Performance Publishing

An Unknown Soldier


Three Poems on the First World War

by David Henningham

Book Information

Paperback (post-bound)
42 pages
303mm x 160mm

ISBN 9780956316660
ISBN 9780956316677 (eBook)

BIC code: DCF (Poetry)

£13.50 paperback
£3.50 ebook

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eBook Version (revised 2014)

“Henningham’s mordant wit and avant-garde flair is part of another poetic tradition stretching back to Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound and the Dada pranksters of Zurich, although the first truly modernist treatment of the conflict in English emerged only in 1937 with the publication of David Jones’s In Parenthesis.” – David Collard, The Times Literary Supplement 


What is the meaning of an unknown soldier in the age of DNA testing? Does he now embody our desire to ignore the past, rather than remember?

‘An Unknown Soldier’ dissects the legacy of war in three parts. First, ‘Preparatory Oratory’ satirises official remembrance with a voice like the bastard-child of BLAST and The Book of Common Prayer.

Part II is a disordered pile of fragments and duplicates for the reader to rearrange; the Unknown Soldier himself who “may not be all there”. The dialect of no-man’s-land is as corrupted as this body of text.

Part III (Funeral, March) is a triptych of verses that reflect on the author’s family on the home front and in peacetime.

Throughout the book, three bespoke fonts evoke the anatomy of trench warfare.

Table of Contents

1 Preparatory Oratory

2 An Unknown Soldier

3 Funeral, March

About the Author

David Henningham, (b. London, 1981) lives and works in Dalston, London. He writes poetry and essays that are completed through fine art printmaking, bookbinding and performance. He obtained his BA at Chelsea College of Art, 2004, and MA at Slade School of Fine Art, 2006. He met his wife Ping at St Martins School of Art and they  formed the Henningham Family Press in 2006 to make art together. Collections that have acquired their work include: Victoria & Albert Museum, the Tate, Poetry Library (Royal Festival Hall), UCL, Chelsea College of Art and UCLA. They have exhibited/performed at Christie’s (Multiplied), Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, the British Library, BBC Radio Theatre (The Verb), London Word Festival, Berlin, Ghent, Oslo, Bergen, Indiana and Virginia.

Extract One

Preparatory Oratory

And these words may be said:
In a city you may find,
A Specimen
A Head Of State
A Much Loved Pet
all subjects of taxidermy like our Soldier.

And the method of preparation is as follows.

Arrange his pieces on flattened cardboard box
for a seepage period.
Store him in a lead-lined case
for you don’t know what they have inhaled
What you can find from thereabouts
lay out.

Compare limbs,
find limbs similar in size
one occident, one orient
and similar in tone of flesh
perhaps an interrupted tattoo

Rejects require the correct coloured bins

He is everyman
or at least bits of several men
They marched a long way, you see, for a sudden end,
they sweated and they waited together
so they are the same in kind
say qualified men.

You are an impatient palaeontologist
do not wait for enfossilisation
or for a dermis to become leatherised

There is not time enough for the skin and skeleton to exchange roles
as bog bodies do therein

Wash what you have,
remove mud
remove uniform
the blood will never dry

Get him in soak.

What remains of organs
place in canopic jars
made with haste from defused artillery shells
and hacksawed heads from tin piggy banks
modelled on the war cabinet in caricature
for the savings of boys too young to recruit
(a free gift upon joining a war bond
a free pen for merely making enquiries).
Use rolled up newspaper for a makeshift gasket.

Petroleum Jelly may be required.

Extract Two

An Unknown Soldier


Extract Three

Funeral, March


At Roneo Works
Grandad Jack,
who I never met,
in his capacity as a toolmaker
constructed one of the first copying machines.

Many of the engineers gathered
to look at the marvellous blueprints
plotting constellations of cogs and gears
placed with uncommon precision
by the commissioning mathematician.

His clarity of vision
for this mimeographic microcosmos
suggested he could handle
the responsibility of the skies

Yet Wilf,
as Jack was also called,
performed an equal marvel
in that the machine worked first time
with no recourse to engineer’s blue
and no need of fine tuning.