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English - Rhyme and revelation

What it's all about

My father, James Monahan, said writing poetry kept him from becoming a casualty of the Second World War. It filled his off-duty time, awaiting hazardous missions while capturing in verse the pleasures of life on leave: times with my mother and family life, writes Jerome Monahan.

His poetry was well received: two volumes appeared in 1944 and 1948. The second, After Battle, was dedicated to Siegfried Sassoon, who had written to him in praise of the first, Far from the Land.

It has been one of the joys of my 20 years of teaching that occasionally I have been able to use his poetry in class, most recently in my sixth-form workshops. One poem in particular has proved very successful: Albertine Asks For a Poem.

It was written in August 1943 and, as well as being a love poem, it is very much a war poem, its sensuality and intimacy both a product of a time when little could be taken for granted. The main conceit - likening writing poetry to digging graves - must have had a special poignancy.

While quite conventional in terms of its male observerfemale object and its resemblance at times to "blazon" poetry cataloguing a lover's physical qualities, it contains lots of surprises. Its "narrative" is particularly varied, with opening and closing verses of direct address to the woman, enclosing two very different reminiscences, one eroticmythic and the other domestic.

It is a great (and secret) pleasure for me to give it continued life, sharing it with fresh generations of young readers.

What else?

Read James Monahan's poem: bit.lyJeromepoem

Help pupils to appreciate poetic language with a guide from TESEnglish: bit.lypoetrypack.

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