Composing quintudes

 

This year has started at a breakneck pace (how is it April already?) for lots of reasons, but most excitingly because of my involvement in what should be an incredible project. Alongside 99 other writers, I will be taking part in the 26 Armistice project and creating a centena – an entirely new form devised by 26 founder director John Simmons that is exactly 100 words long, with the first three repeated as the end's conclusion – to mark the end of the 'war to end all wars'.

 

Each centena will focus on an individual who was alive during the First World War – mine will be about my paternal grandmother's father who worked on a number of medical ships, including the Plassy, the crew of which helped to care for the injured during the Battle of Jutland.

 

To get us in the mood, a few 26 writers met up at the Imperial War Museum last weekend to wander round its excellent First World War exhibition and try our hand at a quintude – a 50-word piece, this time created by fellow 26er Ed Prichard, written in response to an object found in the exhibition.

 

I come from a line of conscientious objectors – on one side of my family – and have always been drawn to letters and experiences of the men (largely) who chose not to take up arms. Condemned as shirkers by many, the reality was never so simple. Unsurprisingly, the exhibition had a section on conscientious objectors and among the artefacts was this letter:

 

IWM Object

 

It's not terribly easy to read but, as the handy caption next to it shows, Fred wrote: 'I was court-martialled on Friday and today received sentence of two years hard labour. I have no fear for the future…' He went on to say, 'It will be hard to be away from you all for so long and you will be often in my thoughts.'

 

The line 'I have no fear for the future' followed me round the rest of the exhibition, while 'It will be hard to be away...' made me wonder about the letter's recipient? What did they feel about the future? It reminded me that it's not just the person who makes a stand for their principles that gets caught up in the storm. So, here's what I came up with:

 

I have no fear for the future.
To labour for one's beliefs is no labour at all.
No. The burden lies entirely in the leaving; in knowing that
you are where I am not.
And so, I carry the remains of this soul,
charred by conscience,
until we meet again.

 

I hope to post more on the project as I get into my research.

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