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Thursday, October 14, 1999 Published at 09:33 GMT 10:33 UK


Poetry for a grieving nation

Poet Laureate Andew Motion has responded to the rail disaster

In an age of instantaneous news coverage and the Internet, it might be thought that poetry could add little to our understanding of major news events.

But the Paddington rail disaster has prompted Poet Laureate Andrew Motion to resort to verse as a way of articulating the anguish he and many others feel.

"I was touched by and shared the sense of grieving across the country at this dreadful event," said Motion, who was appointed to the honorary position in May.

[ image: Motion 'shared the sense of grieving across the country']
Motion 'shared the sense of grieving across the country'
"In times of trouble many people write poetry or seek out poems that say something to them," says Chris Meade, director of the Poetry Society.

Poems have often grappled with tragedies whose enormity is hard to grasp.

Verse by fighting men and those they left behind have become enduring symbols of war.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who also held the post of poet laureate, was so moved by press reports of the Battle of Balaclava he penned a poem to the fallen.

His 1854 work, The Charge of the Light Brigade, has since become the dominant image of the entire Crimean campaign.

Likewise Rupert Brooke's The Soldier still has the power to evoke the sorrow of the First World War in the generations born long after the guns fell silent.

[ image: Rupert Brooke's poems evoke the sorrow of war]
Rupert Brooke's poems evoke the sorrow of war
Brooke's "corner of a foreign field, That is for ever England," arguably speaks of loss and sacrifice far beyond the battlefield.

The Poetry Society's Chris Meade says that one of the many functions of verse is to explore feelings of national loss, helping readers to face their personal emotions.

"It is possible for a poem to capture that feeling, individualise that.

"I think it is a very appropriate time for Andrew Motion to speak up."

Motion's poem, Cost of Life, was completed over the weekend.

It describes events before and after the train crash, which claimed at least thirty lives.

The middle stanza deals with the impact itself.

[ image: Cost of Life is an 'urgent response' to national mourning]
Cost of Life is an 'urgent response' to national mourning
"Imagine a single nipped-off second hung
between one moment and the next - a time-dot
in which train, carriages, everything is flung out-
side the world's hard limits of mass and space
and rises up weightless, torn from its proper place."

"What he has caught is exactly the way we are all trying not to imagine what happened at that moment," reckons Meade.

He says the work feels like an "urgent response" to the tragedy, one which is in tune with the sense of shock and disbelief of the wider public.

Motion may well have produced a very different poem had he reflected longer on the disaster, but says Meade: "You write for the moment you are in."

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12 Oct 99 | UK
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