Poetry of the First World War in Britain

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This chapter will respond to recent research which questions the dominant critical frameworks used to criticise the poetry of First World War in the latter half of the twentieth-century, particularly in terms of the privileging of combat poets and the lack of interest in female war poets. The chapter will take four poets writing during and after the First World War: Jessie Pope, Vera Brittain, Edward Thomas, Ivor Gurney. The four poets have been chosen to cover a range of attitudes towards the nation-state, gender, and war itself, and variances in their reception.
The chapter will follow the publication and reception history of each poet, tracing their work as it appears in newspapers, periodicals, anthologies and single-author collections. I will consider the paratexts of these publications, examining epigraphs, dedications, introductions or forewords by other authors, in order to explore how the poets and their editors contextualised their work. One example would be the letter from a soldier reproduced at the beginning of Jessie Pope’s War Poems (1915). The critical and popular reception of each poet will be examined, looking at newspaper and periodical reviews, academic research and the existence of societies (such as the Edward Thomas Fellowship and the Ivor Gurney Society). I will also examine sales figures and media exposure to trace patterns of popularity, beginning with the First World War itself and continuing to the present day, finishing with the recent public interest in Vera Brittain and Edward Thomas.

• Jessie Pope is a much-maligned poet who published several volumes of poetry during the war and wrote heavily patriotic poetry for newspapers such as the Daily Mail.
• Ivor Gurney wrote war poetry in the Georgian tradition of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. After his incarceration in a mental asylum for the last fifteen years of his life, his network of friends (including the widow of Edward Thomas) made sure that his music and poetry survived.
• Vera Brittain has attracted the interest of recent feminist criticism for offering an “alternative model of women’s war poetry”.
• Edward Thomas might be considered the poet’s poet of this grouping of four. Auden and Larkin acknowledge him and he is considered to have been a strong influence on English poetry.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Edinburgh Companion to the First World War and the Arts
EditorsAnn-Marie Einhaus, Katherine Baxter
Place of PublicationEdinburgh
PublisherEdinburgh University Press
ISBN (Print)9781474401630
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2017

Publication series

NameEdinburgh Companions to Literature
PublisherEdinburgh University Press


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