Thursday, 4 July 2013

Round Up

This blog has lain dormant during what has been a hectic few months for me, so here, by way of explanation, is a round up of some of the things I've been doing. I will be a more diligent blogger hereafter.

Much of my time has been spent finishing, then editing, my forthcoming anthology: Poetry of the First World War. It will be published in hardback by Oxford World's Classics in October this year. I was trying to do more than throw together the familiar poems. There are, I hope, some surprising choices among the usual suspects, but I've also written detailed introductions for each of the represented poets, and the editorial apparatus includes date, location, explanation of allusions, etc. An introduction looks back over the century to see how social and political pressures have shaped the canon at different times.

I've also been making a programme for BBC 4 on Ivor Gurney. The production team, Other Roads, has been saintly in its dealings with this tyro presenter. We have filmed in France and Belgium, and at some of Gurney's favourite locations around Gloucestershire. I've been very lucky to interview such illustrious experts along the way: Piet Chielens, Philip Lancaster, Kate Kennedy, P. J. Kavanagh, Eleanor Rawling. There is still a bit more filming to be done in Kent and Gloucester. The programme will be broadcast in 2014, with the title Ivor Gurney: The Poet Who Loved the War. Fear not: this is not intended to imply that Gurney was a crazed warmonger. We are looking particularly at the surprising fact that Gurney suffered breakdowns before and after the War, and that he joined the army deliberately to give himself 'real things' rather than 'imaginary' to worry about (as he put it). Gurney hoped that the physical exertion would help his mental health, and to some extent he was right.

My third task has been to begin preparations for the centenary conference of First World War poetry, which will be held in Wadham College, Oxford, on 5-7 September 2014. I am convening it on behalf of the English Association. Plenary speakers include Edna Longley and Jay Winter, with a special concert by Roderick Williams performing some war-related songs.There will be multiple panels, with academics and relevant poetry societies represented. Numbers are strictly limited, so if you're interested in attending and/or giving a paper, don't hang around.

Finally, I have made a small contribution to a terrific project run by Catriona Pennell and Ann-Marie Einhaus to consider how the First World War is taught in schools. If you are a teacher who would like to take part --- and to complete a survey --- please click here. You can also follow progress on Twitter (@ww1classroom) and on Facebook.


  1. I shall look forward to reading Poetry of the First World War and particularly the 'not the usual suspects' poems.

  2. Anyone who has read my biography of Ivor Gurney (Song of Pain and Beauty, Boydell, 2008) or my articles about him will not find it "particularly surprising" at all that he suffered breakdowns before and after the war. This is not new information. I also wrote about his reasons for joining the army and his instinctive sense that hard physical labor helped him find more level ground from his mood swings. Of course now we know about exercise and endorphins (identified ca. 1974) but Gurney certainly did not. He just knew that exercise made him feel better.