Poem: How to describe any of it

“Throughout this war, I tend to read more than to watch ….. you’re more capable

of thinking and of analysing, rather than just being shocked.”

Slate interview with the Ukranian filmmaker Loznitsa


The fawn is wrapped in bracken


almost dead

the doe scratches at the ferns to describe this


impossible to keep at this level

it is not possible


take the clay bowl

paint a blue and white willow pattern

this time add figures

a couple who flee

looping a toddler between them

but the man must stay on this side of the bridge

the side with the furious father

the angry emperor


in the darkened room soaked with body-smell

wet clothes, melting snow

a small girl watches adults chat, their low voices

suddenly outside explosions

she flutters her fingers flutter she is off her chair so fast

she turns here there yells keep away from the windows

pushes past rushes to the cellar shaking not fluttering

looks back at us trembles cries out

you must keep away from the windows


the children have packed their air-raid bags

they are porcelain



when uttered out loud

catches the throat

unsettles certainties

it was never fair

who said it was fair

they kept checking

who is the baddie here will someone tell us


a cellar full of people, mostly quiet

two boys – aged about seven – sitting side-on at a table

one silently examines his fingers, the other watches him, copies,

tries to seem calm – No, he must be a couple of years younger –

at each explosion he jumps, quickly checks the older one:

No response. After each explosion – his own alarmed reaction –

he looks at his companion. No hint of movement.

Our boy can’t stop jumping, can’t stop trying not to.


How to describe any of it

Why try to write a poem about the war in Ukraine? As Chamberlain said after Munich in 1938, Ukraine like the former Czechoslovakia is ‘a far away country’; it’s someone else’s tragedy.

But TV has put the invasion into our homes and the territory of war is difficult to ignore. It’s full of high-pitched language, opinions and propaganda, journalists and cameras. Or it was until the routine of brutality and death slipped from the front pages and other issues like an appalling UK government and new prime minister took over. Even so, the script while in London had been clear, we knew who was responsible.

Or not quite. It has become even more confusing. This might be because I’m now living in Prague and nearer the front line so there are more refugees. People are anxious about their own futures. Bread is more expensive, energy bills are soaring, the schools are full and can’t take Ukranian children. It is also that the script of the war seems almost as much domestic politics: duplicity, gas, NATO and the EU/Europe.

However, two Storyville documentaries about children in besieged towns that I watched while in London have stuck with me; I couldn’t shake off two fragments and once back in Prague made notes as I’d remembered these. The observations are highly selective; I can’t get Iplayer so might easily have re-scripted the events but I wouldn’t want to check anyway. My recollection expresses the persistence and intensity of my anxiety for these particular children. This might also be influenced by having to leave behind in London the two grandchildren I’d been living with, a six-year-old girl, and four-year-old boy. In particular my complicated feelings watching the boy becoming a boy.

When I first read the quote from Loznitsa that starts this blog I wondered if he was right, and in what way can words on a page be more effective than video, and always that ancient question can poetry be at all powerful? I took my fragments and looked at other ways of describing the horror.

Jane Kirwan 28th July 2022

BBC Iplayer:

Storyville: The Distant Barking of Dogs

Storyville: The Earth is Blue as an Orange

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