To mark the centenary of the CWGC’s foundation by Royal Charter in 1917, a ground-breaking exhibition is being staged at CWGC Brookwood Military Cemetery near Woking, Surrey.
It was officially opened on Saturday 20 May by English actor and adventurer Brian Blessed OBE and will run for six months.
For Then, For Now, Forever celebrates the first 100 years of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Curated by CWGC Archivist Andrew Fetherston, it is being staged in the Grade 1 listed Canadian Records Building at Brookwood Military Cemetery – the largest CWGC site in the UK with more than 5,000 burials and 3,500 commemorations on the Brookwood Memorial.
The exhibition tells the history of the CWGC from its foundation during the First World War through to the present day, using historic objects and artefacts from our archive and collections.
Many of the exhibits have never been publicly displayed before. They include an original First World War grave marker and a petition from the 1920s addressed to our then-President, HRH Edward, Prince of Wales. The petition contains more than 8,000 signatures – predominantly from mothers who had lost sons in the war – asking the Commission to reconsider the use of a uniform headstone in favour of a cross.
These and other objects tell the sometimes difficult story of how the vision of one man — Fabian Ware — came to forever change the way we remember the war dead.
There are also daily tours at 11am and 5pm, from volunteers, telling individual and collective stories of the cemetery and of those commemorated there.
Head of Community Engagement
In June 2017, Enitharmon Press will be publishing the long awaited illustrated biography of Edward Thomas by the Edward Thomas Fellowship’s chairman, Richard Emeny. This is the culmination of many years’ study of the poet’s life and work and draws also on Emeny’s extensive knowledge of Thomas’s family, friends, literary associates, publications and the places he either lived or visited. Offering in some ways a revisionist biographical portrait, the book combines the story of Edward’s life with numerous illustrations, including photographs, printed material, maps and original letters, many of which have never been published before. It will add significantly to what is already known of Thomas and his family before and after his death by putting his biography into a visual and historical context.
Those of you who wish to subscribe to Richard Emeny’s book in advance of publication may opt to have your names included in a ‘List of Subscribers’ to be printed at the end of the book. The publication price will be £30, which is inclusive of postage within the UK. To subscribe (the deadline for subscribers is Thursday 13 April), please email: firstname.lastname@example.org, telephone Enitharmon on 020 7430 0844, send a cheque payable to Enitharmon Editions to 10 Bury Place, London WC1A 2JL, or visit the Enitharmon website page with this link: http://www.enitharmon.co.uk/product/thomas-life-pictures/
A hundred years ago Edward Thomas was killed in the Battle of Arras (April 1917). The reputation of his poetry has never been higher. Professor Edna Longley has already edited Thomas’s poems and prose. She now marks his centenary, and adds to the growing field of Thomas studies, with this close reading of his poetry. Longley places the lyric poem at the centre of Thomas’s poetry and of his thinking about poetry. Drawing on Thomas’s own remarkable critical writings, she argues that his importance to emergent ‘modern poetry’ has yet to be fully appreciated. Thomas, as a leading reviewer of poetry in the early 1900s, was deeply engaged with the traditions of poetry in the English language, as well as with contemporary poetry. Under the Same Moon takes a fresh look at Thomas’s relation to the Romantic poets, to Great War poetry, to Robert Frost, to W. B. Yeats. By making detailed comparisons between their poems, Longley shows how the aesthetics of Thomas and Frost complement one another across the Atlantic. She argues, perhaps controversially, that we should think about Great War poetry from the perspective of Thomas as ‘war poet’ and critic of war poetry. And she suggests that to focus on Thomas is to open up poetic relations in the ‘Anglo-Celtic’ archipelago. Under the Same Moon is also a study of lyric poetry: its sources, structures and forms; the kinds of meaning it creates. Longley asks what exactly happened when, in December 1914, Thomas morphed from a prose-writer into a poet; and she approaches the lyric from a psychological angle by comparing Thomas with Philip Larkin.
