Poem for Armistice Day

The following poem was originally published in my book, ‘Towards Humanity’, in 2015. However, as we are now only four weeks away from Armistice Day, exactly one hundred years after the end of World War One, I thought it would be a good time to re-visit this poem. Many may not have read it anyway.
The notes at the end of the poem explain how it came about, but it may be relevant to point out that I personally feel a strong affinity with the recipient of this letter in the poem, since I have worked in agriculture, and indeed with horses briefly; besides which, my father ploughed with horses in the 1950s and held very fond memories of that time. My father also fought in the Second World War, taking part in the D-Day landings in 1944.
The poem itself says the rest.

I recently visited London and took these photos of the statue on Platform One of Paddington Station.

 

Letter to an Unknown Soldier

 Dear Tommy,

How are the blasted fields of France?                                                

Not much like the corduroy fields at home,

I guess, where you were following the plough,

and caught the sunlight’s glow

off the moist, neat ridges of loam,

furrowing far into an unknown future,

while the blackbird sang his love song from the chirruping copse;

nor like the sun-drenched hay fields

bleaching in those days of tranquil yellow,

as you followed the clicking, ticking tedder

to turn and turn and turn again

the sweetly scented summer crop.

Now you, and your fellow labouring men,

will never know such pastoral peace again.

 

“Your country needs you,” you were told,                                 

to go a-mowing in the killing fields

of Flanders and of France,

to dig the soil

and sow the fields with shells;

to make the earth to boil

with mud and blood of foreign working men;

to tunnel like a mole, as blind as fools,

to try and blow the Hun to Kingdom come.

 

And from the factories and fields of Germany

there’ll be some young, hard-working Fritz

with a mother, sister, brother, sweetheart, lover,

and you may fire the shots

that shred their lives, and his, to bits;

before a Werner, Helmut, Klaus or Willi

does the very same to you.

But no matter, you will be

crucified on the cross of a good cause,

for this, it’s said, is the war to end all wars.

 

Tommy, I know I shouldn’t tell you this,

but one day soon you will be face-down in the stinking mud,

soaking in your sweat and blood and piss;

and years hence people will solemnly say

that they remember you, and value your spilt blood,

that you served your King and country well.

The great and “good” will sing your praises,

then re-draw some lines on maps

and maybe plant a stone near where you fell.

 

Tommy, do you know

that you are fighting this war

because a Serbian nationalist rebel

shot dead an Austrian royal in Sarajevo?

Do you know where Sarajevo is?

It doesn’t matter, since some other murderous incident

would equally have done

to haul you from the fields

and arm you with a bayonet and gun.

 

Do you wear the scarf your mother knit,

a mother’s love in every stitch?

Somehow she knows you’ll never return

to sup with her at kitchen table,

at close of day with candles lit,

when you have rubbed the horses down,

having led them back from field to stable,

or trimmed a hedge or cleared a ditch.

 

Go now, Tommy,

for there is a floundering horse out there,

belly deep in sucking mud,

that needs your horseman’s skill and love;

and a German ploughboy, fresh from foreign furrows,

has his rifle ready,

will have you soon in his assassin sights.

He does not know that you and he could talk all night,

could bend each other’s ear,

about who ploughs the straightest furrow

and the taste and price of beer.

 

I’m writing you this letter, Tommy,                                

from near a hundred years ahead.

The wars they keep on coming, Tommy,

for the machine of man’s stupidity

continues to be fed.

The groaning you can hear, Tommy,

will never go away;

so best foot forward now, my lad,

into those fields of bloody clay.

Yours in sorrow,

Dave Urwin.

 

This poem was first published on-line in summer 2014 as part of the project which invited everyone to write the letter held by the statue of the soldier on platform one of London’s Paddington Station. The letters, over 21,000 of them, will be available to read on-line until 2018, and then archived in the British Library.

 

Further information: http://www.1418now.org.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted in pacifism, poetry, rural life, war poems | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The trauma of war

Not infrequently I write poems that I think I can describe only as ‘bleak and brutal’. I could argue that they are necessary, and that poets should indeed be engaging with all aspects of humanity and nature, however awful and yet I also find it troubling. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to continue.

In my defence, I will quote Emlyn Williams in his foreword to Beyond Belief, his book about the ‘Moors Murderers’, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley: “When a shocking scandal blows up, with all the attendant sensationalism, there is in some people an instinct to avert the head and shovel the whole thing under the carpet, ‘I don’t want to know.’ But some of us do want to know, and it is salutary to inquire: the proper study of mankind is Man. And Man cannot be ignored because he has become vile. Woman neither.”

