Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Review of the WW1 Anthology "We aged a hundred years" ('Wij werden honderd jaar ouder') edited by Chris Spriet

"We aged a hundred years" ('Wij werden honderd jaar ouder') - the title of Chris Spriet's WW1 Anthology - is the first line of the poem "In Memoriam, July 19, 1914" written by Russian poet Anna Akhmatova (1899 - 1966), which is featured on page 48.  Opposite, on page 49, Chris has translated Anna's poem into Dutch.

Dutch is not 'one of my languages' but I needed to have a look at Chris's Anthology in order to find out more about French, German and Dutch poets, which is not easy to do as most English language WW1 anthologies concentrate mainly on poets who wrote in English.  Not that many of them are about women poets either.
Why am I interested in poets outside my comfort zone? Most of you will know that I am putting together a series of exhibitions for the coming Centenary years to commemorate the First World War. This is in memory of my Grandfather, a career soldier with the Royal Field Artillery, who survived and of my Great-Uncle who volunteered, joining the Northumberland Fusiliers , who was killed at Arras in 1917.  Grandfather was an "Old Contemptible" - one of the first British soldiers to go to France in August 1914 and his Regiment was the Royal Field Artillery which he had joined as a boy soldier in 1905.
The First World War was undoubtedly the first conflict to affect all countries of the world and civilians and soldiers alike.   Women were not left out and, in spite of the fact that in his anthology "The Sweet Red Wine of Youth" Nicolas Murray leaves women out 'because they did not fight', some women did fight.   I decided to try to find as many women poets from as many countries of the world as possible.
An added bonus in Chris's 356- page anthology are some fabulous, thought-provoking illustrations by Wim Opbrouck which are cleverly woven in between the poems, bringing light relief for tired eyes.

I am very grateful indeed to Chris Spriet for his meticulous research, which brings together so many poets of different nationalities with a wide variety of poems which he has left in the original language as well as translating into Dutch.  At the back of the book is a comprehensive list of the 97 poets featured with brief biographical details.  With the help of google.translate these notes are not beyond the comprehension of English speakers.   
Here you will find all the old favourites - Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg, Edmund Blunden, Apollinaire, Vera Brittain, Rupert Brooke, Jean Cocteau, Geoffrey Dearmer, Eva Dobell, e.e. cummings, Gilbert Frankau, John Galsworthy, Ivor Gurney, Rudyard Kipling, D.H. Lawrence, Ezra Pound, Siegfried Sassoon, Charles Hamilton Sorley, Edward Thomas, Sara Teasdale, Edna St. Vincent Millay and W.B. Yeats - as well as many who may be new to you.  It is fascinating to read their poems in Dutch.
Chris Spriet's Anthology is a true labour of love - a fitting memorial to the First World War and definitely a 'must read' for anyone who likes poetry and who is interested in that conflict. 

With many thanks to Peter Parsley in Belgium for coming to our rescue and posting us the copy we had sent to his house.  Thank you Peter - I couldn't manage without your continuing help for my project.
Lucy London, November 2013