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Who Wants To Play War?
on 18 June 2018
This is a powerful and poignant verse-drama about the driven ambitions of three young Bristol men, Hads, Taff and Arthur, who enlist in the Army before discovering the terrifying reality of conflict in Afghanistan. The genre works well to capture the freedom and familiarity of mundane streets and Bristol bars, but in the bleakness of the battlefields the three are tunnelled away from the reader; the poetry can't take us all the way into the heart of the horror they undergo. The drama of their fates must speak to us on its own terms, while the poetry struggles with the trauma, amputation and death in the metaphor of the mist, the 'fine spray of pink, a delicate mist as if some genie had granted a wish. There, and then not.' The delicacy of the colour (it's not red) ironically reinforces its dramatic potency, making the muscular physicality of bondsmen in battle after weeks of training in Catterick something worthless, annihilating in its finality. The image of the broken heron's egg 'Shattered in the drawer / Like a broken promise' captures that sense of the hapless vulnerability of youth perfectly. It is oblivion for some.
But for the two survivors, it doesn't end there. The non-linear narrative allows Sheers to take the reader determinedly beyond 'the burns and the hallucinations' into 'something the surgeons couldn't reach', beyond even the misty spaces of incredulity and the 'pity' of Wilfred Owen's war a hundred years before. So where do we end up? With Hads and his insistence that 'you have to count the blessing, not the curse,' and then face the amputated, traumatised reality of a community that's lost its balance as the voices of the dead whisper to the bereaved from the hills above the town. For sure, you won't hear them asking you to come out and play war.