Collected Poems – John Pudney

I have one of my academic colleagues, Jonathan Rix to thank for reminding me of John Pudney’s poems. He was enthusing about some of Pudney’s RAF poems – Smith and Missing  

Smith, living on air, 
Your astral body 
A mechanic wonder 
Your anger an affair 
Of fire and thunder.

So I’ve been reading his collected poems, published in 1957 which contain poems from his first ten collections published over twenty years from 1933 – 1953.

His most well-known poem ‘For Johnny’ was featured in the film ‘The Way to the stars’. According to the author’s notes at the back of the book it was written on the back of an envelope during a London alert in 1941 and there never was a particular Johnny: it was written for them all. However to my taste it does have the feel of something written in a hurry and is far from being his best poem – rather too much tell and not enough show. I much prefer ‘Combat Report’ with its alternating voices; one which is a pilot reporting on the enemy he’s just shot down and the other the poet commentating on the situation. When the poem was broadcast in 1941, read by Laurence Olivier the BBC wanted to alter the ending ‘that’s how the poor sod died’ to ‘poor soul’. Fortunately the authorities were persuaded to allow the naughty’ word to be used. I wonder if anyone recorded the broadcast – it would be quite something to hear it.

I, of course, came to Pudney via Malta. He was sent out in 1943 to write an official account of the Battle of Malta for the Air Ministry, but being a poet as well as in the RAF he came back with a long poem, The Siege of Malta.  
…. A petal 
Yellow, all veined with green in the sea’s hard 
Flooring of other element, of timeless running 
Malta, upon blood-invested water, cactus, nettle 
Leafed, old prickle, guard. 

1 Reply on “Collected Poems – John Pudney

  1. Caroline

    Many year ago a friend introduced me to a poem of John Pudney’s which I am convinced was called ‘Leaf Fall. It made a profound impression on me, but with great regret I have not since been able track it down. Are you familiar with it? As I recall it includes reference to ‘honey struck from the bough of a holy tree’ and ends with ‘as any little bit if dying.’ I’m hoping very much you have seen it, and can point me in the right direction.

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