Every Soldier Needs A Soul: Poems of a Soldier 3 by David McDonald is a remarkable collection of war poetry. It’s the last in a trilogy by this poet, who began writing poetry as part of the treatment for his combat related post-traumatic stress disorder following his many years of service in the armed forces. It marks a return home of the soldier.
We tend to only associate war poetry with the World Wars and long-dead poets such as Wilfred Owen, but it is still an active genre today as, unfortunately, we’re still fighting wars. “Is this what is man’s achievement …?” asks the poet in ‘An Ending’, and he goes on to say ‘Can we not find better use, find peace …”? If only we could. Soldier-poets like David McDonald remind us in the powerful, concentrated language necessary for poems of the horrible suffering that wars inflict, both mentally and physically on victor and vanquished alike.
There are poems in this book about the supporting women at home, the brave child at her father’s funeral, burying a brother, an old soldier ending up on the streets, flashbacks and unseen injuries to give a very few examples. These poems range widely in style and content, from anger to love, from the fanciful to the downright gritty, from the horrific to the charming and witty. My own favourite is “An Angel is Waiting for You” in which the poet describes how an angel will look after a soldier who has died in action “with gentle care”.
You have to read McDonald’s poems. They’re modern, heartfelt, imaginative, entertaining and skilful. You’ll understand that “a soldier is not different to you”, just someone doing a job where he is trained “to do the worst that a man can”. It’s a tough lesson but so beautifully taught by this poet.