Tuesday 5 July 2016

Book Review: "Tumult & Tears - The Story of the Great War through the Eyes and Lives of its Women Poets" by Dr Vivien Newman

I really wish this wonderful book had been available when I began my commemorative exhibition project by researching Female Poets of the First World War in May 2012. 

From the dedication, abbreviations contained in the book and introduction about women’s war poetry, right through to the comprehensive index at the back, this book is a treasure trove of information both relating to the poems included and the background history of the conflict.

As Dr. Newman points out on page xi of the Introduction, the First World War has a legacy of poetry that is remarkable in its sheer volume and I believe there is still a large amount to be discovered.   You will find some 92 poets included in the book – some of them will be familiar names but quite a few will quite probably be new to most readers. 

Chapter I, entitled “When ‘Pierrot Goes Forward, What of Pierrette?’, sets the scene with poems written in the early days of the war by women who saw their men-folk march away.  I was particularly interested in Katharine Tynan’s “Joining the Colours” (dedicated to the West Kents, Dublin, August 1914) on page 2 because my Great Uncle joined the West Kent Regiment.   This Chapter also includes poems about knitting – “Time will win – knit a twin” by Mrs Mary K. Gibbons on page 14 being particularly poignant, for I remember my Grandmother, an avid knitter, always knitted two socks at once.  No doubt Grandmother began that practice in WW1 when Mother was four and uncle a year old and Grandfather, a professional soldier (Old Contemptible) with the Royal Field Artillery, went away for the duration of the war.

Chapter 2 deals with religion in women’s poetry, Chapter 3 nature in women’s war poetry, Chapter 4 poetry written by women who served in some capacity.  I found Chapter 5, dealing with grief in women’s war poetry, touched a chord with me because of the poem by Mary E. Boyle about the death of her brother.  Newman says “Boyle’s belief that her brother’s death has destroyed a part of her is far from unique” which is a sentiment born out by my own Mother whose younger brother, one of two siblings born when Grandfather returned from WW1, was killed in a tank battle in Libya during the Second World War.

There is a comprehensive summing up in Conclusion on page 151 and then come the Appendices – Appendix 1 contains biographies of the poets included and I do so love to know a bit about the poets – a legacy from my English Literature teacher at school.  Appendix 2 is particularly interesting I feel because Dr Newman talks about the publishers, many of whom are very familiar names to those who enjoy the poetry of WW1.

In Appendix 3, Dr. Newman writes about the amazing Birmingham War Poetry Collection, and then comes the all-encompassing Index.

A most enjoyable read and definitely a book to recommend to any poetry lover.

Book Review:  “Tumult & Tears  - The Story of the Great War through the eyes and lives of its Women Poets” by Dr. Vivien Newman, published by Pen & Sword, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, in 2016 with the ISBN No. 9781783831470