Poet who won't let us forget Ukraine publishes war collection
A poet who has been blogging poems about the war in Ukraine on the Write Out Loud website since Russia’s invasion in February has published 40 of them in a collection available on Amazon. Stephen Gospage’s The Shape of Ukraine is available in Kindle and paperback versions. He plans to donate all proceeds from the book to Ukrainian charities.
In his introduction to his book Stephen, who made several visits to Ukraine’s capital Kyiv in the 1990s, says: “I started writing poems about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the beginning of the conflict in February 2022. The poems are the reflections of an outsider and keen (though often shocked and outraged) observer … War stirs up different and terrible emotions. On the most basic level, it is awful. Soldiers and civilians are killed, towns and cities destroyed, and many people are forced to flee. Conflict is an aberration; there should never be a situation in which human beings are allowed to maim and murder each other.”
He adds: “I am never going to be a cheerleader for war. The pity and the pointlessness of it repels me. A part of me wants the fighting to stop so that no one else dies and the millions of refugees are able to return. In some respects, I find it unfortunate that democratic countries in the West are having to send lethal weapons to help perpetuate the carnage.
“However, first and foremost, I respect Ukraine’s right to defend itself and salute the bravery of its people, particularly the civilians, who have often undergone unimaginable suffering. I do not want to see naked aggression rewarded; whatever one thinks of Ukraine’s bid for EU membership, it has the right to see its future in Europe if it so chooses. It is, in the end, essential that the western world stands up to bullying, and to all the misinformation that goes with it.”
Stephen says that right now “there is no end in sight. Although Ukraine has retaken some occupied territory, Russia’s bombardment of critical infrastructure and its annexation of most of east Ukraine, through a series of sham referendums, has potentially taken the conflict into new and even more dangerous areas. The use of nuclear weapons, something previously unthinkable, is now talked about as a serious option. There is even talk of ‘Ukraine fatigue’ among Western officials and citizens who are preoccupied with the high energy prices and other costs which have resulted from the war.”
Three of his Ukraine poems, ‘Staged Event’, ‘Missile’ and ‘Carnival’ have also appeared in Poems for Ukraine, an anthology published earlier this year by Poetry Performance, a poetry group based in Teddington.
Write Out Loud’s news editor, Greg Freeman, writes: “Since he began writing these poems, I have been struck over and over again by Stephen Gospage’s determination to keep this terrible, vindictive and deranged war by Russia foremost in our minds, and by the compassion, the anger, and by the dedicated craft revealed in his poems. There is no way Stephen will let us forget. We at Write Out Loud are privileged to have provided a forum for such a remarkable body of work.”
Here is the first poem in Stephen’s collection:
Musée des Beaux-Arts, March 2022
(Inspired by a visit to Brussels’ Fine Arts Museum to see Bruegel’s The Fall of Icarus, which W.H. Auden referred to in his 1939 poem ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’.)
It’s hard to believe that Auden stood here
And stared while Europe teetered on the brink.
The tiny Icarus, unseen, ignored,
By locals who have better things to do,
Drops down beneath the weight of melted wings.
But this and other paintings have survived,
Unchanged for centuries through conflicts, plagues,
Achievements and disasters, rattling past
Beyond these walls. They are the permanent.
Later, I exit onto the street. The sun,
With springtime vigour, warms up passers-by.
War seems far away; peace seems further still.
And here is a later one:
I didn’t deserve the love that you gave:
I didn’t deserve your extinguished heart.
I wish I had been the one to behave
That last time before fate tore us apart.
As one young child is pulled from the rubble,
I realise that you were crushed beneath.
Another search is not worth the trouble;
I’ll find a still spot to lay down my wreath.
I hear the sirens and look to the sky,
As missiles flatten today’s dreams and lives.
Faced with this slaughter, I ask myself why
We live in a world where such murder thrives.
When you last saw me, I’d travelled all night
And drank too much with my mates on the train.
I was not that nice, if I recall right;
You never wanted to see me again.
And now here I am, and you are not here;
It’s hard to explain how that makes me feel.
In all my turmoil of grief and of fear,
I now understand what this war can steal.
Stephen Gospage writes poems and short stories. He was born in London in 1953 and spent most of his working life in Brussels. Now retired, he lives in Belgium, close to Waterloo. Several of his poems have appeared in the New European newspaper. He has dual British and Belgian nationality and is proud to call himself “a citizen of Europe”.