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This review is taken from PN Review 220, Volume 41 Number 2, November - December 2014.

The Pity of War owen sheers, Pink Mist (Faber and Faber) £8.99
andrew motion, The Customs House (Faber and Faber) £9.99
tom paulin, New Selected Poems (Faber and Faber) £14.99

When we are effectively at war, albeit at a distance and by proxy, the actual fighting delegated to a professional army, how are poets to respond? Hardly any of us have had any experience of combat, or come under the kinds of economic pressure that drive people to join up. Owen Sheers’ answer was to embed himself among those who had, spending time with returning soldiers and their families. The result is Pink Mist, a verse-drama broadcast over five nights on BBC Radio 4 and widely acclaimed in hardback, not least by Ross Cogan in this magazine. Its appearance in paperback gives us a chance to examine the qualities that make it such a compelling piece of writing.

The first thing to be said is how specific it is. Commissioned by Tim Dee, a BBC producer based in Bristol, it makes vivid use of Bristol settings; the Thekla, the cargo ship turned into a nightclub that has a Banksy sprayed on the hull, ‘a death’s head with a hood, / the prow of his canoe breaking the Plimsoll line’; the estate of post-war prefabs where one of the young soldiers grew up, ‘roads all over the place – Outside your door, through your garden, / a motorway over your roof. But the ones in front of you? / They’re narrow and few’; the cliff by the suspension bridge where the three boys engage in a succession of dares, ‘pushing each other further and further / out…’.

The second is how well Owen Sheers uses the medium. The three boys join up together and ...


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