A Time of War by Sally Roberts Jones

We sit and talk, over coffee in the open-plan lounge.
Admire the stones in that hearth –
Pebbles from Morfa Beach gathered out of ship-wreck and
On a family outing.
Imperceptibly stories move round to the ancient subject.
‘When I had my third…’
‘I told them the pains had started…’
‘I was left by myself in the ward with the visitors coming
And there was the baby, popped out in a sea of flowers,
Launched on an ocean of chocolates.

Our membership’s fully paid up, our initiation
Long past in that sisterhood
Of undignified sweat. Now we pattern our legend,
The folklore of generations renews on our tongues.
‘They decided to break my waters…’
‘I couldn’t sit down except on a pillow…’
What echo?
What voice can I hear behind us,
We four placid matrons
Who speak in such measured remembrance
Of passion and blood?
‘We heaped up the bodies to burn them…
I gave them whiskey, they laughed as they did it.’
‘The Sergeant
Was a bastard.’
‘We painted the coal for their visit – painted it black!’

That too I remember.
Dark hours of smoke and hard bar stools,
And the long-gone soldiers
Rehearsing their stories of pain, of ridiculous order,
The names like a litany:
St. Nazaire, Salerno, Nicosia
Abu Dhabi, Seoul, Londonderry.

Civilian veterans, brought face to face
With possible death, with fear, with absurdity rampant –
We will never swap tales, exchange a still-birth for an ambush
Our weird sisters for wartime’s fell serjeant.
But the echo is there –
We are all of us conscripts
In this campaign that is staying alive.

By Sally Roberts Jones

Additional information: The book I referenced referred to the poem both as ‘A Time of War’, on the contents and acknowledgement pages but as ‘A time at war’ where the poem itself is shown. I assume ‘A Time of War’ is the correct title but will mention the other in case anyone knows it by the alternative.

Sally Roberts Jones (born 30 November 1935) is an English-born Welsh poet, publisher and critic. She is a founding member of the English Language Section of Yr Academi Gymreig, she was its Secretary / Treasurer from 1968 to 1975 and its Chair from 1993 to 1997.

She founded the Alun Books imprint and is on the editorial board of the poetry journal Roundyhouse. She has also written and lectured on the cultural and industrial history of Wales and contributed to the Oxford Companion to the Literature of Wales, the Dictionary of Welsh Biography and the New Dictionary of National Biography.

Two particular field of interest she has are the development of the Arthurian legend and research into the field of Welsh Writing in English, though she has also written about Essex, where she was initially raised. In 2019 she was elected a Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales.

.

Morfa beach is known locally as “The Morfa” (in Welsh as Y Morfa meaning ‘the sea marsh’), it shapes the south side of the estuary of the River Conwy. Today it is a large sandy bay, which at low tide forms part of the extensive sandy beaches and mussel banks of Conwy Bay, Morfa Conwy has many developments on its land including a beach, gold club, marina and an industrial estate.

St Nazaire is a commune in the Loire-Atlantique department in western France, in traditional Brittany. The poem refers to the St Nazaire Raid or Operation Chariot was a British amphibious attack on the heavily defended Normandie dry dock at St Nazaire in German-occupied France during the Second World War.

Salerno is is an ancient city and commune in Campania (southwestern Italy) and is the capital of the namesake province. It is located on the Gulf of Salerno on the Tyrrhenian Sea. The city hosted Victor Emmanuel III, the King of Italy, who moved from Rome in 1943 after Italy negotiated a peace with the Allies in World War II, making Salerno the capital of the “Government of the South” (Regno del Sud) and therefore provisional government seat for six months. Some of the Allied landings during Operation Avalanche (the invasion of Italy) occurred near Salerno.

Nicosia is the largest city, capital, and seat of government of Cyprus. It is located near the centre of the Mesaoria plain, on the banks of the River Pedieos. I am assuming the poem is referring to the armed struggle, in 1955, against British rule which aimed to unite the island with Greece, Enosis. The struggle was led by EOKA, a Greek Cypriot nationalist military resistance organisation, and supported by the vast majority of Greek Cypriots. The unification with Greece failed and instead the independence of Cyprus was declared in 1960. During the period of the struggle, Nicosia was the scene of violent protests against British rule.

Abu Dhabi is the capital and the second-most populous city of the United Arab Emirates (after Dubai), it is also the capital of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. The city of Abu Dhabi is located on an island in the Persian Gulf, off the Central West Coast. Most of the city and the Emirate reside on the mainland connected to the rest of the country.

Seoul, officially the Seoul Special City, is the capital and largest metropolis of South Korea. In 1945, the city was officially named Seoul, and was designated as a special city in 1949. During the Korean War, Seoul changed hands between the Soviet/Chinese-backed North Korean forces and the American-backed South Korean forces several times, leaving the city heavily damaged after the war. The capital was temporarily relocated to Busan. One estimate of the extensive damage states that after the war, at least 191,000 buildings, 55,000 houses, and 1,000 factories lay in ruins. In addition, a flood of refugees had entered Seoul during the war, swelling the population of the city and its metropolitan area to an estimated 1.5 million by 1955. Following the war, Seoul began to focus on reconstruction and modernization.

