Mr. Willett's Summertime
January 2018. 34 pp. ISBN-13 978-3-901993-65-7
£6.00 (+ 1.50 p&p), €6.00 (+ 1.50 p&p), US$8.50 (+ 2.50 p&p)
“Martin Malone’s powerful First World War pamphlet begins with an invitation to ‘let us sit and reconstruct’ the soldiers’ experience, ‘the glass on the table / historian enough / to catch their words / and stop this rain.’ The poems which follow show themselves to be more than up to the task. Wide-ranging and ambitious, the sequence shifts from lyric elegy to grounded monologue, as well-chosen details – a tin of kippers, galoshes from Knightsbridge – conjure a world, allowing us to rub shoulders with these soldiers, this past. These are poems of drama and discovery. Here is the Russian Women’s Battalion going over the top and ‘pushing on to the German trench.’ Here is a Wilfred Owen away from the front line, his mind ‘cobbled with skulls of the lads you left behind.’ These fresh and vivid poems allow us to see anew, to really share the reality of an experience which often seems simply unimaginable, and re-affirm the sense that this is a writer with a thrilling commitment to seeing just what it is that poetry can do.”
“Martin Malone’s pamphlet is a timely, haunting look at war and remembrance, violence and moments of peace. Here is that good poetry – both finely crafted and with something to say.”
“Mr. Willett’s Summertime is a poetic séance conjuring culture and personality during ‘the suicide of nations’. At once sardonic and elegiac, Martin Malone moves the wheels of history with the blood of his empathy and craft.””
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Table of Contents
Excerpts from Mr. Willett’s Summertime
In my old soldier’s manner, I told him he’d soon
change his style, but he’d shrug and not listen.
So we share out the hamper left behind,
while another makes good his transition
from man to riven thing. On our minds,
the memory of a Christmas that waxed forever
over eighteen months of deadlock and shellfire,
as King & Country turns to Quand sera-ce fini?
and Intha Pink, once in-the-line, is growing old.
Yes, how we hate you, you cheerful young men
with your tinned kippers and today’s Daily Mail;
the periscope from Harrods, the warm new boots;
galoshes bought yesterday in Knightsbridge;
your wire-cutters and quail eggs from Aunt Grace,
and Father’s gift of an Aquascutum.
You’ll get used to the smell of blood and rum,
soon learn to see, beyond the metaphors of dawn,
the blue smoke from his bacon frying and know,
here at the suicide of nations, not to chance a look.
Learn fast and perhaps you might live to out-ghost
the silence of your name hallooed twice at roll call.
Yours a fate of inescapable context:
that last climb and its slow ascent of lore
to our shared guess at the outcome.
Strachey’s ‘unimaginable English boy’
wasted as a teacher, whose friendliness
offends those Charterhouse lads bound
for Passchendaele. Here ahead of them,
you stand beside your howitzer, look out
across Picardy and long for mountains
where time is other, and eight years
pass like low cloud skimming you to
apotheosis. You glance at your watch
awaiting the hour. Back in England now
young Irvine’s still abed at Shrewsbury,
dreaming of the Second Step, Ruth is
home with Frances Clare and all’s fair
in Godalming. In the face of a westerly,
the pilot zone calls back today’s target.
A tug on the rope, the screaming glissade
and wire-cutting begins on the Somme.
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