Thursday, 15 October 2009

The Georgians

Newly published this month by Shoestring Press is The Georgians: 1901-1930, edited by Merryn Williams. In recent years, this benighted movement has begun once more to receive appropriate attention, so Williams's anthology (the first of its kind for nearly four decades) is timely, and highly recommended.

Williams makes a very good case for including poets who were overlooked by Edward Marsh in the original Georgian anthologies. Charlotte Mew, for example, is represented here by eight poems, even though Marsh had considered and rejected her work. Thomas has thirteen poems, Gurney twelve, Owen nine. Dragging in the major poets and calling them 'Georgian' is an effective way to make the selection stronger. Whether they have very much in common beyond the overlapping of their careers is another matter. Good poems are their own justification.

My only disappointment is that Williams did not try to make a stronger case for the 'original' Georgians --- especially those whose reputations have fallen away since appearing in Marsh's anthologies. Marsh wasn't always mistaken: he published Graves, Sassoon, Lawrence, Rosenberg, and others whose work has survived. He also published Abercrombie (pictured above), Bottomley, Gibson, Davies, Flecker. This last group of poets was widely admired by people whose opinions we ought to take seriously. Among Abercrombie's enthusiastic readers, for example, were Rosenberg, Gurney, Frost and Thomas. Were they wrong, and posterity right? Or is it time to revisit Abercrombie's work? Williams's anthology won't help: Abercrombie is represented by just one poem ('Ryton Firs'), and his prose review of the first Georgian anthology.

Also included by Williams is D. H. Lawrence's review of that same anthology. 'The collection', Lawrence maintained, 'is like a big breath taken when we are waking up after a night of oppressive dreams... We are awake again, our lungs are full of new air, our eyes of morning.' The Georgians have been so often ridiculed through the intervening decades that Lawrence's ecstatic praise can seem nonsensical to those who know them by reputation only. We now have the chance to read Williams's selection alongside Marsh's five original anthologies and assess the justice of Lawrence's claims for ourselves.

1 comment:

  1. Beises Marsh, Harold Monro was the other editor of Georgian-type verse at the time. Philip Larkin, when he was editing the Oxford Book of Twentieth Century Verse, wrote a letter lamenting that he hadn't found the forgotten masterpieces he'd hoped for to transform the way people looked at English poerty