Poetry and soldiers

I worked on TIN SOLDIERS for two hours the other night. If an agent asks for a full manuscript, I can send near-perfection. Although, I always have it in the far back of my mind, and when it’s published, I might be seen rushing after buyers in a bookstore, shouting, “I just want to make a little change on page 147!”

In the interest of finding a title for my Romani novel, I have been reading WWI poets. The book I began with was a collection of works from the soldier poets who were killed in the fighting. You would think none of them had ever lived in a city, the way they go on about sheep on the hill and thrush in the hedges, but those represented England to them, and everyone on the battlefields was homesick, and living in horror.

800px-Ewart_Alan_Mackintosh

My favorite is Lt. Ewart Alan Mackintosh M.C. (The Military Cross is equal to the U.S. Army’s Distinguished Service Cross.) He served in the 4th and 5th battalions of the Seaforth Highlanders. He wrote a parody of the comic song “Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts for Soldiers” that goes “Sniper Sandy’s slaying Saxon soldiers.”

He also wrote the poem “In Memoriam: Pvt. D. Sutherland Killed in Action in the German Trench May 16th 1916 and the Others who Died.” Here’s part of it.

Oh, never will I forget you, / My men that trusted me, / More my sons than your fathers’, / For they could only see / The little helpless babies / And the young men in their pride. / They could not see you dying / And hold you while you died.

Happy and young and gallant / They saw their first born go, / But not the strong limbs broken / And the beautiful men brought low, / The piteous writhing bodies, / They screamed, “Don’t leave me, Sir,” / For they were only your fathers / But I was your officer. 

He was killed Nov. 21, 1917. He was 24.

www.iwm.org.uk/history/9-poets-of-the-first-world-war

 

 

 

He did what??

zander belinda

My hero did something that completely astonished me. How could he?!? How do we writers think these things up, these bits of story that seem to come out of nowhere? Is it just our subconciouses at work, or is there some font of imagination that we tap into?

However, it happens, it happened to me, and now I have to deal with the consequences. What comes next, what, what?

I am trying that technique where you write down a question — “What happens between this event and the next? What fills that gap?” You write the question on paper: tactile sense, visual sense. You read it aloud: visual sense, auditory sense. I suppose you could lick the paper or smell the ink, but that seems kind of silly. Read it to other people, type it on your keyboard. Read it aloud to yourself just before you go to bed. And when you wake up, you have the answer.

***

24 hours later: Got it.

 

The Unknown Warrior

Unveiling of the Cenotaph in Whitehall

Britain buried the Unknown Warrior on Nov. 11, 1920, in Westminster Abbey after a procession and ceremony that included stopping at the newly dedicated Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, for a playing of the Last Post.

https://www.westminster-abbey.org/abbey-commemorations/commemorations/unknown-warrior

The burial service was followed by the Great Silence, when the entire Empire and its allies during the First World War (except the U.S.) fell silent for two minutes. The Great Silence included traffic, trains and everything else that makes noise. It is still observed in Britain at 11 a.m. on the 11th of November, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, in remembrance of the Armistice that ended World War I.

These events figure in my novel.

More about the Great Silence:

The-Great-Silence-1918-1920-Living-in-the-Shadow-of-the-Great-War-by-Juliet-Nicolson-review.html

 

 

Photo of the ceremony at the Cenotaph from the collection of Marion Doss.

 

 

 

 

1920

tommy writing home

The new project, which bears the unfortunate name of that Gypsy thing, is going well. I’m at the stage where research is so much fun, it takes over my writing time. I have no idea where this story is going, or even what it’s about, but I keep writing, one scene at a time, and trusting that the answers will come organically and any meaning I try to force on it now will only distort the work.

I’m keeping a chart: date, scene(s), word count, time of writing, and how I feel. So far, my predominant feeling is “What is this about?” and my hot time of day is late afternoon, during what I have always thought of as the dead time. 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. is the dead time. If you don’t get something going, you will sit in a meaningless state for two hours that can linger into the evening. It’s the loneliest time of day. Maybe it goes back to Marion — I can remember feeling this way when I was 6 — and the time between getting home from school and supper, when I was waiting for my daddy to come home from work.

We always had supper at 6 p.m., always. After I left for college, I would look at the clock at 6 and feel so homesick. I was lonely after I left home, even when I lived in the sorority house. No one was ever around during the dead time there.

I miss my mother.

 

Photo: I don’t think this guy needs to do any research. National Library of Scotland.