£25 hardback, April 2017. To order, please email: email@example.com, telephone Enitharmon on 020 7430 0844, send a cheque payable to Enitharmon Editions to 10 Bury Place, London WC1A 2JL, or visit the Enitharmon website page with this link: http://www.enitharmon.co.uk/product/under-same-moon/
Closing Date is 15th Septemeber
Entrants must be 25 or Under
‘War poetry’ is a phrase that, for many of us, brings to mind the lines of Wilfred Owen or Siegfried Sassoon – “what passing-bells for these who die as cattle?”; “O, but Everyone/ Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.” The poetry of the First World War has been consistently anthologized, remembered and studied in classroom and universities across the world. The poetry of the Second World War, in contrast, seems to have much more of a fragile grip on our public consciousness – although this is a balance that many are seeking to redress.
The Poetry Society’s Timothy Corsellis Prize, hosted on Young Poets Network, was created and memory of a young poet and pilot killed in 1941 at the age of 20. Timothy Corsellis’ poems explore the experience of the Blitz and the combined boredom and exhilaration of flight training. Originally a conscientious objector, Timothy volunteered for the RAF in 1940. However, horrified to be put under Bomber Command, which would involve the bombing of civilians, he requested a transfer, and before his death, spent six months as an Air Raid Precautions Officer, helping civilians through the Blitz. There is a fascinating biography of Timothy here on the War Poets Association website if you’d like to find out more, and you can also hear actor Tim Bentinck reading Timothy’s poems ‘Engine Failure’ and ‘Dawn After the Raid
The Timothy Corsellis Prize, named in his memory, was originally launched in 2014 and encourages young poets up to the age of 25 to explore the poetry of the Second World War, and the lives and legacies of its authors, by producing their own poetic responses. The 2016 Prize profiles the work of seven poets writing during the war years: Keith Douglas, Sidney Keyes, Alun Lewis, John Jarmain, Henry Reed, and Anna Akhmatova.
All these poets – lesser-known to many than Sassoon, Owen or Rosenberg, but poets of just as much power – wrote with great insight of their experience of war. Keith Douglas noted that “Hell cannot be let loose twice”, and there seems to have been a sense of this among poets of the Second World War, resulting in a markedly different – although no less vivid or valuable – style of war poetry. You can find out more about each of the seven poets featured in this year’s prize, and read examples of their work, by following the link to this special article on Young Poets Network.
The winner of last year’s Corsellis prize, Jenny Burville-Riley, used Alun Lewis’ poem ‘All Day It has Rained’ as the inspiration for her own haunting tribute and prize-winning poem:
Hovering ghosts in Himalayan foothills
skin beautifully cool, eyes
hollow as spent cartridges
we exhale smoke from Victorys
by the side of a road that passes
the convalescence hospital.
Rough cut layers of mountain above
march in sturdy sequence to
a towering crescendo of white summits.
Geology softens in morning light
transforms to crumpled piles of jumble
waiting to be rifled through.
Beneath, a lone Sherpa
starts his slow ascent, bent back
burdened with a baby grand piano
stiff legs skyward as a big game trophy.
We watch the weighted figure
with amazement for the Sherpa
is a mere eighth-rest of a man.
“Look at that lazy bugger”
quips Dusty and quick laughter
landslides in a throaty scree.
Jenny writes: “In Lewis’s poem there is the juxtaposition of mundane details such as “darning dirty socks” with dramatic images such as “dropping bombs on Rome” and “herded refugees”. I tried to create juxtapositional images too: a raw, rugged environment vs the strange, unexpected appearance of a refined instrument – the baby grand piano – on a man’s back!”
Young Poets Network has already received many fantastic entries to the 2016 Corsellis Prize, and it’s encouraging more! As well as poetry, Young Poets Network also welcomes the insights of essayists in its Corsellis Young Critics Prize, which runs concurrently with the poetry prize, and asks you to write about which three poets of the seven listed above you think are most likely to be read in twenty years’ time, and why.
Both prizes are open to all young writers aged 25 and under, living anywhere in the world. The deadline for all entries is Monday 15 September.
The judges for both prizes will be Professor Fran Brearton (for the War Poets Association), a leading authority on war poetry; Nic Vanderpeet from Imperial War Museums; Judith Palmer, Director of The Poetry Society, and, new to the panel this year, Wendy Cope, noted poet and author of, among other collections, Making Cocoa For Kingsley Amis.
