Tuesday 15 September 2020

Introducing Becky Bishop, a modern poet who writes war-themed poems and is related to several WW1 poets

Today, in a slight departure from the usual posts, I am interviewing modern poet and artist Becky Bishop

Can you tell us a little about yourself please Becky?

I was born in Windsor and have moved around quite a bit, living in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Sussex, Surrey, Devon and in Gloucestershire. I currently live with my grandma near the new forest in Hampshire. I have a degree in Criminology and Psychology and have mainly worked in administration and data entry aswell as doing volunteering within my community. In my spare time aside from reading and writing poetry, I love ballroom and Latin dancing and am a major strictly come dancing fan and also love crafts and enjoy making my own cards and jewellery. I have also been researching my family history for 23 years which started as a primary school project on my war relatives and over the years have found some interesting characters one of whom murdered his great uncle! I also enjoy walking and cycling and exploring historical places and particularly enjoy visiting cemeteries and war graves.

How did your interest in war poetry begin?

My interest in war poetry began when I focused my family history research onto my war relatives as I thought writing poems would be a fitting tribute and way to remember them.  During the course of my research I discovered I was distantly related to several war poets such as Julian and Gerald Grenfell and Ivar Campbell which inspired me even more and recently with your help I have discovered a connection to several more war poets such as Patrick Shaw-Stewart,  Raymond Rodakowski and Robert Nichols.

You are related to some famous WW1 people aren’t you Becky? Can you tell us a little bit about them please?

Yes over the course of my research I’ve found so many interesting people. As previously mentioned I’ve discovered connections to several war poets but never expected to find quite as many as I have, in addition to the ones mentioned there’s also Edward Wyndham Tennant, Maurice Baring, Nancy Cunard, Margaret Sackville, Evan Morgan, Aimee Byng Scott, Georgina Byng Paget, Celia Congreve and Lady Augusta Gregory. I have found several VC winners such as Francis Grenfell (cousin of Julian and Gerald and whose twin brother Riversdale also died in the war), Maurice Dease, William Congreve, Richard Annesley West along with some in ww2. Other interesting people include Huberht Hudson who was part of Ernest Shakletons expedition in 1914 and who served in both ww1 and 2 , Robert Gregory (son of lady Augusta Gregory) who was an artist and the subject of four poems by Yeats, and Adrian Drewe whose father built Castle Drogo. More recently I have also discovered some foreign relatives some of whom served in the German army and airforce during ww1 and 2  such as Heinrich Prinz Von Bayern who was a decorated army officer. I’ve found so many interesting stories during my research and not just of famous relatives but of ordinary soldiers etc who stories are just as important as the famous relatives.

But the First World War didn’t just involve the fighting men did it? In his book about the amazing American women journalists who visited the war zones of the First World War – “An Unladylike Profession“ – American author and journalist Chris Dubbs tells us that “The First World War forced a profound feminist revolution”. You have some extremely interesting female relatives too, haven’t you? Can you tell us a bit about some of them.

Yes women played an important part in the war too and during my research I’ve found a few who died and served in the two wars. More recently and after being inspired by you to investigate my female relatives more I discovered even more female relatives who served. Dorothea Feilding drove ambulances during the war and was the first woman to be awarded the military medal. Two other relatives, sisters Muriel and Olave Fock were also with a motor ambulance unit during the war. Several relatives set up hospitals - Rosamond Ridley set up a hospital for officers at her home, Sybil Grey and Muriel Paget set up a hospital in Russia. I have found several who worked as VADs such as Dorothy Nina Seymour who was a VAD in France and Russia and others who were commandants of hospitals such as Diana Lily James, Diana Isabel Brougham and Gwendoline Chevenix Trench. I have found numerous female relatives who worked for the Red Cross in some capacity such as in their wounded and missing department, one of whom was Flora Russell a watercolour painter who painted Gertrude Bell. One relative Edith Grant Duff set up a bread bureau for prisoners of war whilst another Edith Schafer set up workrooms for hospitals and was president of prisoner of war packing association. I’ve also recently discovered some suffragettes in the family and also have many interesting women who served in ww2.

I enjoy reading your weblog very much. Do you have any other weblogs/Facebook pages/Twitter pages, etc.?

Thank you, it’s nice to know that people do enjoy my blog and I try to keep it varied and am adding new pages to it. I also have a corresponding Facebook page - Becky’s Poems and Books - where I post details of my books and poems:  https://www.facebook.com/BeckysPoemsandBooks/

On Twitter Becky Bishop @BeckysBijoux and the website https://beckyspoemsandbooks.wordpress.com/

Who are your favourite poets and have they influenced your own poetry?

