The five poems in this important collection – ‘Sidney Philip’ (a poem about Philip Larkin, his father and the war), ‘Battle of the Atlantic’, ‘My Name is Edward Wadsworth’, ‘Convoy to Archangel’, ‘Noor Inayat Khan (S.O.E. Dachau)’ – are all published here for the first time. They show Tom Paulin writing as movingly, passionately, and inventively as ever he has written before. Part of his continuing ‘loose-leaf’ epic of the Second World War, begun in 2002 with The Invasion Handbook, these poems bear unflinching, compassionate witness to the tragedy of war, and in particular the special horrors of war at sea.
Paulin’s canvas is as wide as the Atlantic – that ‘great lens… watching us till the storms / we crave burl and wrap us / from the U-boat’s single eyes’. But his response to individual suffering could not be more particular, more moving or profound, more intuitive in its sympathies, more felt in its self-awareness, whether regarding a drowned merchant seaman ‘Known unto God’, or a victim of Dachau. These poems are strikingly graphic and brilliantly asociative in their visual imagery.
The collection’s title derives from a poem about the artist Edward Wadsworth. Recruited with others – ‘Vorticists and Futurists all’ – to a project ‘deep in the Liverpool docks’ devoted to creating ‘dazzle-ships – / so that what was wide / was also tall’, Wadsworth and his colleagues are said to have brought their studios ‘and Europe’s galleria’ to the Atlantic. Their purpose there is to create a visual dérèglement, to foil the periscope’s searching eye. Throughout the collection, but most notably in this poem, where modernity at its most barbarous press-gangs modernism into service, aesthetics and poetics engage, as the tragic subject of war dictates, with ideas of artistic integrity, perception and conscience.
Limited edition of 250 copies.
(Clutag Press, 2007)