Black and white photo of a couple standing in a street with a lamppost. Top right, black capital letteringAfter War, N. S. Thompson

New Walk Editions, 2020    £5.00

Form and time

This pamphlet is a pleasing whole, with a consistency of form and theme throughout. Every poem is regularly metrical and uses regular rhyme. Almost all the first half, indeed, is made up of poems in ABAB quatrains. All the poems are set in the aftermath of the Second World War, some more explicitly than others, but they provide a pleasing variety of viewpoints within that consistent setting, often linked through imagery around music and building sites.

For example, ‘Speechless’ shows us what seems a very British scene: afternoon tea, followed by listening to a piano concert on the radio, at the shared home of Miss Moore and Miss Sachs, ending with tears (implicitly for all that has been lost):

Austria was framed inside the dark brown prints
        Along the walls where glass reflections shone
Some light on them from cabinets with glints
         Of Meissen, Royal Vienna, crystal, bone

All of this and a ‘grand piano bought / From what was left of Miss Sachs’ family’s wealth’.

By contrast, we’re in America at a similar time in ‘…With Strings’, observing musicians ‘Lou Kieveman, Victor Slatkin, Felix Katz’ making a new life for themselves in ‘hired tuxedo suits / Beneath the snazzy hatbands of the year’ in ‘the summer of a New York spring’. The tone is joyful to start with, but the rumble of the streetcar they catch brings back memories of ‘camp details’ and ‘cattle trucks’, and they’re subject to ‘sideways looks’.

I found the poems throughout completely believable, and more effective in their simple and realistic portrayal of detail than many showier, more didactic works about war. In choosing to focus on the aftermath, at a human and often domestic level, this pamphlet provides a refreshingly unself-important portrayal, almost like a time capsule.

Ramona Herdman