Last post

The Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, has written a poem (at the request of the BBC?, it’s slightly unclear) to mark the passing of the last British combatant veterans of the First World War. You can read a transcript and listen to her read it (at least UK readers can do the last bit, not sure if international readers can).

I could have done without the Owen quote, and I wonder whether the last post trumpet was her idea or the producer’s,  but I don’t think it’s a sentiment that many will disagree with.


8 Responses to Last post

  1. Alan Allport says:

    Yeah, you can hear it abroad. Don’t know why anyone would bother, though. It monotonously grinds through every O-Level War Poetry cliche (stinking mud – check; blood, slime, wounds – check, check, check); it recycles a central conceit that was old hat when Martin Amis employed it 19 years ago; and its most profound reflection on the First World War seems to be ‘aw, what a shame.’

    I’ll stick with Larkin.

  2. I read it a couple of times thinking there maybe somekind of irony in the number of cliches, or a suggestion that WW1 poetry should be rewound rather than the event itself – but overall not really. There is somekind of acknowledgement that the poet with his pocket book was partly responsible for this kind of representation but it doesn’t question it. Still this kind of commission must be a poet’s nightmare – trying to create something profound that will be offensive to no-one, accessible to everyone – and so here is something that is recognisably ‘a WW1 poem.’That’s a constant problem for a poet laureate – think Andrew Motion’s rap poem for Prince William’s 21st. Yeats probably had the best answer in his ‘On Being Asked for a War Poem.’ A shame too that considering Allingham’s career no reference to air or sea.

  3. Yes, there are cliches, and the Owen references actually confuse the poem (Are we talking about a death by gassing, or from shrapnel? She wants to get both in.) But I like the way that the soldiers start as victims, and turn into individuals.
    And I think the last two lines are good:
    If poetry could truly tell it backwards,
    then it would.
    The could/would rhyme seems to sum up the conflict between the aspirations of poetry – to be true, and to make the world a better place – and its limitations, a recognition that, as Auden insisted, poetry makes nothing happen.

    • trenchfever says:

      It must indeed be hard to come up with new work on such a ‘poeticised’ topic on demand. But that’s one of the reasons I didn’t hate this poem. It starts with cliches, but I like it’s ultimate conclusion – that all the poetry (and other writing) about the war can’t undo the overcome the great central fact of mass death. As George says, it does in part move the men from being solely victims of mud and slime: although I agree with Alan that Larkin might have done it better. Duffy’s use of Owen in some ways sums up the problems of writing a poem that is in part about memory (or remembrance, or commemoration) – how do you do so without making use of the cliches that form part of that memory?
      I think I probably prefer Duffy’s response to the mix of bombast and over-simplification apparent in the Times’ obituary for Harry Patch. What was particularly sad in that piece, I thought, was how little attention the rest of his life got – something which, for all its faults, Andrew Motion’s poem about him did try to address.

  4. Jack says:

    On this theme, I wonder if you’ve heard this?
    On the strength of one listen (which I’m afraid took considerable effort and stamina), the best I can muster is, unfortunately, ‘I suppose it’s the thought that counts’.

    • trenchfever says:

      Oh gosh, is it time to start up the ‘Leave Harry Patch’s Memory the hell alone’ campaign? That Radiohead track is a long listen. It certainly made me think about the First World War though: I went all Lansdowne and wanted to give up about three quarters of the way through

  5. Jack says:

    Indeed. I tried once more, but it really is longer than one of my emails, let alone the First World War. 🙂 Perhaps an aural representation of attrition is the intention – but I think that would be giving credit where it is not due. Not one for inclusion in a future Definitive Radiohead Box Set, Thom.

  6. Alice says:

    Way too much of a long listen for me – 5 mins 30 to sing just 8 lines – especially at that time of a morning. Now I like Radiohead, but I had to switch the engine off and get out of the car after just a couple of minutes….The fact that it did not lead me to attach a hose to my exhaust and stay in the car is the best that can be said here.

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