The following poem was written following my watching of a BBC News documentary by an Afghan journalist. I cry just recalling it, and I do not know right now whether I will be able to read it out in public. Just reading it over to myself silently makes me cry. The Afghans have suffered nearly forty years of war currently. Although inspired by this country’s awful tragedy, the poem was attempting to be universal. War is traumatic anywhere. What will be the psychological fall-out from the current war in Syria? What was the fall-out of the civil war in Rwanda? On and on and on it goes…

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b09s741m/our-world-the-trauma-of-war

The poem was published on Poetry 24 on 20/02/2018: http://www.poetry24.co.uk/2018/02/voices-inside-madhouse.html?spref=fb

 

Voices inside the madhouse                                     Afghan mental instition 2

They send people here who have no future.

Heroin addiction. Depression. PTSD.

Some patients are picked up from the streets.

Others are brought here by their families.

Many have no families. They fled the country.

 

This is a place for people who are a threat to society.

They need love and attention on a daily basis.

You can find yourself inside these walls.

Outside the walls you can’t find yourself.

I dreamt you took me away from here.

 

The volunteer counsellor suffers from PTSD.

His teenage brother was killed in a gun attack.

It was just across the road from his shop.

He is one of the lucky ones. He has a family.

They send people here who have no future.

 

We used to watch the executions in the stadium.

The stadium was always full. Once a week

we would say, ‘Let’s go down to the stadium.’

People climbed trees for a good view.

It was normal.

 

They shot a woman in the head for adultery.

Once they brought a thief and chopped off his hand.

They threw it in the air. It kept moving

after it fell. In the dust. Like this.

I can’t get the image out of my head.

 

Hundreds of executions. I was seventeen or eighteen.            Afghan mental institution

It was normal. We feel safe here.

I dreamt you took me away from here.

Drug-induced schizophrenia. Depression. PTSD.

They send people here who have no future.

 

© David Urwin 2018

 

 

BBC News Channel  08/02/2018  Inside Afghanistan’s only high-security

                                                        mental institution. 

12/02/2018  The trauma of war         

Posted in mental health, refugee crisis, trauma, war poems | 7 Comments

End of an era

I love to see examples of Nature taking back/breaking down the works of humankind. A poem in my book, Towards Humanity, deals with this very subject: the poem is called ‘Roofscape from Manchester Art Gallery’. However, here is a wonderful example that is just around the corner from where I live.

You might be pleased to know that the post box is still in use!

DSCI0002

 

It’s all over now

no more calls

and ivy climbs up the bloody walls

 

DSCI0001

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deserted road, not even a tree

Just recently my poetic output has almost dried up. However, on seeing this stunning image by Rod Higginson (inspired, incidentally, by a similar one by the great photographer, Don McCullin), I was myself inspired to write some lines in response to it. I simply allowed the words to arrive through my pen on to the page, and have tweaked it just a little over the last couple of days.

My thanks to Rod for allowing me to use his photograph as a creative springboard. The poem is in no way a representation in words of the image, but an imaginative ‘reaction’ to it.

road to the grey horizon

 

 

deserted road, not even a tree

 

 no one is waiting

on this long hard grey road

to nowhere

which is maybe somewhere

everywhere is somewhere

and nowhere

it’s beautiful

steel clouds billow

their bellies hang heavy on the horizon

the unattainable destination

charged with a dreamy light

but an engine is approaching

from behind

foot hard down on the throttle

too crazy to turn back now

or stop

unseeing eyes

screaming

towards

our

vanishing

point

 

 

© David Urwin 2017

Posted in landscape, poetry, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

October poem

Here is a poem I wrote just a few years ago. I love this season in all kinds of ways; but, however beautiful, there is no escaping the ugly goings-on of life, out there somewhere.

From a poetic point of view, it can be difficult to decide whether ‘splash of slanting sunlight’ is better than ‘slanting splash of sunlight’! Having started with the former, I decided on a walk around the fields this evening to opt for the latter. Ah, the agonies of being a poet! It reminded me of a story I once read, suggesting that Leonard Cohen would writhe around on the floor in an agonising attempt to find a rhyme for ‘orange’. (Not that it was meant to be a true story…) (And I don’t think there is a good one, anyway – a rhyme for ‘orange’, that is).

