At a time when poets tend to tiptoe warily round politics, Antony Owen's The Dreaded Boy (Pighog Press, 2011) makes forthright, passionate statements of commitment, as in the following example from The Scent of a Son:
"...In London ministers argue expenses
In York a father fills carrier bags
walking the scent of his son to Oxfam."
Throughout this pamphlet, Owen explores the horror of war, as much through the experiences of civilians at home as through snapshots of the battle itself. There's a collage effect at work here, built up by layers of anecdote that range from Stalingrad to Basra, from Gaza to Kabul. Owen's perspective is that of the war correspondent: this is reportage, packed with pent-up horror, emotion heightened by the paring back of anything other than observation. His ending to Medusa is a fine example of the technique at work:
"...His little bother asked to see his medals,
he took him to a friend's grave.
He was hailed a hero in the paper
and stoked the furnace with it.
His wife wants to try for a baby,
he packed his bags for war."
The Dreaded Boy is not meant to be an advert for subtle nuance. The themes are huge and they're tackled head-on. It's often said that elegies allow and even encourage the poet to push boundaries in a search for the expression of something that's impossible to express. Well, war is explored in a similar way here.
Antony Owen's focus is primarily on those left behind, on the aftermath of war, on the way it pervades people's lives beyond the battlefield. He's drawing our attention to the forgotten and the neglected. Owen successfully marries this thematic drive to the aesthetics of his verse, demonstrating that there's very much a role in contemporary society for poetry that nails its political colours to the mast. The Dreaded Boy is an unusual and at times uncomfortable read, and for that I'm grateful. This reader always enjoys being taken out of his comfort zone!
Last Saturday I packed my bags for a brief stopover in Devon. The train from Paddington retraced my steps (no – that’s not right; what do you say?) – re-ro...