BBC planning to bring war poet to Afghanistan
Last Updated: Sunday, May 24, 2009 | 1:36 PM ET
The BBC is hoping to revive the legacy of British war poetry by taking along a poet to witness the fighting in Afghanistan.
Poet Simon Armitage told The Guardian newspaper that the public broadcaster is negotiating with the Ministry of Defence for a project that would bring him to Helmand province, all to be chronicled for a BBC documentary.
While a few visual artists have been over to visit British troops in Afghanistan since fighting began in October 2001, a poet has yet to be invited.
Armitage, who has won several awards including the prestigious Forward Prize for his 1992 poetry collection, was selected in 2000 as the U.K.'s official Millennium Poet. He commemorated that marker with the 1,000-line poem Killing Time — about the events of the year.
The issue of war isn't new to the Yorkshire-born poet.
He published a collection in 2008 called The Not Dead, focusing on soldiers who fought in the Gulf War, Bosnia and Malaysia. He said he had chosen not to see fighting first-hand because he had two young daughters at the time.
Armitage says he's changed his mind.
"I couldn't see it at the time, but I realized later that it missed the present tense, the adrenaline that flares up through real experience."
Joined by former SAS soldier, writer
Veteran BBC producer Roger Courtier has been tapped for the documentary.
"We think it is a fabulous idea … it will be some time before it comes to fruition."
The documentary will track Armitage's training prior to leaving for Camp Bastion in Helmand province.
He will also be joined by former SAS soldier and writer Andy McNab. The SAS is the U.K.'s special forces commando unit.
Courtier says he's aiming for a "completely different perspective" and to "put the current war inside a longer story of conflict across centuries."
The concept of war poetry was cemented during the First World War in which several British poets — including Wilfred Owen, Edward Thomas, Isaac Rosenberg and Siegfried Sassoon — enlisted to fight. They wrote about their experiences and all, except Sassoon, died on the battlefield.
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