Acumen Occasional Pamphlets 12, Acumen Publications, 2008 £3.50
Though now a retired civil servant, Geoff Bould is haunted by shadows of war. Once a tank-crew member, serving in the Western Desert, Burma and Italy during World War II, he has memories that won’t leave him. Instead they find their way into poems.
This is an honest little booklet. The grim tank on the cover is the right image for it. There are a couple of old photographs inside too: men and a tank, the pictures shot with light and a little blurred, as though distanced in time. But the memories recreated here are very vivid and it is their sense of sharp reality that bites, rather than poetic phrasing as such.
‘The Bandaged Hand’, for example, recalls Dave, who scrambled out of his position in the tank turret to make room for a “wounded squaddy”. They made off, swerving to avoid enemy fire. At some point, Dave disappeared like a man lost at sea, leaving only a memory of the hand clinging to the hatch. They they knew it was Dave’s “from the bandage covering his desert sore”. What brings the picture into focus? What suddenly brings past and present together with a shock? It’s the last four lines of the poem. They are crisp, understated and effective:
50 years later
on the road from Watford to St. Albans
a man steps out in front of my car
and puts up a bandaged hand.
The poem I liked best is ‘Mirage’. Geoff Bould doesn’t over-write. No poetic flights of fancy for him—and that’s good in my book. But sometimes the downside of this is stanzas that feel a bit prosy, a bit too easy to skim without getting drawn in (though he deserves better). ‘Mirage’ represents him at his best: it captures two worlds in two stanzas. It asks the big question about human nature itself and it brings form and thought together beautifully. It's worth sending for the pamphlet for this beautiful piece of writing alone.