Derry, officially Londonderry, is the second-largest city in Northern Ireland and the fifth-largest city on the island of Ireland.[8] The name Derry is an anglicisation of the Old Irish name Daire (in modern Irish ‘Doire’) meaning “oak grove”. The old walled city lies on the west bank of the River Foyle, which is spanned by two road bridges and one footbridge. The city now covers both banks (Cityside on the west and Waterside on the east). During the Irish War of Independence, the area was rocked by sectarian violence, partly prompted by the guerilla war raging between the Irish Republican Army and British forces, but also influenced by economic and social pressures. The conflict which became known as the Troubles is widely regarded as having started in Derry with the Battle of the Bogside. The Civil Rights Movement had also been very active in the city. In the early 1970s the city was heavily militarised and there was widespread civil unrest. Several districts in the city constructed barricades to control access and prevent the forces of the state from entering.

‘I’ll say this in a whisper, in draft’ by Osip Mandelstam

I'll say this in a whisper, in draft,
because it's early yet:
we have to pay
with experience and sweat
to learn the sky's free play.

And under purgatory's temporal sky
we easily forget:
the dome of heaven
is a home
to praise forever, wherever.


by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam.
His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)
(1937)
translated by Robert Chandler

Свобода (Freedom) by Vladimir Kornilov

I’m not ready for freedom yet.

Am I the one to blame?

You see, there was no likelihood

of freedom in my time.

My great-great-grandad, my great grandad,

my own grandad never

dared to dream of

‘Freedom now!’

None of them saw it: ever.

What’s this thing that they call freedom?

Does it bring satisfaction?

Or is it helping others first

and putting oneself last?

An overwhelming happiness,

pride and envy expelled,

throwing open one’s own soul,

not prying in anyone else’s.

Here are oceans composed of sweat,

Himalayas of toil!

Freedom’s a lot harder than

unfreedom to enjoy.

For years I, too, awaited freedom,

waited till I trembled,

waited till I ached – yet I’m

unready, now it’s come.

 

by Владимир Николаевич Корнилов (Vladimir Nikolayevich Kornilov)

(1986)

translated by Katherine E. Young


Fun facts: Here is my rough effort to translate the Russian language Wikipedia article page on him as there is no English page available and most of the results for his name will lead you to information about the historical naval figure.

Vladimir Nikolaevich Kornilov ( June 29, 1928 , Dnepropetrovsk – January 8, 2002 , Moscow ) was a Soviet Russian poet, writer, and literary critic. He was heavily censored throughout the Soviet era for his, to the Soviet authorities, ideologically troubling works.

He was born into a family of civil engineers. When the Great Patriotic War began (i.e. World War II), he was evacuated to Novokuznetsk ( Siberia ), then moved to Moscow . In 1945 – 1950 he studied at the Gorky Literary Institute (i.e. the LitInstitute mentioned in this poem) , which he was he was expelled from three times for absenteeism and “ideologically vicious verses”.

Kornilov’s first poems were published in 1953 . However,  his works were rarely published, and even then only after ‘corrections’ had been made by censors. In 1957, his collection of poems “Agenda from the military registration and enlistment office” was rejected. Only in 1964 his first book of poems, The Pier, was published by the Soviet Writer Publishing House, and in 1965, on the recommendation of Anna Akhmatova , Kornilov was successfully admitted to the Union of Writers of the USSR.

A hard time awaited the prose works of Kornilov. His first and second novels – “Without arms, without legs”, completed in 1965 , and “Girls and ladies”, written in October 1968 he tried to get published for a long time unsuccessfully in the Soviet Union . The former was not printed and although the latter was accepted for publication in December 1971 but immediately thereafter rejected or banned.

By his third and largest prose work – the novel “Demobilization” – Kornilov no longer even tried to be publish in his homeland and instead sent his works to the west, where, from 1974 onwards, they were in print.

[he has two books in English I could find after a very brief search: Girls to the Front (1984) and Building a Prison (1985) so it’s possible the others were in German and other languages or have different titles in other languages. By all means comment on this post if you find others available in English.]

Being published in samizdat and in foreign Russian-language publications, as well as Kornilov’s speeches in support of Julius Daniel and Andrei Sinyavsky ( 1966 ), displeased the Soviet authorities.

In 1975 he was made a member of the Soviet section of Amnesty International and on the recommendation of G. Böll, he was accepted also into the French Pen Club.

Kornilov signed a letter to “heads of state and government” with a request to protect academician Andrei Sakharov , and in March 1977 he was expelled from the Union of Writers of the USSR (he was initially accepted in 1965, and while expelled his membership was eventually restored in 1988 ). His books were removed from their libraries and sold in 1979. He began to publish his works again in the USSR from 1986 onwards.

Kornilov died from a bone tumor on January 8, 2002 .

… hopefully that is helpful to anyone wanting a little information about the poet.

 

Original Russian cyrillic version of the poem:

Не готов я к свободе –
По своей ли вине?
Ведь свободы в заводе
Не бывало при мне.

Никакой мой прапрадед
И ни прадед, ни дед
Не молил Христа ради:
«Дай, подай!» Видел: нет.

Что такое свобода?
Это кладезь утех?
Или это забота
О себе после всех?

Неподъёмное счастье,
Сбросив зависть и спесь,
Распахнуть душу настежь,
А в чужую не лезть.

Океаны тут пота,
Гималаи труда!
Да она ж несвободы
Тяжелее куда.

Я ведь ждал её тоже
Столько долгих годов,
Ждал до боли, до дрожи,
А пришла – не готов.

The Truth About The Abominable Footprint by Michael Baldwin

The Yeti’s a Beast

Who lives in the East

And suffers a lot from B.O.

His hot hairy feet

Stink out the street

So he cools them off in the snow.

by Michael Baldwin