“watching us till the storms / we crave burl and wrap us”

The Oxford-based Clutag Press have been publishing poetry pamphlets in limited editions for a couple of years now, notably a pre-District and Circle Seamus Heaney collection Shiver which I was fortunate enough to get hold of. And I’m hoping to be fortunate again with the latest pamphlet, a collection of five poems in a limited edition of 250 copies, The Camouflage School by Tom Paulin – “Part of his continuing ‘loose-leaf’ epic of the Second World War, begun in 2002 with The Invasion Handbook“. Tom Paulin can be heard reading some of his earlier work at the Poetry Archive and there’s a 2002 Guardian profile where he says of The Invasion Handbook

“I suppose it is my version from my provincial heart of ‘how do you make peace after war?’.

Adds Token Dissent’s comment, below, reminded me of another Tom Paulin poem from 2000

David Trimble, sketched

His face more head than face
as if straitlaced he’s wearing
a permanent hard hat
except for men in blue suits
a hard hat is an item
of temporary headgear
and a bluesuited man with such
a bakelite hat he
looks always slightly daft
– anxious ill at ease
not much swearing
and somewhere deep down in a tremble
unlike a man in a donkey jacket
or vest – a man
who’s not just visiting the site
but is part of the mess
the whole works all that shite
– he knows how to hack it
as here and now we wait
for more deadlines more dates
and that access of authority
which every site foreman
has got to possess
– I see mud pallets of breezeblocks
and bricks wrapped in stretched cellophane
stacks upon stacks upon stacks
above them a longlegged crane
(not a fly)
that might just stumble

© Tom Paulin 2000


  • Token Dissent

    An enjoyable Tom Paulin article. I was never sure about his political development. It is a little surprising that (in 2002) he was able to associate himself fully with the SDLP. I always thought that he took the position that the GFA ‘parked’ the constitutional issue.

    He certainly was very supportive of Trimble –


    Paulin’s poetry and criticism concerned with this place is consistently superb.

    His points about his family of Labourites assuming that “the border was permanent” brought to mind this poem of his –

    ‘The Lost Province’

    As it comes back, brick by smoky brick,
    I say to myself – strange I lived there
    And I walked those streets. It is the Ormeau Road
    On a summer’s evening, a haze of absence
    Over the caked city, that slumped smell
    From the blackened gasworks. Ah, those brick canyons
    Where Brookeborough unsheathes a sabre,
    Shouting ‘No Surrender’ from the back of a lorry.

    And the sky is a dry purple, and men
    Are talking politics in a back room.
    Is it too early or too late for change?
    Certainly the province is more peaceful.
    Who would dream of necessity, the angers
    Of Leviathan, or the years of judgement?

  • Pete Baker


    Here’s Tom Paulin’s own interpretation of David Trimble, in a poem from 2000

  • Token Dissent

    Much appreciated Pete.

    The line: “and somewhere deep down in a tremble”, captures the aura of the man.

  • susan

    Pete? If you see this, I wanted to thank you and TD for the links. I’d tried to read Tom Paulin once maybe twice before, but he went gently swooshing over my head. “The Lost Province” and the sketch on Trimble, though, are extraordinary. (Even if the philistine in me can’t escape the mental image of an alarmed David Trimble in his bathrobe, squinting back and forth between Paulin’s words in the newspaper and his own reflection in the mirror.)

    “a bluesuited man with such
    a bakelite hat he
    looks always slightly daft ”

    The Poetry Archive link was the real gift, though. To hear old Yeats and Hugh MacDiarmid reading their own words, their accents shifting as they slid from academic lecturers to poet performers, was amazing. Louis MacNiece’s accent broke my heart, though, in a small way. Whatever they did to him in those boarding schools, to make such an authentic son of Belfast sound so…alien….it must have been ‘orrible.

  • Pete Baker

    Thanks susan

    The Poetry Archive is full of gems

    And, hopefully, they’ll keep adding more.