Spring Semester 2022: Poetry at the Outbreak of War

Michael J. Vowles
10 min readApr 12, 2022

As the train pulled into Waterloo Station, I got a text from Emily.

I’m in Foyles.

It was 6:30pm, February 24th 2022, a Thursday. That morning Russia had launched an all-out invasion of Ukraine. There had been plenty of intelligence throughout the preceding months to indicate that this would happen, but a part of me had still believed that it was posturing on Russia’s part. It shocked me that the Kremlin hadn’t even bothered to try and justify their actions to the global community. This was a war of naked imperialism. That afternoon I’d spent hours watching the live coverage on the BBC before finally feeling too sick to go on any longer.

I closed the tab on my computer and my own life returned to me. It now seemed so trivial, but it was here in front of me, and the war was not. I tried to go about the rest of my day as usual, but the war lingered in the back of my mind, resurfacing every few minutes to twist my gut in a bout of nausea. Life doesn’t wait. I thought about that. In a myriad of places, it was someone’s birthday, someone’s wedding day, someone’s best day ever. I thought about them checking the news and feeling that twist of nausea in the context of their own private happiness.

It was our privilege that we could forget about the war for a few minutes as the present asserted itself. It was Emily’s text that evening that snapped me back once again to the present. The war contracted in my mind as my immediate circumstances- getting off the train, putting one foot in front of the other, locating Emily- demanded my attention. But as soon as I had a moment to pause, it would expand again and the cycle would continue.

At this hour, the station was especially busy. Commuters crisscrossing like atoms in a constant state of flux. I figured Emily was just a few streets over at the Southbank, but as I looked upward, I noticed that Waterloo had a Foyles as well. It struck me as funny that there would be two of them so close to one another.

The shop had two floors. As I ascended the stairs, I spotted a tall woman in a tweed coat bent over the poetry section.

“This is one of the poets we’ll be seeing tonight,” she said, handing me a slim, caramel-colored volume.

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Michael J. Vowles

Freelance writer, occasional traveler, full-time ice cream taster. I run a blog at https://tumbleweedwrites.com where I ramble with enthusiasm.