Prizes include book tokens, a selection of poetry goodies, and publication on Young Poets Network. The first prize poem will be published in The Poetry Society’s quarterly paper Poetry News, and the first prize essay will be published on The Poetry Society’s website.
For more information and for details of how to submit your work, please visit the Timothy Corsellis Prize page on Young Poets Network.
Young Poets Network is The Poetry Society’s online platform for young poets up to the age of 25. Here you’ll find features about poets and poetry, challenges and competitions to inspire your own writing, new writing from young poets, and advice and guidance from the rising and established stars of the poetry scene. We also bring you the latest news and ideas from the writing world, and a list of competitions, magazines and writing groups which particularly welcome young writers.
Young Poets Network would like to thank the Corsellis family for their generosity in establishing this Prize and their continuing support of The Poetry Society.
On July 22, 1916, Colonel Crawshay, the commanding officer of the 2nd battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers, sat down to compose a letter. It was the same perfunctory note he had already written so many times in the opening weeks of the Battle of the Somme.
“Dear Mrs Graves,” he began. “I very much regret to have to write and tell you your son has died of wounds. He was very gallant, and was doing so well and is a great loss.”
The Graves he referred to was the young Captain and poet, Robert, struck by an exploding shell a few days shy of his 21st birthday. The shrapnel had pierced his lung, and the Army medics who found him on the battlefield presumed he would not last the night.
But 6ft2ins and with a toughness that belied his poetic verse, Graves survived that, and the subsequent jolting hospital train ride to Rouen; even if he arrived in such a terrible state that doctors described him as a “hopeless case”. By the time his obituary appeared in the British press, Graves was homeward bound and healing, writing letters to redress the premature news of his demise.
From that moment until he finally lost his faculties and died aged 90 in 1985, the poet continued to furiously scribble; his work never done. And now, in the same house on the same Spanish island where Graves lived for most of his adult life, his son strives to continue that legacy.
“As far as I’m concerned, what he did during his life didn’t matter as long as his works are remembered,” William Graves says.
The 76-year-old is striking not only for the startling resemblance to his father (he possesses the same high forehead, full lips and shock of greying hair) but also for the fact that he and his siblings represent the very last surviving direct links to the poets of the First World War. Siegfried Sassoon’s only son died in 2006, while the likes of Richard Aldington and Ivor Gurney never had children of their own in peacetime. Isaac Rosenberg, Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke were killed during the war.
Of the 16 Great War poets commemorated on a stone in Westminster Abbey, only Graves, and the lesser known Herbert Read and Edmund Blunden, are still survived by their children.
William Graves is tanned and slim from a lifetime spent on Mallorca. Strolling in the afternoon sun past lemon and plum trees in the grounds of the home his father built in 1932, he recollects a treasure-trove of stories of Graves’s eccentricities, celebrity companions, affairs, and cruelty.
Graves called this place on the outskirts of the village of Deià, high up in the towering limestone range of Serra de Tramuntana, Ca N’Alluny (The Faraway House), but even here he could not escape his demons. The horrors of what he had seen during the war and which he had documented in his 1929 biography, Goodbye To All That, remained seared on his consciousness.
As he became racked with dementia during the last 20 years of his life, he retreated ever closer to the trenches. William recalls his father cowering from loud bangs and putting his stick out to try and halt his wheelchair if pushed too fast.
“The last 10 years he didn’t know who anybody was,” he says.
William, who calls his father Robert, first spotted the start of this decline in 1963 when he received the same letter twice. Soon his father, then in his late 60s, started losing his glasses and struggling to write.
It was at this advanced stage of life, William says, when his father began to adopt his “muses”, young international pseudo-intellectuals that he hosted in the marital home.
“He started needing more input for his poems and that is when he started having flirts with young girls,” William says. “So long as they behaved badly then he could write poems.” Did he sleep with them? “He’d just had a major prostate operation so it wouldn’t have done him much good.”
Even before his formidable mind began to be undone, Graves had already passed a colourful life. He married twice; first to painter Nancy Nicholson, who produced four children before he left her for the American poet Laura Riding and eloped to Spain.
