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For several years Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy has released a little hardbacked seasonal poem. This is the volume she released in time for Christmas 2011 and is arguably the most touching of her offerings. It relates to the unofficial truce that developed on the Western Front during Christmas 1914, when British, German and French soldiers put down their guns and laid aside their grievances to extend some seasonal cheer towards each other.
This poem is beautifully if starkly illustrated by David Roberts, whose sparse and occasionally crude line drawings perfectly fit with the shell-devastated, churned-earth setting of the trenches. The use of colour is minimal, muted and fitting- it serves to highlight the beauty of Duffy's words all the more clearly.
You may wonder why you'd bother to buy this tiny book which after all is only a single poem stretched to approximately 37 pages- I know I questioned if it were really worth it when I picked it up. How wrong was I? A poem that I may have read through and vaguely appreciated but then completely forgotten if printed on a single page in a collection of others was completely transformed for me. The turning of the pages makes you appreciate the pacing of the poem; the pauses as you read and take in the corresponding illustration add poignancy; a turn of phrase that might otherwise have slipped by becomes a stand-out when allowed it's proper space. This is outstanding- it's how all poetry should be presented and read! Only in this way does the meaning shine through and allow you to properly appreciate the craft of the poet. Duffy is adept at choosing her words carefully and making each count: there's no flabbiness in this poem and absolutely nothing there that hasn't earnt it's place.
I'm happy I chose to buy this because I know it's something that each Christmastime I will pick up, re-read and be struck anew at just how beautiful it is. A brief shining moment in humanity that would quickly be eclipsed by monstrosity and unspeakable horror has been well-immortalised by a poet at the peak of her powers. I cannot recommend this more highly.