Tuesday 22 August 2023

Julian Stannard, "Please Don't Bomb the Ghost of My Brother"

Julian Stannard has written nine books of poetry including Sottoripa: Genoese Poems (a bilingual publication, Canneto, 2018). His most recent collection is Please Don’t Bomb the Ghost of my Brother (Salt, 2023). He teaches at the University of Winchester, having spent many years working at the University of Genoa. He has been awarded the International Troubadour Prize for Poetry and nominated various times for the Forward. He has written critical studies of Fleur Adcock, Basil Bunting, Donal Davie, Charles Tomlinson and Leonard Cohen. He co-edited The Palm Beach Effect: Reflections on Michael Hofmann (CB editions, 2013). He reviews for Poetry Review and TLS.

About Please Don't Bomb the Ghost of My Brother

Please Don’t Bomb the Ghost of my Brother is an extended elegy for a brother lost some twenty years ago. The title poem is part of a sequence which is mindful of the war in Ukraine and conflict in general. The poet’s brother was a soldier. The elegiac vein considers the loss of friends and the painful years of the pandemic. Yet the collection is never overly solemn.  Strangeness drives the work forward in a number of ways. The work is both international in scope and alludes, on various occasions, to Gogol’s Dead Souls.

You can read more about Please Don't Bomb the Ghost of My Brother on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read two sample poems from the collection. 

From Please Don't Bomb the Ghost of My Brother, by Julian Stannard

Please Don’t Bomb The Ghost of my Brother 

He’s riding a white horse.
I was going to say he was riding into the forest. 
It’s more like a wood, a large wood 
with sycamore trees and silver birch 
and if you look you can see a Weeping Willow.
There are deer in the undergrowth 
watching carefully 
and there are a lot of small animals.
He’s talking to the horse and patting its neck. 
There’s no one else around
and the wood has a beguiling music.
The horse breaks into a canter. 
Rabbits listen and twitch. 
An oyster catcher flies overhead. 
And coming into view a long-winged buzzard. 
The horse slows and steps into the river - 
He’s a good horse, my brother’s a good horseman.
Now they’re getting out on the other side 
where there are fewer trees. 
The ghost of my brother finds a glade. 
There must be a score of white horses.
There’s sun light and there’s a breeze. 
The horses drink from the water. 
And the ghosts, soldiers like my brother,
strip off and throw themselves into the lake.
Some lie on their backs. 

My brother has slipped from view.
I bet you he’s taken a big breath 
kicked his legs and plunged down deep.
The horses stand under a tree.
My brother’s horse is whinnying.

Zoom Time  


One of the most wretched things about lockdown 
was being zoomed into hundreds of well-lit
middle class homes whose impeccable taste    
made me feel down at heel, even shitty, 
as if I were Edward Lear sitting at the table of Lord Stanley 
trying to make the soup not trickle into my beard 
and called upon at any moment to entertain (a singular fellow.) 

There was an Old Person of Cromer who stood on one leg  
reading Homer … 


Artfully arranged bookshelves frame the background 
of every Zoomer, the libraries of the baby boomer -
Sometimes I catch the titles on the spines: Proudhon
The 120 Days of Sodom, Plato’s critique of humour.  


The undoubted advantage of a Zoom conference, 
as far as I can tell, is that no one 
has banned smoking although I have to admit 
that when I took out a cigarette which I did 
without thinking, I am after all sitting in my room, 
not book-lined but nevertheless containing
an impressive collection of revolving ashtrays,  
so as to lift the familiar stick to my wanting lips, 
I understood I was smoking in the face  
of a global plague and suddenly I was afraid.  


The don from Cambridge is explaining that the poem 
he is about to read, I fear it won’t be short, 
required the reading of one thousand five hundred books. 
I suspect that behind him in that donnish room 
we can see the one thousand five hundred books. 


Oh fellow Zoomers
how much lovelier to think of a theatre 
An empty stage with blood-red seats  
and balconies with strips of gold. 
A man walks across the stage  
and stops and turns and smiles – 
Very old school, Ja, he says.
You think life disappointing? 
We have no troubles here! Here life is beautiful.
The girls are beautiful. the orchestra is beautiful.
And for a tantalising moment we can see the girls 
and we can hear the orchestra 
like the shadow of a coachman outside a hermitage. 

Death (please) thou shalt die.


There’s a young couple in one of the boxes 
sitting entwined in comfortable repose.
The man’s hand is on the woman’s knee
and I’m wondering what would happen 
if, in the comfort of their sitting room, 
they forget that in panoptic mode 
fifty pairs of eyes can see how 
knee touching leads to greater acts
of intimacy; their caresses more ardent, 
more urgent – O Corinna, Corona!
Someone has turned up the wattage, 
some unexpected Zoomer frottage …

I notice the professor from St Petersburg  
has left his chair and I lean forward to see 
if I can make out titles in that august language.   
He has several shelves of Gogol 
(for a fleeting moment I thought he had the tales 
of Nikolai Vasilyevich Google) 
which brings me a sudden unbridled joy. 
I too will leave my place, if only to return,
like Banquo at the feast of Zoom - 
and let the viewers admire my wall of nothing.

                                                         I saw the shadow of a coachman 
                                                         who with the shadow of a brush
                                                         did clean the shadow of a coach 

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