In 1936 they were forced into exile by the Spanish civil war. Riding eventually fell for another man and Graves met his second wife, Beryl Pritchard, a dark-haired Oxford University graduate 20 years his junior. During World War Two they rented a house in Devon and had three children, William, Lucia and Juan (who died last year). Their fourth, Tomas, was born in Mallorca in 1953 after they had moved the entire family back at the end of the war.
William, who has two grown up children of his own, recalls an idyllic youth playing with the offspring of his father’s famous friends. An eight-year-old Stephen Hawking was an early pal – he remembers him delighting in setting off stink bombs – and he once provoked the fury of Alec Guinness after taking his teenage son Matthew to the beach and plying him with strong local wine.
While his father revelled in the exotic company, William remembers his mother as a quiet Victorian presence. “She was very closed,” he says. “If you started talking about anything personal she would start talking about cats. It was that generation.”
What, then, did she make of his muses? “As long as he kept quiet and didn’t rock the boat she didn’t care. Well, she cared, but realised there wasn’t a damn thing she could do about it.”
William, who combined his career as a geologist with running a hotel in Deià with his Spanish wife Elena, recalls “vicious” arguments with his father later in life.
In his own autobiographical book, Wild Olives, published in 1995, he describes the bizarre scenario of his father trying to plant marijuana in the hotel to get them into trouble with the local constabulary. “You were either with him or against him,” he says.
When Graves died in December 1985 William says he was “amazed” to learn he had been appointed an executor of his estate. One of his first acts was to publish an anthology of the war poems which Graves had suppressed during his life, deeming them “juvenile” and uninteresting. The Imperial War Museum retains a number of the poems in its archive including one which still bears a muddy imprint of the writer’s thumb.
Following the death of his mother in 2003, the family decided to sell the house to the local government and have it preserved as a living museum to Graves’s life and work, of which William is unpaid director. Today everything remains in situ.
In his study his notes are still attached to the clipboard he used to carry wherever he walked. The ancient coins and Neolithic axe-head Graves once rubbed for inspiration are still on the mantelpiece. The Georgian candlesticks and tins of Colman’s mustard and Cadbury’s Cocoa show that even in exile Graves never lost his innate sense of Englishness.
The village itself, though, has changed beyond recognition. Celebrities followed the bohemians to Deià and Bob Geldof, Michael Douglas and Andrew Lloyd Webber now keep holiday homes in the mountain. Most recently, the Tom Hiddleston series The Night Manager was filmed here.
William says the culture change was enough to make him and his wife sell up their own home in 2007 and move to the Spanish mainland (although they still keep a flat in nearby Palma and his sister Lucia remains in the village).
Modernity wearies, and he does not know for how much longer he will keep coming here and dusting off the ghosts of his past.
But for now, like his father before him, he remains driven to keep his own history alive.
January 18th 1935-November 19 2014
The death of Jon Stallworthy has saddened all who knew him, and all who knew his work. His numerous books – his acclaimed biography of Owen, his edition of Owen’s Complete Poems and Fragments, his study Between the Lines: Yeats’s Poetry in the Making, or, most recently, his New Oxford Book of War Poetry – both set the standard for the scholarly criticism and editing of war poetry, and brought countless readers to a deeper appreciation of the work of some of the century’s finest writers. More than anyone else in the last fifty years, he has shaped and enabled our understanding of the poetry written across two world wars. He tirelessly promoted the work of others – as editor, as critic, and as friend. Yet he was also a gifted poet himself, a poet of both love and war. This is from his 2009 sequence ‘War Poet’:
Without you, I am learning
about death. It cannot be true
that you – you – you –
and my numbness turning
to anger. But however slow
the fire, however deep the seam,
it will burn out, they say, in time.
In time for what? Forgiveness? No.
Acceptance? How should I resign
Myself to knowing that you lie
Under another sky
In other arms than mine?
