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Misfiring the Canon
on 6 August 2002
It's regrettable that this is probably the best selling World War One poetry anthology, because it's a mess. Silkin's fabled introduction is one of the most garbled and incoherant introductions to the war poets ever written, and the poetry itself is notoriously erratic in it's choice. Yes, the old favourites are there - Sassoon, Owen, Brooke et al. throng the ranks, but Silkin glosses over the huge amount of women's poetry (readdressed, thankfully, in Catherine Reilly's excellent "Scars Upon My Heart"), and misses out on many of the poems written post war about the war experience. As usual, popularist voices of the war like the thousands who published in magazines like Punch and The Strand are dismissed, and although voices such as oft neglected Ivor Gurney are given space, it is no surprise that Wilfred Owen yet again dominates the text with eighteen poems. Silkin's apparent choice to travel further afield for war poets from all sides of the conflict is admirable but leads again to an unfocussed feel to the anthology. Thank goodness Penguin are compiling a newer version...
"Out of the heart's sickness the spirit wrote
For delight, or to escape hunger, or of war's worst anger,
When the guns died to silence and men would gather sense
Somehow together, and find this was life indeed"