I love the well known war poets such as Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves, John McCrae and Laurence Binyon who have provided inspiration for my war poems aswell as my own war poet relatives. Other poets I love are William Wordsworth ( he was the first poet I studied at school when I studied his poem composed upon Westminster bridge), W H Auden (particularly his poem Funeral Blues) and Henry wadsworth Longfellow (particularly the Arrow and the Song) and Pam Ayres. I always enjoy reading any poems though and discovering new poets.

I think you have another book due out shortly, Becky. Can you tell us more about that please?

My next book that will be out very soon is called The Adventures of Bluebell Bunny which is a book for both children and adults. It is a collection of 10 short rhyming stories set around the local woods where I live and inspired by my neighbours pet rabbit, Bluebell. I’ve always loved fairy stories and woodland animal themed stories and for a while have wanted to write some rhyming stories. After a chat with my neighbour and hearing what mischief her rabbit was up to it gave me inspiration for the stories and whilst the stories are made up some do have a ring of truth about them

Once this book is published I plan to write about my female war relatives and once strictly come dancing is back on our screens I will be doing another poetry book based on the new series. I have numerous other books in the pipeline - I am writing up the 96 letters of a ww2 British soldier, at some stage I will do another poetry book for all occasions and also plan to write up some of my war relatives stories into a book. At some point in the future  I hope to hold a poetry reading event of my war poems.  

Can you read us one of your poems please Becky?

"Shot at Dawn"

Underage I was, when I first joined up to fight

To go and do what I thought was my duty, fighting day and night

Two years have passed now, I’m still a lad, barely eighteen

But I won’t ever forget, the horrors of war I’ve seen

I’ve fought in many battles, risking life and limb,

Each time thinking, the chances of making it out alive are slim

I may only be eighteen but this war is making me feel old

My nerves are constantly on edge, on my mind and body it’s taking a toll

The voices and noises are so loud, as they whirl around my head

And when I try to sleep, all I see are images of the dead

My hands shake and tremble, I can barely hold a gun

But I’ve been passed fit for duty, I’ve got to still face the hun

We’ve been given new orders, we’ve got to go over the top

But when the time comes, I’m frozen on the spot

The gunfire is deafening, I cower in the trench in fear

I try to block it out, running down my cheeks are tears

I don’t know how long I sit there but all goes quiet and my comrades come back at last

And what happens next, seems to happen so fast

For next thing I know I’ve been court martialled, for cowardice they say

But until today I’m no coward, I’ve risked my life each day

I don’t know what happened, today just seemed so tough

It all got too much for me, I’d finally had enough

I tell them that I’m ill, if I was a coward I wouldn’t have signed up underage

My fellow comrades try and support me but it just puts the commander in a rage

No one believes me, a doctor is sent along

He passes me as fit and the trial doesn’t last long

I have no representation, they find me guilty and sentence me to be shot

I write a letter to my parents, telling them I’m in a tight spot

I worry for my parents and family, there’s a stigma to being shot for cowardice you see

I’ll become just a bad memory hidden away, no one will speak again of me

I’m choosing not to be blindfolded, so I can look them in the eye

Facing them with courage, until the time I die

With fellow comrades amongst the firing squad, with bravery I face my execution date

Shot at dawn I was, my pardon came too late


Thank you very much indeed Becky.  We look forward very much to your next book.

To find out more about Becky's work and her publications please see her website website: https://beckyspoemsandbooks.wordpress.com/

Lucy London, September 2020 

Friday 11 September 2020

Florence Earle Coates (1850 - 1927) – American poet, writer and lyricist

My thanks to Professor Margaret Stetz, Dr. Gregory Mackie and Chris Dubbs for their inspiration and help in researching Florence Earle Coates

Florence was born on 1st July 1850 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America.  Her parents were George H. Earle Senior and his wife, Frances (known as Fanny) Van Leer Earle.  Florence’s paternal grandfather was the abolitionist and philanthropist Thomas Earle.

Educated in Lexington, Massachusetts before going to Europe to study at the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Paris, France, Florence went on to study music in Brussels, Belgium. 

In 1872, Florence married William Nicholson and the couple had a daughter -  Alice Earle Nicholson - who was born on 21st October 1873.  William died in 1877 and on 7th January 1879, Florence married Edward Hornor Coates at Christ Church in Philadelphia.  Edward Coates adopted Florence and William's daughter.  Florence and Edward had one child together  - Josephine Wisner Coates – but she died on 5th March 1881. Edward Coates was President of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts from 1890 to 1906. 

Florence served as a leader in several social organizations, including the Society of Mayflower Descendants. 

Matthew Arnold

British poet and critic Matthew Arnold (1822 – 1888) encouraged and inspired Florence in her writing and was a guest on several occasions at the Coates' Germantown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania home "Willing Terrace," when he was in Philadelphia.   Florence and Matthew Arnold first met in New York at the home of Andrew Carnegie during Arnold's first lecture tour of America, and they became friends. That first tour lasted from October 1883 to March 1884 and in December 1883, Arnold lectured at Association Hall in Philadelphia. His second tour of America took place in 1886 and found him in Philadelphia in early June, where he stayed with Florence and Edward.

