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This review is taken from PN Review 197, Volume 37 Number 3, January - February 2011.

A SORT OF FIELD DIARY DAVID JONES, In Parenthesis (New York Review Books) $14.95

Writing in 1937, David Jones did not have to convince anyone of the monstrosity of trench warfare. In comparison to the work of the Great War poets In Parenthesis is a work of no little ambiguity, at once highly personal and eerily distant, by turns quotidian and mystical. It is written in seven parts, each comprising a combination of poetry (an occasionally metred free verse) and prose. The relationship between these forms is never discrete nor traditionally defined: at times it is the verse that carries straightforward information and the prose which is allusive, metred and loaded with imagery. Compare the plainness of this reported march in verse (complete with the butch-camp ‘don’t take on so, honey’):

Mind the hole
mind the hole
mind the hole to left
hole right
step over
keep left, left.
    One grovelling, precipitated, with his gear tangled, struggles to feet again:
Left be buggered.
    Sorry mate – you all right china? – lift us yer rifle – an’ don’t take on so
Honey – but rather, mind
the wire here
mind the wire
mind the wire
mind the wire

to the following prose description of shell-fire:

So gathered with uneven pulse the night-antiphonal: mortared-canisters careened oblique descent with meteor trail; and men were dumb and held their breath for this, as for no thing other.

Note that the writing ...


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