Monday, 17 October 2016

A bit of culture

For wargaming as a hobby poetry probably doesn't rank high on the list of things that are associated with it.

As for me, I avoided Eng Lit at O & A Level* and would mark myself down as a fan of poetry that (a) rhymes and (b) makes me laugh. "When We Were Very Young" and "Now We Are Six" rank as my two most favourite poetry books of all time I would say, and I used to be able to recite Jabberwocky.

Consequently the news that The Battlefields Trust had a poet-in-residence was distinctly underwhelming. Well, an interesting idea, but, like "So what?" And it's a performance poet, too.

Anyway, having done this for 12 months she has written enough poems to justify publishing a small book through the Trust.

When we went to Derby Phil turned up with a box of the books as he's a BT Trustee and he's just been to the launch. Phil was very enthusiastic about the book. He's a bit more understanding of poetry than I am. I think he has Eng Lit A Level. He certainly knows his Shakespeare better than me.

Any how, it's all in a good cause, so I bought a copy of "Thorn Kings" by Clare Mulley at Derby and sat down to read a few poems in between playing the Northampton 1460 game.

The poems are based mainly around visits to four battlefields, - Hastings, Towton, Bosworth and Naseby. I can forgive her for not including our very own Northampton as it isn't as well developed in our national consciousness as the others, and I suppose you have to draw the line somewhere.

And they're very good. From the introduction to the explanations it's a gem of a little book. As they're supposed to be performed it helps if you can read them aloud in your head. They're also not at all what I expected. Actually I don't know what I expected, so I'm not sure that statement is relevant. They cover general reflections on battlefields - for example how many are fought on watersheds - to specific incidents such as Okey's dragoons firing at Naseby or individuals such as William the Bastard. The final poem is a general series of thoughts about the conversations held that lead eventually to conflict. One of the best is about the Cock Beck at Towton.

So, a thumbs up from me. here's a link to the Battlfield Trust website about how you can buy it for the little amount of £4. Or you can visit us (well, Phil mostly) at the Society of Ancients/Battlefields Trust/Northampton Battlefields Society stand at most shows and get it there. It was our biggest seller at Derby.

In fact, I was sufficiently inspired to pen the following after I had to walk Northampton Field to take some photographs for the Northampton Battlefields Society.

2pm Northampton September 2016

This time, two hours after noon, there is no meeting denied.

The swish of club, the strike of ball,
Must stand for that of arrow and of blade.
The warning cries of players replace those
Of battle cry and scream of pain.

The dogs let slip are not of war
(although those were of a more martial father)
But are those of hurried half-hour exercise
Between the phone calls and the meeting
That take the place of lunch.

The stream that once washed away a scheme of guns
Now barely fills a dip or hollow and
The trees where a Parliament not of Devils now meets
Stand where once a palisade was breached
By betraying hand.

And the sun shines, unseasonably

As once the rain fell.

(By way of explanation we believe the line of the Lancastrian fortification now runs along a copse called "The Rookery". The collective noun for a rooks is a Parliament. The rest you can work out for yourselves.)

*I actually did French A Level, so I've studied more French than English Lit.


  1. Speaking as one who got TS Eliot into a published wargames article and who likes a good bit of assorted poetry- from Sahkespear via Yeats Eliot and Kipling to Roger Mc Gough. I can see that this might be added to my poetry shelf.
    BTW- I've read an awful ot worse than your Northampton - indeed I like it ! Elegiiac almost.

    1. TS Eliot. He's the cat man, isn't he?

      I like Roger McGough. He wrote "Scintillate", didn't he?

      Glad you liked the poem. Elegiac, eh? Although in the grounds of an Abbey, not a church.

    2. Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats- that's the fella. I might also add a liking for Robert Frost and the odd bit of W.H Auden
      I've also butchered and parodied Wilfred Owen in one of my older posts- Anthem for doomed Youth......

    3. Slowly you chaps will find me out in my faux-philistine status. I'm more of a Blunden fan than both Owen and Sassoon. "Undertones of War" is my favourite of the poet memoirs.

  2. Thanks for this; I shall be ordering a copy forthwith.

    I think poetry might be more popular among wargamers than you think. I suspect that my own blog contains more poetry than game reports, and, as T.S. Eliot has been mentioned already, the author of the blog Here's No Great Matter takes his non de plume from one of Elioty's poems. I'm sure that there are others.

    1. Good-o. In truth the opening line is supposed to be a grabber to make people read further.Seems to have worked.

  3. A slave to the muse, Trebian! There were a few other poets who were also wargamers, according to some research of my own...

    1. Nice post! Beautifully worked out.

      Of course R L Stevenson, was also a wargamer as were the Brontes but they weren't poets.

  4. Sounds like a lovely book. If I lived in the UK, I'd go to a show and grab one.

  5. Michael,

    Don't be discouraged. Is 30 pages, soft cover and cost £4 + postage. With the state of the £ I'm sure the Battlefield Trust could post it to you at a price you could afford. Check the link I posted in the article.

  6. Excellent. It has pace and the tempo rattles along. One editorial point (and my own A level Lit tutor would agree(!))

    I wonder whether a comma after meets in the below line would help. I needed to read the lines a couple of times to not stumble. Its a tricky one bacuase both the end of the line and a comma form a natural break for both reader and orator. But the comma at the end of the line does give the that slight delay before moving on.

    "The trees where a Parliament not of Devils now meets (,)
    Stand where once a palisade was breached"

    Of course this may have been your intent....but thought I'd chip in anyway :-)

    1. You see, that's why I never got on with Literature teachers. But you are probably right, - there needs to be a pause. The punctuation was less important than the words when I wrote it. Must pay more attention in future.

  7. Parliament of owls was the collective noun I was more familiar with but I see its use for rooks is possibly more common.

    1. Me too, but the opportunity to link the battlefield to the Parliament of Devils which sort of kicks this off through a modern landscape feature was too good to miss.