Matthew Arnold wrote letters to Florence in 1887 and 1888 from his home at Pains Hill Cottage in Cobham, Surrey, England, describing his remembrance of and fondness for her "tulip-trees and maples."

Many of Florence’s poems were published in magazines such as the “Atlantic Monthly”, “Scribner's Magazine”, “The Literary Digest”, “Lippincott's”, “The Century Magazine” and “Harper's”.  Some of her poems were set to music by the American composer Amy Marcy Cheney Beach (September 5, 1867 – December 27, 1944) - see example left.

Writing about Florence in “Book News Monthly” (December 1917) V. 36 No. 4, American writer Elizabeth Clendenning Ring (1861–1940) tells us:  "... Mrs. Coates was abroad in the turbulent days that marked the outbreak of the amazing war and in a poem, sensitively vivid, describes the scene in the Place de la Concorde, August 14th, 1914".

“Place de la Concorde” by Florence Earle Coates - August 14, 1914

(Since the bombardment of Strasburg, August 14, 1870, her statue in Paris, representing Alsace, has been draped in mourning by the French people.)

Place de la Concorde, Paris, WW1

Near where the royal victims fell

In days gone by, caught in the swell

Of a ruthless tide

Of human passion, deep and wide:

There where we two

A Nation’s later sorrow knew —

To-day, O friend! I stood

Amid a self-ruled multitude

That by nor sound nor word

Betrayed how mightily its heart was stirred.

A memory Time never could efface —

A memory of Grief —

Like a great Silence brooded o’er the place;

And men breathed hard, as seeking for relief

From an emotion strong

That would not cry, though held in check too long.

One felt that joy drew near —

A joy intense that seemed itself to fear —

Brightening in eyes that had been dull,

As all with feeling gazed

Upon the Strasburg figure, raised

Above us — mourning, beautiful!

Then one stood at the statue’s base, and spoke —

Men needed not to ask what word;

Each in his breast the message heard,

Writ for him by Despair,

That evermore in moving phrase

Breathes from the Invalides and Père Lachaise —

Vainly it seemed, alas!

But now, France looking on the image there,

Hope gave her back the lost Alsace.

A deeper hush fell on the crowd:

A sound — the lightest — seemed too loud

(Would, friend, you had been there!)

As to that form the speaker rose,

Took from her, fold on fold,

The mournful crape, gray-worn and old,

Her, proudly, to disclose,

And with the touch of tender care

That fond emotion speaks,

’Mid tears that none could quite command,

Placed the Tricolor in her hand,

And kissed her on both cheeks!

Edward Coates died on 23rd December 1921. Named the Poet Laureate of Pennsylvania in 1915, Florence died on 6th April 1927 in Philadelphia.

Florence’s WW1 collection “Pro Patria” was published privately in 1917.  

Several other war-related poems not included in the 1917 collection were published in various magazines of the time and they described the selfless sacrifices made by soldiers and citizens alike for the cause of freedom and liberty.

“In War-Time” by Florence Earle Coates

 (An American Homeward-Bound)

Further and further we leave the scene

    Of war — and of England’ s care;

I try to keep my mind serene —

    But my heart stays there;

For a distant song of pain and wrong

    My spirit doth deep confuse,

And I sit all day on the deck, and long —

    And long for news!

I seem to see them in battle-line —

    Heroes with hearts of gold,

But of their victory a sign

    The Fates withhold;

And the hours too tardy-footed pass,

    The voiceless hush grows dense

’Mid the imaginings, alas!

    That feed suspense.

Oh, might I lie on the wind, or fly

    In the willful sea-bird’s track,

Would I hurry on, with a homesick cry —

    Or hasten back?

Portrait of Florence Earle Coates, painted by American artist Violet Oakley (1874 – 1961)

Photograph of Matthew Arnold photographer unknown

Photograph of Place de la Concorde, WW1 by American photographer Fred F. Marshall


Catherine W. Reilly "English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography (St. Martin's Press, New York, 1978) page 394

https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Author:Elizabeth_Clendenning_Ring "Florence Earle Coates: Some Phases of her Life and Poetry" (1917) by Elizabeth Clendenning Ring (1861–1940)



Photo of Place de la Concorde, Paris, WW1 by Fred F. Marshall

NOTE: Professor Margaret Stetz is the Mae and Robert Carter Professor of Women's Studies and Professor of Humanities at the University of Delaware;

Dr. Gregory Mackie is Associate Professor, Faculty of Arts, Department of English Language and Literatures at The University of British Columbia and

Chris Dubbs is a World War 1 Historian from Philadelphia