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Poets in arms.

By FIONA SAMPSON [The Independent] – Perhaps it’s useful to remember that First World War poetry didn’t arise spontaneously, but out of a particular context that was literary as well as historical. Harry Ricketts’s new book Strange Meetings: The Poets of the Great War (Chatto & Windus, £20) fascinatingly maps the connections between Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Edward Thomas, Ivor Gurney, Isaac Rosenberg et al. They shared over-lapping experiences not only of war but of literary influences, such as the distinguished publisher-poet Harold Monro. He was already steering the Georgian movement, of which several were part, before the outbreak of war.

Philip Larkin’s elegy for the Great War generation, “MCMXIV”, written in 1960, famously implies that the unprecedented conflict itself broke up a social order: “Never such innocence…/ As changed itself to past/ Without a word.” This is only partly true. Edwardian Britain was already a society in transition. As Suffragettes struggled for votes for women, and Ireland for independence, a new class of white-collar workers were struggling, like EM Forster’s concert-going Leonard Bast in Howards End, to gain an education.

When war broke out, these young men would for the first time give the “other ranks” in the thick of battle a voice. Poets like Ivor Gurney, David Jones and Isaac Rosenberg were part not of an officer class, but of the rank-and-file sent “up the line to die” in conditions and on a scale more horrifying than any yet seen.

Small wonder that they needed a new kind of poetry.

Continued at The Independent | More Chronicle & Notices.

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