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When All This is Over

All the Way Home, by Jane Clarke, Smith|Doorstop, 42 pp, £6, ISBN: 978-1912196685 The First World War haunts the modern literary imagination, shaping our engagement with crisis and loss, and changing the relationship between experience and representation in fundamental ways. A century later, we renew our attention to events of this time, as well as to the ways in which they have been remembered by later generations. Through diaries, photographs, letters and personal recollections, we learn more about the lives that were shaped by this intense period of history, and deepen our understanding of the legacy of its social and political turmoil. In April 2017, Jane Clarke was invited to write a sequence of poems exploring the war, using letters and photographs drawn from the Auerbach family archive – the result is All the Way Home, a book of great concentration and intelligence, as well as formal accomplishment. It captures the life of a young man at the Front and his sister at home; more than that, it asks fundamental questions about empathy, about how we attempt to understand lives we can only share imaginatively, and at a distance in time and space. This gathering of poems speaks to the spaces between experience and perception, to the untimely losses of war as expressive of larger patterns of human sorrow and healing. An introduction by the archive’s custodian establishes the contexts of Albert Auerbach’s war. Signing up on the very first day of the conflict, he survived Gallipoli before being invalided home with shell shock and dysentery. He was killed near the Somme, exactly four years after joining up. To this bare outline – and the archival materials that reveal it – Clarke brings great sensitivity and insight and a perfectly attuned sense of the balance between observed detail and a larger sense of history. She bears witness to the specific experiences of this one family, yet at the same time reveals the beauty of a lost world, and a long view of human history marred by violence and warfare. Military campaigns place landscape under immense pressure; they are altered physically in a way that is intimately linked to the suffering of combatants and to the traumatic legacy of injury, disease, displacement and death. These connections reflect the close involvement of our forebears in the life of the land – a relationship that Clarke also explored in her earlier collection The River. She…



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