing Kings of Leon,
the belch and rattle of machine-gun prattle,
the whizz and ping of zipping, zapping molten metal.

And the tastes and smells...
the acrid, searing smells.
Salt from sweat and dust.
Human waste and rotting vegetables.
Cigarette smoke.
Burning plastic.

A catalogue of frozen tableaux and sensory collages.
But where did the laughter go?
Where are the fond remembrances?
Are these the feats to tell with advantages?
Where are the friends I lived and fought with?
We laughed through these experiences.
We cried through these experiences.
We drank tea and played chess.
We loved.
I lived!

Why does only this remain?

Ed Poynter
Poem sent to The War Poetry website February 2013.

Notes *  

HemCon (haemorrhage control) is a powder that comes in a wafer-like format - looks a bit like a white digestive biscuit - and is pushed into wounds where it absorbs blood and causes coagulation, helping to stop arterial and vascular bleeding.

GPMG: General Purpose Machine Gun
(in this case a vehicle mounted weapon with belt-fed ammunition)

UGL: Underslung Grenade Launcher (a lightweight grenade launcher attachment that is fitted to the standard issue SA80 A2 assault rifle to enhance its capability).

The quotation that starts this poem comes from this speech:

"This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day
: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day."

Henry V. Shakespeare