It is a sure sign of John Jarmain's obscurity that a Google search for his name gives one of my earlier posts as its second result. Jarmain has a toe-hold in anthologies of Second World War poetry, but otherwise his Poems are long out of print, and his novel, Priddy Barrows (1944), seems to have sunk without trace. Ian Sales provides a well-judged recent review of Priddy Barrows here. His conclusion that it is not a classic but merely 'a debut novel' which 'promises more than, sadly, Jarmain ever had the chance to deliver' does not inspire anyone to search the web for second-hand copies. Even if they did, they would probably be unsuccessful.
Jarmain's poems deserve a better fate. At his best --- as he is perhaps only three or four times --- he writes poetry which ought to be ranked alongside some of the War's most memorable work. Several of them can be tracked down: 'At a War Grave' (courtesy of Ian Sales again) takes issue with Brooke's 'The Soldier'; his 'Prisoners of War' observes the enemy with a quietude as distant from John Allan Wyeth's 'dull and cruel laughter' as it is possible to imagine; and the poem which still seems to me to be his greatest, 'El Alamein', is here. These may be tiny achievements, but they deserve to last.
Jarmain was a Somerset man, who lived in Pilton and taught at Millfield. The good news is that James Crowden, indefatigable celebrant of the Westcountry in all its aspects (its food, its poetry, its landscapes, its industries, its cider), has plans afoot to publish a book which will incorporate Jarmain's experiences in the Western Desert. Crowden has just written Literary Somerset, which includes as a postscript Jarmain's poem 'Orchids'. With the support of the poet's surviving family, he has tracked down unpublished letters and photographs which will appear in a new book some time during 2012.