Anne Daly studied English at University College Dublin and subsequently studied for a Masters in Anglo-Irish Literature and Drama. She lives and teaches in Drogheda, Co. Louth. She writes poetry and is currently working on her first collection.
On All the Way Home, by Jane Clarke
In 2017, the poet Jane Clarke was invited by the Mary Evans Picture Library to write a sequence of poems relating to an archive concerning the Auerbach family. The archive contained photographs and documents belonging to Albert and Lucy Auerbach, siblings with a close bond. Albert (born 1894) joined the Royal Fusiliers in 1914 and was posted to Gallipoli and was killed at the Somme in 1918. Lucy lived until the 1970’s and after working at the War Office in London, became a piano teacher after the war. All the Way Home captures the narrative of Albert and Lucy’s experience of World War I with a series of short poems that takes the reader effortlessly on an emotional journey from the hope and terror of trench warfare, to the industry and quiet strength of those contributing to the war effort on the home front in England.
The volume is slight, the poems written with a light, dream-like touch. The photographs that accompany the poems are a poignant reminder of the reality behind the words, the visuals adding an intimacy and emotional force to the poems that they accompany. We see Albert and Lucy at different stages during the war. On a broader scale, we also see the sepia tinted faces of different smiling young men, both as new recruits or in uniform, knowing that they represent the fallen or damaged youth that the war so monstrously defaced. The visual and textual narratives interweave seamlessly, supporting each other throughout, the final page dedicated to an image of a military cemetery in Northern France, with all the finality that this imparts.
Between the photographs, the poems flutter and appear almost ephemeral, like torn fragments of the letters that passed between the soldiers and their loved ones during the war. They have a ghost-like quality, which mirrors the tone of poems such as After We’re Gone and In the Dugout which capture the transience of life in the trenches, where men are haunted by their past lives and dreams of the future. In these poems, we hear the voices of those who are ghosts before they meet their fate – either death on the battlefield or returning to a post-war life where they will always be separate, set apart by the trauma of what they have witnessed.
Clarke uses language concisely and evocatively. Many of the poems have a soft, musical quality that emphasises the musical motif associated with Lucy’s experiences, such as Pitch and The Pianist. Nature recurs throughout from the hyacinths and amaryllis of pre-war September, the sphagnum moss of Base Hospital, Boulogne and the gentle swaying of the symbolic rowan tree in Rowan.
All the Way Home is a poignant and enjoyable read, engagingly capturing the dreariness, pluckiness, hope and desolation of the Great War. Given its size and the tones of white and brown on the cover, it has an unobtrusive presence, which belies the beauty of the poems within. Readers who have an interest in this period of history will be sure to enjoy this collection but there is plenty there for poetry lovers in general too. Published one year after the centenary of the end of World War I, it is a fitting tribute to those who were affected by the war and acts as a reminder to us all of the devastation and loss that warfare engenders.
All the Way Home
(Smith / Doorstop, 2019)
© 2019 Anne Daly