A slim volume in four parts published on the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, it contains: an excerpt from the Saville report (24 March 2010); the poem; an excerpt from the statement made by then PM David Cameron, to the House of Commons, which took the form of an apology; and lastly, an afterword by Thomas Kinsella.
It is worth starting with the afterword. In this Kinsella explains that this poem – all 10 pages of it – was not written as a response to the events of Bloody Sunday (30 Jan 1972), but to the shameless whitewash that was The Report of the Widgery Tribunal (April 1972) “a cold putting aside of the truth“. Kinsella goes on to say that he would not write the same poem now, but that this was the product, one week later, of his anger, “One…chose the doggerel route, and charged…” He finishes by noting that this poem had the long term effect of the loss of friendships and the rejection of his work by English readers.
It is a righteously furious poem; it scorches through its anger and burns itself out in relatively short order, but it leaves such a burn on the retina and the mind.
Written as if some spirit guide is taking us through the aftermath, stopping to talk with each of the 13 slain – the “Butcher’s Dozen” of the title – “Here lies one in blood and bones / Who lost his life for throwing stones.”
“Into an armoured car they piled us / Where our mingled blood defiled us. / Certain, if not dead before / To suffocate upon the floor. / Careful bullets in our back…“
“The news is out. The troops were kind. / Impartial justice has to find.“
“A trooper did it, on one knee, / In tones of brute authority.“
There is discussion of colonialism and the failure of Britain to face-up to and deal with its brutal history, “If England would but clear the air / And brood at home on her disgrace“
Kinsella describes it as doggerel; I describe it as essential.