Former Poet Laureate shares war stories

“IN the back of my mind there is a sense we too easily get used to, or actually forget, the fact we are a country at war and don’t pay the full proper respect and attention,” says former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion.

His latest book, Laurels and Donkeys, is a collection of war poems focusing on various conflicts of the 20th and 21st centuries - from the First World War to those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some are elegies, some satires and others memories of the award-winning poet’s father, who fought in the Second World War. Several rely on the words and witness of soldiers while others come from newspaper articles, interviews and blogs.

“I think however well intentioned the writer might be, if they’re not somebody who’s been at the frontline themselves there’s always a danger they’re going to seem as though they’re somehow bigging themselves up by associating themselves with the subject.

“I thought for that reason alone there was some purpose in writing poems which were in some sense a collaboration.”

He found the process very moving, and was struck by what he describes as the soldiers’ “heroic steadiness” and “unflappability” when describing the traumatic things they’ve seen and had to do. It’s a stoic note he’s tried to capture in the poems.

More than half the book’s proceeds will go to The Royal Marines’ Recovery – Rehabilitation – Reintegration charity.

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“I hope people will buy it for that reason,” he laughs. “It will be good to get some money for people who’ve been injured or are suffering from post-traumatic stress.”

Sir Andrew will read from Laurels and Donkeys, as well as his previous work, at the New Wolsey Theatre from 7.45pm this Friday <Mar 4>.

Next month his new play, Incoming, about the war in Afghanistan, will feature at the Hightide Festival in Halesworth.