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Poetry of the First World War An Anthology (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – 14 Aug 2014
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[It] will provide the best critical introduction to [the war poets'] body of work as its authority and accuracy supplants previous anthologies. (Agenda)
extraordinary in scope ... an anthology to keep and treasure. Strongly Recommended for any secondary school or college library. (Martin Axford, The School Librarian)
Of all the (many) books I've read over the years about the war poets and the poetry of war, I think this one comes the closest to capturing the breadth and depth of that extraordinary burst of creative engendered by The War to End All Wars. (Moira Briggs, Vulpes Libris)
Kendall's judicious selections, and his concise and useful introductions to each of the chosen poets, suggest that his anthology will become a standard work. (Sean O'Brien, Times Literary Supplement)
Oxford World's Classics' beautifully produced Poetry of the First World War is one of the most important and far-reaching anthologies to have been published in this, World War One's centenary year. (Kirsty Hewitt, Book Hugger)
a thought provoking and moving collection (Sallie Eden, Roseland Online)
About the Author
Tim Kendall has taught at the universities of Oxford, Newcastle, and Bristol before becoming Professor and Head of English at the University of Exeter. His publications include Modern English War Poetry (OUP, 2006), The Oxford Handbook of British and Irish War Poetry (ed.) (OUP, 2007), and The Art of Robert Frost (Yale UP, 2012). He is currently writing the Very Short Introduction on War Poetry. He is co-editor (with Philip Lancaster) of The Complete Literary Works of Ivor Gurney (OUP, forthcoming).
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As always, there are omissions primarily among the less known works - Carl Sandberg's brief but haunting Grass, Richard Aldington's moving poetic epilogue to his 1929 memoir Death of a Hero, Wilhelm Klemm's Clearing Station (sadly there are no German voices at all) - though oft overlooked works like Arthur Graeme West's masterpieces the Night Patrol and his astonishingly bitter attack on those poets who romanticised the war, God! How I Hate You, You Young Cheerful Men! do make the cut. There are two unpublished poems by Ivor Gurney, though it's bitterly ironic that two of Yeats' poems are included since he infamously refused to include any war poetry in his Oxford Book of Modern Verse in 1936 because he found the whole notion of war poetry distasteful and an affront to the form - `passive suffering is not a theme for poetry,' lacking the point of great classical tragedies and dealing with a subject best forgotten (something the introduction does acknowledge, along with his utter contempt for anyone who found any value in Wilfred Owen's work).
All in all it's a worthwhile introductory volume, but there's little here that distinguishes it from other anthologies.
Our A level set text was 'Up the Line to Death' - which for many years has been the go-to anthology for the subject. It is a very thorough and well-structured but this new collection rivals it - and, to my mind, surpasses it.
It is more selective in the verse presented - with many lesser-known writers getting some welcome attention. This is particularly the case for the female poets who were very often overlooked at this time.
I particularly enjoyed the section of popular songs (a good number of which will be familiar to anyone who knows 'Oh What a Lovely War') but what really sets this apart is the excellent biographically essays that accompany the poems.
This really is a book that anyone with an interest in poetry of the early 20th Century should own.
There are a number of reasons:
1. Tim Kendall provides an illuminating introduction, biographical information on each poet and excellent notes on the poems themselves, which are presented in authoritative versions. Without being overwhelming and academic the notes really help explain some of the references that might be lost on today's reader.
2. All the major poets are well represented but there are less known women and civilian poets included as well.
3. Some other anthologies only include poems written during the war. This one goes further , finding space for some moving post-war reflections by Edmund Blunden and others.
4. There are some wonderfully poignant music hall song lyrics as well.
This is because, as Kendall states in the introduction, he has concentrated on the "most important" poets who come within his remit of "poetry related to the War by poets from Britain and Ireland who lived through part or all of it". ("Most important", of course, is a judgement open to debate, but we'll come to that later.) This is almost the polar opposite of the approach taken by Vivien Noakes's "Voices of Silence" anthology, which concentrated on lesser-known voices to give a wider overview of the response to the war than might emerge from the well-known Sassoon-Owen-Rosenberg axis. Nonetheless the two have some principles in common. Noakes's anthology included several women; Kendall's prioritising of poetic quality does not, commendably, lead him to ignore, as some anthologists have done, the contribution of female poets who did after all live through the war as much as men did (indeed sometimes serving as nurses at the front) and whose take on it is both equally relevant and, in several cases, badly underrated by critics.
The real difference between the two seems to me that Noakes is primarily interested in what poetry of the time reveals about people's experience of, and response to, the war, while Kendall is more concerned with what effect the war had on English poetry. In this respect the context-setting in his introduction about how "Georgian" poetry is now viewed, and what it was actually like, is immensely interesting and informative. I had no idea, for instance, how commercially successful and popular the movement was; the first two of the five Georgian anthologies (pub. 1912 and 1915) sold, respectively, 15,000 and 19,000 copies (while The Waste Land was taking 18 months to shift a print run of 443). By the way, for all Ivor Gurney's throwaway remark that the Germans had no poets of note, the soldiers he was fighting did, if he had but known it, share similar enthusiasms; the poetic hit of 1913 in Germany had been Stefan George's "Der Stern des Bundes" (Star of the Covenant) and many German soldiers went into battle with it in their breast pockets.
There aren't many actual surprises among the poets or poems chosen; the major one, perhaps, being Robert Service, who like A A Milne could switch from comic to serious mode when he had to. The omissions, of course, are more problematic, as always in an anthology, and where space is at a premium I would maybe quibble with the inclusion of Sassoon's "Glory of Women", which, apart from being, as the introduction rightly says, misogynistic in the extreme, just doesn't strike me as a very good poem. The other inclusion I'm not sure about is the short selection of anonymous wartime songs at the end. That sort of thing fitted in the Noakes anthology for obvious reasons; I'm not sure it does here, and without these songs, Kendall might have found space for some of his more regretted omissions, notably Gilbert Frankau. I don't want to play the game of "who should have been in it", because no anthology can satisfy all comers, but I do think that even by Kendall's criteria of poetic excellence, Frankau ought to be there. If not in the very front rank of talent, he is not far behind, and because his take on the war was not quite that of Owen & Co, he has been often overlooked. He gives a different slant, which is why Kendall finds it necessary to quote him in the introduction.
Nonetheless, this is a thoroughly well produced anthology of powerful and fascinating poems. It's far more useful than some earlier anthologies that managed to be completely blind to the presence of female poets, and it also finds space for some longer poems, where many anthologies, from this or any other period, would leave you with the impression that nothing but brief lyrics were ever written. It also happens to be a most handsome hardback volume, with endpapers and a sewn-in bookmark and at a very reasonable price, but that's secondary. To me it perfectly complements my Noakes anthology: the other side of the coin, so to speak, and the introduction in particular is hugely informative.
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