Keith Douglas was born in Tunbridge Wells on 24 January 1920. He was killed in action in Normandy on 9 June 1944, three days after landing on D Day, aged only twenty-four. 2020 marks the centenary of his birth, and this issue of Stand
celebrates the work and legacy of a poet whose writing and approach to poetry shaped the perspective of the next generation of Stand
poets and editors.
There is a fine layer of dust covering many of the scenes in Keith Douglas’s mature work. It gets everywhere – over machinery, furniture, the shattered heads of the saints at Enfidaville Church, the ‘paper eye’ of an enemy soldier blown open and left to decay in Tunisia. It is a real and emblematic reminder of his experience of warfare in the African campaign and captures the fierce intensity of Douglas’s gaze. He captures life and death as the light hits it. He is there to enact violence and to document each molecule of dust and debris as it settles:
Death, like a familiar, hears
and look, has made a man of dust
of a man of flesh. This sorcery
(‘How to Kill’, CP, p. 119)1
Yet this is no magician concealing his hand. Douglas does not keep secrets from his reader. This is a poetry that prides itself on a kind of nihilistic revelation. He sought to ‘exercise’ his ‘depleted fury’ (‘On a Return From Egypt’, CP
, p. 132) and to create a stark and forensic ...
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