Poem: ‘Hiroshima’, in Oxford Poetry

by Mark McGuinness on 7 March, 2017

Even though I was expecting it, as the bullet train pulled into the platform it was still a shock to see the word ‘Hiroshima’ on the sign, in the same everyday font used for station names all over Japan.

Opening lines of Hiroshima by Mark McGuinness, from Oxford Poetry magazine

I will never forget the things I saw in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, or the relief of stepping out into the bitter cold and poignant beauty of the Peace Memorial Park. But my overriding impression of Hiroshima was of a disconnect – between the normal everyday city, full of life and busyness, wonderful food, laughter and music – and the word ‘Hiroshima’, like an afterimage from the sign, superimposed on everything I saw.

That’s the impression I tried to capture in my poem ‘Hiroshima’, which has just appeared in the Winter 2016-17 edition of Oxford Poetry.

(“Probably the oldest dedicated poetry magazine in the world today,” its former editors include Aldous Huxley, Siegfried Sassoon, W.H. Auden and Louis MacNeice. It’s a beautifully produced journal – the current editors are doing a great job of continuing a distinguished tradition.)

After my visit I discovered everyone has a story about Hiroshima. One person couldn’t understand what possessed me to visit the scene of such a horrible event. Someone else got angry, saying it was “the worst crime ever committed”. Someone else said of course it was terrible, but think of all the lives that were saved when it brought the war to an end. And so on.

Looking back on the writing of the poem, I get the sense I was trying to get back to my actual experience of the city, to the real place behind all the stories. But of course, Hiroshima was a name and a story to me long before it was a place. There was no escaping the word.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Marial Shea March 7, 2017 at 11:57 pm

What brilliant news. Published in Oxford Poetry! Congratulations.


Mark McGuinness March 8, 2017 at 2:42 pm

Thank you Marial!


Biff September 29, 2017 at 4:42 pm

Mark, I loved reading your poem “Hiroshima”. Had no idea you wrote in this free style😎

Weirdly, your images triggered a mental jukebox playing “A Whiter Shade of Pale, with its surreal images.

May I add my own family story to your collection about Hiroshima? My dad, co-pilot of a B-29 long-range bomber, was stationed on Tinian, a tiny island in the Pacific. His group flew the ghastly payload to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My dad’s plane was #3 on the runway and would have delivered the next destruction, but they ran out of atomic bombs, having had only two.

My dad never talked about the war.


Mark McGuinness October 2, 2017 at 3:08 pm

Thanks Biff. Yes, I don’t use free verse that often, but it felt like the right way to go for this one. Well spotted. 😉

Thanks for the story. Hard to imagine your dat’s feelings on that runway. No wonder he didn’t want to talk about it.


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