The Invasion Handbook is the first instalment of Tom Paulin’s ambitious poem about the Second World War, from its origins to the German and Japanese surrenders in 1945. Conceived in several volumes, each book is independent but contributes to an evolving whole, an epic in cento form. The Invasion Handbook opens with the Versailles Peace Treaty of 1919, which excluded Germany from the community of nations, and with the answering but ill-fated attempt of the Locarno Treaties of 1925 to restore the torn fabric of Europe. It evokes Weimar culture, Hitler’s rise to power, the beginnings of the persecution of the Jews, moving backwards and forwards in response to the vast shuttle of events.
The poem is a triumph of technique, a simultaneous vision which proceeds by quotation and collage, catalogue and caption, prose as well as verse – a myriad staging of historical realities through the poet’s intense and bitter scrutiny of the particulars of time and place. Tom Paulin’s poem of war affirms the struggle and the memory of a generation upon whom the doors of living memory are now closing – the generation of the poet’s parents – and it extends concerns which have haunted his poetry: the relation of art to war and to questions of national identity, the search for peace and for a shared civic culture.