 

 In the silence of October sunshine

 

In the silence

of October sunshine

distant from the seething cities

beneath the gentle mantle                    sunlight in woods

of the down-drifting leaves

and bathing

in the splash of slanting sunlight

on floors

in fields and forests

he watches the world curl up

to sleep

spiralling down into somnolence

letting  every  thing  go

but its looming fears

its anxious

restless

autumn leaves sunlight

dreams.

 

© David Urwin

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The Price of Flight

The issue of refugees is worldwide and one theme in my poetry is the contrast between our priveleged, mostly comfortable lives in the West and those of the poor and often exploited (for our benefit) in the Third World; and indeed often exploited and mistreated by their very own leaders, goverments and military. It is important that we are reminded of this and that we attempt to address the issue through our own lifestyles.

This poem has been published on the webzine, I am not a silent poet: https://iamnotasilentpoet.wordpress.com/2017/09/01/the-price-of-flight-by-david-urwin/

Please go to this site to view more poetry that addresses abuse of all kinds.

 

The price of flightrefugees on road

 

Kasim is nine years old.

The rebel soldiers cut his mother’s throat

in front of him.

They also kill his little sister

and his big brother

while he watches.

He flees his village.

When he is hungry

he asks people for food.

If they give him something, he eats. Otherwise

he stays hungry. He sleeps on the street.

 

    At the peace conference

    wine glasses shimmerrefugees

    on the starched white cloth;

    smoked salmon canapes

    nestle in neat circles.

 

Nosiba is sixteen.

She has four sisters and three brothers.

The soldiers kill the brothers

in front of her.

They rape her sisters

and they rape her.

They shoot her father for trying to stop them.

Those who escape have to pay a broker

to cross the border.

She doesn’t have enough money

so sells her body

to the broker.

 

    White limousines gleam

    and cruise through the capital’s streets,

    the generals’  uniforms creased

    to a precise command.

 

Zahia is fifteen.

The soldiers arrive in her village

line up and shoot all the young men.

The houses are set alight.

She does not know where her parents are

or if they are dead or alive.

She escapes from the village with two other girls.

They walk barefoot through thorn scrub

for three or four days without food.

She wants to go home.

 

    Beaches of gold and cities of culture

    beckon from brochures and magazines.

    The food is exotic. The flights are cheap.

    Select your paradise.

 

©  David Urwin 2017

 

Inspired by the photographs and stories of Iqbal Hossein in New Internationalist 502, May 2017.

 

Posted in homelessness, poetry, poverty, refugee crisis | Tagged , | 2 Comments

this imperfect life

Having written this poem a few months ago, I now find myself wondering if it gets anywhere near communicating what I was trying to say. Did I even know what I was trying to say? Sometimes an idea is floating around somewhere in the space of the head, but trying to properly grasp it and then elucidate it in words seems near impossible.

How do we or should we deal with the ‘mess’ that is life, especially if one does not believe in the simple notions that religious doctrines offer, for example that all ‘good’ people will go to ‘heaven’ and the ‘bad’ to ‘hell’, or that a god will ultimately intervene in the mess and absolute ‘good’ will reign. I tend towards the Taoist view that all is relative, that there cannot be good without bad, and vice versa. And yet – how are we to deal with, in our heads, this negative stuff that is all around us? Is it ever possible to simply ‘accept’ it?

The American poet, Carl Sandburg, said that ‘Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.’  Someone else said that ‘a poem is never finished, only abandoned.’ Hmmm.

 

What else would you do with this imperfect life

but push the spade deep

into the sacred earth

to lift the glorious fruit,

having laboured

through the spinning cycle of seasons,

having lowered

your head into the driven hail?

 

but be mindful of each moment

after moment after moment,

knowing the impossibility of it,

and pretend thathomeless-person-asleep-in-doorway-in-mayfair-london-england-uk-bfmak9

all shall be well,

as you pass the sleepless girl

on a cardboard sheet

in a Swansea doorway,

the beggar on the streets

of Mumbai, Paris, Buenos Aires,street beggar

hear of another hopeful refugee

drowning homeless in the Mediterranean Sea?

 

but in those rare moments of clarity

remain grateful for the buzzard’s slow circles

on the rising thermals,

the first appearance of the primrose in spring;

attempt to breathe out the insistent grief,

sweat through the work of days,

getting mind and hands dirty?

 

© David Urwin 2017

Posted in homelessness, modern society, poetry, poverty, religion, religious thought | 1 Comment