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This review is taken from PN Review 84, Volume 18 Number 4, March - April 1992.

INANNA Michael Hulse, Mother Of Battles (Littlewood Arc) pb £3.95

In an age when the electronic media could be said to have made war poetry superfluous Michael Hulse's Gulf War poem combines static news images with archetypal figures from Sumerian mythology to produce what the afterword calls 'a non-combatant's poem' that '[insists] that while the anthropologically significant details may vary, the contour of human experience is a terrible constant'. Both the procedure and the insistence are characteristic of Hulse's particular strengths; they also do much to explain the widely divergent estimates of his recent work. I must confess to being firmly pro-Hulse but while I am certain that Mother Of Battles is his finest achievement to date I am not entirely comfortable with it.

The poem is a recreation of the Sumerian fertility goddess Inanna's descent into the underworld. It is in five sections, each with its own distinctive rhetoric. Devices such as incantatory repetitions are however only interesting as a sort of poetical 'environment'; what is truly remarkable and uncomfortable are the feelings that come alive there. For perhaps the oddest thing about Mother Of Battles is the way this 'non-combatant's poem' personates the texture of a real war poem. This clearly has much to do with Hulse's use of real combatants drawn from the media and with his immersion, during the work's composition, in 'the aggressively sexual metaphors military interviewees like to use'. More interestingly, the overall tone is that of a recognizably 'modern' response to war that probably starts with Keith Douglas and his ...


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