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Why war triggers an outpouring of verse

Keen on young men dying in mud: AE Housman. Hulton-Deutsch/Getty

I always pack a book of poems when travelling for work, says Lindsey Hilsum in the Times Literary Supplement. Recently, while covering the conflict in Ukraine for Channel 4 News, I’ve returned to the World War I poets. Sheltering from Russian sniper bullets in a frontline trench with young Ukrainian soldiers, I was reminded of AE Housman:

Here dead lie we because we did not choose
To live and shame the land from which we sprung.
Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;
But young men think it is, and we were young.

War often triggers a great outpouring of verse. The Ukrainian government has set up a website dedicated to the mass of poems being written. The Syrian conflict has also produced great poetry, much of it by women, and it seems that almost “every Somali is a poet”. Journalism is important – we need eyewitness accounts, facts and impressions. But poetry brings a “greater depth of feeling and experience”. It moves beyond the specific event and makes it “universal”.