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high…
From In Flanders Fields by Lt-Col John McCrae (1872- 1918)
Words don’t usually fail me, but it’s hard describe the three and a half days we’ve just spent in the Ypres area, on a battlefield tour organised by The War Poets Association. Does it seem a strange thing to choose to do – guided through those terrible, magnificent cemeteries in Flanders, maintained with such care and honour by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission? To study the work of great poets who have helped to define the First World War for us? To reflect on numbers of the dead so vast, so unfathomable, so indescribably cruel that your head reels and your eyes stare with incomprehension, beyond weeping?
Sad and exhausting it certainly was (although we also had merriment and good conversations with like-minded people in our group) yet you return with your mind freshly angry at the thought of the catastrophic carnage while your spirit is humbled and uplifted by the power, the pity of war. Two years ago we went (with the same group) to The Somme; this centenary year we had to make another pilgrimage.
A similar spirit of remembrance is taking thousands of people to see the powerful ceramic poppy installation at The Tower of London, knowing exactly what it represents as they stand silent before its beauty. We too were silenced at Tyne Cot, the largest cemetery (nearly 12,000 names) for Commonwealth Forces in the world – and also at Langemarck, where the total number of German soldiers buried or commemorated stands at 44,234. And each name invoking grieving mothers, wives, sweethearts, grandparents, children….
So in love, awe and gratitude we went to bow our heads before history and sacrifice. On Monday night we were present at the 29,744th ceremony of remembrance at the great Menin Gate in Ypres (or ‘Wipers’ as my grandfather called it, who was there). As the crowd of something like 2,000 stood to hear the Last Post and then the band of the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment played our National Anthem, I felt so very proud to be British. And I know that the fight to uphold and protect our values can never end.
AUTHOR AND DAILY MAIL COLUMNIST
Carcanet have recently announced the publication of War Poet, selected poems by the Wilfred Owen Poetry Award winner Jon Stallworthy and Fall In, Ghosts: War Prose by Edmund Blunden, edited by Robyn Marsack. Jon Stallworthy wrote a biography of Wilfred Owen and Edmund Blunden was an early editor of Owen’s poetry.
Jon wrote his first poems during schooldays shadowed by the Second World War and a mother’s memories of a brother and friends killed in the First. At school, too, he was introduced to the poems of Wilfred Owen, whose biography he would later write, and to those of others who would be represented in his Oxford Book of War Poetry (1984, 2nd edition 2014).
Jon Stallworthy attended Magdalen College, Oxford, where he won the Newdigate Prize of Poetry. A Fellow of the British Academy and of the Royal Society of Literature, he is a Professor of English Literature at Oxford. His biography of Wilfred Owen won the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize, the W. H. Smith Literary Award, and the E. M. Forster Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Edmund Blunden moved among the ghosts of the Great War every day of his long life, having survived the battles of Ypres and the Somme. His classic prose memoir, Undertones of War, and his early edition of Wilfred Owen’s poems were just two examples of the ways in which he sought to convey his war experience, and to keep faith with his comrades in arms. His poetry is suffused by this experience, and he was haunted by it throughout his writing life, as the men with whom he had served gradually joined the ranks of the departed.
Edmund Blunden (1896-1974) was born in London. He received his commission in 1915 and served throughout the war, earning the Military Cross and, unusually, evading physical injury. Returning to Oxford in 1919 he became a close friend of Robert Graves and later Siegfried Sassoon. He went on to a long and successful literary and academic career, including positions as Professor of English at the Universities of Tokyo and Hong Kong, Assistant Editor of the Times Literary Supplement and Fellow of Merton College, Oxford. In 1947 he was part of the British liaison mission to Tokyo. He died at home in Suffolk in 1974.
Robyn Marsack is the director of the Scottish Poetry Library. She completed her BPhil at St Anne’s College, Oxford and her DPhil at St Catherine’s College, Oxford. She recently edited an anthology of translations by Mikhail Lermontov.
Stephen Tyler, founder and musical director of Reading A440 Choir, has composed choral settings of “Anthem for Doomed Youth”, “Futility” and “The Next War”. He has posted a video on YouTube:
Stephen has written about setting Owen to music in an article on the choir’s website:
A440 Choir is featuring Owen in its performances throughout 2014. Performances include singing in a vigil service at All Saints, Dunsden, on August 4th