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New poetry anthology challenges anti-war sentiment

A new collection of some of the most poignant poetry from World War One challenges the notion that all poems by soldiers and nurses at the time were of an anti-war sentiment.

Posted: 20 June 2014

image for news story New poetry anthology challenges anti-war sentiment
Professor Paul O'Prey

The work, First World War Poems from the Front, has been edited by the University of Roehampton’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paul O’Prey, a former president of the War Poets Association, and is published by the Imperial War Museum.

It is published today, Thursday 19 June, just over six weeks before the centenary of Great Britain’s declaration of war on the Kaiser’s Germany.

It includes ‘November 11th’, by acclaimed poet Robert Graves, which appears for the first time as a poem in its own right. A street ballard, it was originally written in draft form to Edward Marsh, a patron of the arts in November 1918. Graves was persuaded not to release it publically at the time, and did not do so until 1969, considering it to have been unpublishable until then.

Professor O’Prey said: “In creating this collection I have brought together poems by 15 young men and women who found themselves at the extreme edge of experience. They tell us what they saw and did and felt, without flinching. A hundred years on, it is hard to imagine suffering on such a scale but these poems speak with the truth of authentic witness. The rawness of their anger, their compassion and despair still feels urgent today and cannot be ignored.”

The anthology also features ‘When you see millions of the mouthless dead’ by Charles Sorley, an unfinished poem found in his kit bag after he had died, which highlights the conditions many poets found themselves in as they wrote.

Three little-known poems by American nurse Mary Borden, who was already a recognised writer when the war broke out, are published in book form for the first time.

Other writers featured include: Laurence Binyon, Edmund Blunden, Vera Brittain, Rupert Brooke, May Cannan, Ivor Gurney, David Jones, Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg, Siegfried Sassoon, Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy and Edward Thomas.

As well as being Vice-Chancellor of the University of Roehampton, Paul O’Prey is a Professor of modern literature. He has published widely and one of his works, Robert Graves’ Selected Poems, published in 1986 by Penguin, was completed after a long period working with the poet.

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