The Broken Word

by Adam Foulds

The Broken Word CoverWhile I still probably consider poetry the writing form for which I know the least, I’m slowly stepping in and getting some basis of understanding. But let the previous statement context for the following one: I’ve never encountered anything like The Broken Word before. This isn’t to say that Foulds necessarily does things that have never been done before, but rather that I will forever compare anything similar to this work, mainly because it was the first of its kind I read, but also because it was so well-written.

The Broken Word is a narrative poem that recounts a young man’s experience in Kenya during the Mau Mau uprising of the ’50s, and his subsequent attempt to re-enter polite English society despite being thoroughly traumatized during his stint there. While there are specifics in the text that very much place the story within that conflict––such as Louis Leakey discussing the Gĩkũyũ taking their oath––the central conceit of trauma coming from atrocities strikes me as being quite adaptable to all manner of conflicts throughout the ages. While this is likely a significant portion of what makes the poem meaningful, the fact that Foulds remains unflinching in his portrayal of the horrors humans felt content inflicting upon their fellow man while staying sympathetic to his troubled protagonist gives The Broken Word a great deal of its poignancy.

In short, I found The Broken Word concise, chilling, and unique. It’s definitely worth the read. (And, you know, it’s really short, so you have very few excuses to avoid it.)