“Unknown Soldier”

I confess that in the beginning I struggled with Seni Seneviratne’s “Unknown Soldier”. There was something about the two voices in the first section that didn’t quite work for me, and I wonder if using the photographs (from the third section, ‘Album’) proved as much a straitjacket as an inspiration.

However, in the second section, “Unknown Soldier” really takes off. There are some simply beautiful poems in this section, passing the ‘wish I’d written it myself’ test. The poems about birds are stunning, and the poignant ones of Seni remembering her father are wonderful. And the voice is unmistakably that of the poet. Perhaps one or two don’t quite work structurally – like a sonnet that seems to give up on the rhyme – but these are in the minority.

Collections like this, based on intensely personal emotional experiences, often fall foul of being inaccessible to the reader as we don’t have the intimate knowledge of the back-story to provide the context (like Hughes’ “Birthday Letters”), but the second section is largely a triumph.

I would recommend “Unknown Soldier”. It’s worth persevering with the first section in order to get the background for the second.

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