The Not Dead, By Simon Armitage

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The Independent Culture

Originally broadcast a year ago in a Channel 4 documentary of the same name, The Not Dead is a short collection of war poems written, not in battle, but as a response to the testimonies of ex-soldiers featured in the programme. As Simon Armitage points out in his eloquent, self-effacing introduction, time is no "great healer" for people scarred by war. One of the former soldiers in the documentary is still unable to talk without crying about a jungle ambush he took part in nearly 50 years previously in Malaya.

Each poem focuses on a flashback scene one of the ex-soldiers has struggled to forget. "Remains", for example, written for someone who served in Basra, tries to capture the moment when he shot a man looting a bank. The body was disposed of but the man's "blood shadow" remained on the street: "I blink / and he bursts again through the doors of the bank. / Sleep, and he's probably armed, possibly not."

Who are the Not Dead? The ex-servicemen and the ghosts trapped in their memories; the people who live and die and live again every time one of the veterans experiences a bad memory. This collection offers a strange, painful kind of memorial.

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