I was asked recently to write a poem for a Prom on war themes. I researched a lot, from how bullets work to ancient Greek battles and nicknames for Tommy helmets (‘salad bowls’, apparently). I chose eventually to look at those who I felt were doubly lost, those missing in action and never laid to rest. I imagined how they would view the pomp of remembrance rituals. On the tombs for the Unknown Soldier, the epithet is often ‘Known but to God’ and that gave me the first line.
I’ve posted it on my ‘writer’ page because I like the rhythms and some of the images, but something was missing. I didn’t really care, and that was reflected in the hours it took to get on the page.
Then one morning I was listening to a radio report about Syria and one of the heads of the aid agencies out there came on and did a shockingly powerful plea for help. He talked of women being sniped at as they cooked weeds for their children for breakfast. The man’s voice shook as he spoke and I felt somehow complicit in the apathy shown to the crisis that has unfolded there. I found myself welling up and, minutes later, a poem flowed off the pen. It’s now the basis for the piece I’ve re-submitted and I’ll post it here soon. The question that exercised me was how possible it is for any human to show remembrance for or commemorate that which is beyond their own experience. We can engage with the notions of sacrifice and loss intellectually, but unless it has affected our lives personally, do we really care? Can we? Or is that, perhaps, one of the functions of the Arts?
I just felt so relieved and excited to have a genuine connection to the subject and was fascinated to see how quickly the writing flowed out of the emotions of what I’d heard. I wonder whether inspiration needs to wait on moments such as these, the authentic, ‘a-ha’ break-throughs, and if so what that means for extending my patience.