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PN Review 276
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This item is taken from PN Review 187, Volume 35 Number 5, May - June 2009.

No Support


I find myself reading William Wootten’s ‘Thoughts on Some Recent Anti-War Poetry’ in PNR 185. He writes in the second column of my recent Bloodaxe collection: ‘Yet Here, Bullet is the work of a man who, on balance, supports the invasion [of Iraq].’

This is simply not true. I’ve spent the better part of my life since military service discussing this very point. He does use a qualifier (‘on balance’) - but I think he fails to understand that I worked very hard in the editing process to create a book which didn’t simply sing to the choir. I wanted to avoid, as he put it earlier in the piece, ‘the dangers of sloganeering and preaching to the converted’.

I have to say - I’m not one that normally responds to critics. As my mentor T.R. Hummer said to me years ago, ‘Once it’s out there it’s fair game for people to criticise the work.’ Still, this idea that I supported the invasion is, I believe, not borne out by the poetry or by any of my numerous interviews since the book was published. The poetry is meant to draw the reader in and to offer, as much as possible, an experience which might affect, change, challenge, etc., the reader.

I thought Mr Wootten’s overall piece was done very well and I enjoyed reading it. Still, I have this quibble with him. I say ‘quibble’ - but for a man who has been to war and spends his life since then addressing the issue because so much damage has taken place, and continues, well, I would hope Mr Wootten can recognise that I’m trying to be very civil and courteous in my response.

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Atlantic Convoys


Is there no end to the obtuseness of Frederic Raphael (PNR 185, 186)? He continues to berate Ian McEwan for using the plural ‘Atlantic convoys’, having apparently forgotten - or simply never noticed - that this is what people actually said and do say. The same is true of ‘Arctic convoys’, as in: ‘the Arctic convoys, attacked now by Uboats, were still making their way through to Murmansk’. That’s Alan Ross (Blindfold Games, p. 236), who served on them and knew what he was talking about.

There are plenty of apparent errors in On Chesil Beach, but this isn’t one of them. John Ogdon was surely too young for the student Florence to have heard him rehearsing at the Wigmore Hall, and when she and the other members of the Ennismore Quartet play ‘Beethoven’s Razumovsky right through for her old tutor’ does this mean all three quartets? It sounds as if McEwan thinks there’s only one. Florence and Edward take a punt on the Cherwell in early September, their tranquility disturbed by ‘a ramming battle between two overladen punts’ full of university students - a good month before these students would have come up for the start of term. When philistine Edward tries to introduce Florence to his taste in music, during the year before their marriage, he plays her ‘cover versions of Chuck Berry songs by the Beatles and Rolling Stones’: this is in 1961-2, before the Beatles or Rolling Stones had been heard of. And so on. ‘Atlantic convoys’, on the other hand, is just fine.


This item is taken from PN Review 187, Volume 35 Number 5, May - June 2009.

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