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This article is taken from PN Review 240, Volume 44 Number 4, March - April 2018.

War Games George Szirtes
Childhood and play, plays and theatre, theatres of stage and theatres of war, war and the stages of childhood: it is as if we walked through them by association in a single dream. Where we find the one we find the other, each giving on to the other. Here is the world, they say. Get on with it.

Peter Scupham was just six when the Second World War broke out and he spent the next six years in it. Childhood was a game of spot, hide, collect, and transform. Turn pink ham into a swastika, turn puff-pastry and lardy-cake into Goering, the whole into ‘a cataract of cold regalia’. ‘The soldiers are the figure in my carpet’ goes the last line of ‘War Games’, a poem in which the child plays at soldiers while the adult remembers Henry James’s short story of that name. A time bomb ‘is ticking away under house and home’ (‘The Stain’). Children elsewhere are dying. Bombers are taking off into the sky never to return. There are ‘handfuls of metal rain on a dark street’ that the child will later collect.

It is worth starting with the ‘And Little Wars’ sequence of The Air Show (1988) because this – at least partly – is where imagination begins, in the childhood wardrobe of memory and play. The image of war establishes itself early as a motif to which Scupham returns time and again. In the theatre of the mind where memory, mask and miracle fuse into an image of the ...

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