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War Poetry Collection

"What connects the war poets with our time is, among other things, the inescapable war - not only as they were committed to realizing the terror of their condition, but as those conditions are relevant to poets now."
Jon SILKIN Out of battle: the poetry of the Great War, 1972

Sailly Laurette 1916
Sailly Laurette, The Somme, January 1916

The War Poetry Collection was originally presented to Birmingham Central Library in 1921 in memory of Private William John Billington of the 2/24 Regiment, who was killed in action in Palestine in March 1918. The donor, William John Cross of Rubery, had assembled an unrivalled collection. It contained 1,233 printed books in English, French, Italian and other languages of the British and Allied Nations, consisting mainly of First World War poetry, written by both soldier poets and civilians.

Since 1921 many additions have been made to the Collection, notably in 1938 when a fine collection of over 40 albums of news cuttings of poetry and verse from many newspapers and periodicals of the 1914-1918 period was acquired. They represent an unusual conspectus of the social attitudes of war, and display clearly the moods of the British people from patriotic jingoism to disillusionment and concern.

Front Line at Arras

In 1971 it was decided to widen the scope of the Collection and to include war poetry of all times. An attempt has been made to add poetry from the German side of the 1914-1918 conflict. Poetry by major and minor poets of the Second World War has been transferred from the main literature collection and a number of volumes of poems from that period have been bought expressly for the Collection. Poetry by those involved in the Vietnam War has been added, and small sections have been formed for poetry of the American Civil War, the Boer War and the Spanish Civil War, with some representative poems from even earlier wars.

The War Poetry Collection is now one of the largest of its kind in the world. It has gathered together evidence of poets reacting to the strains, stresses, tribulations and horrors of war. Some of the poets represented - Wilfred Owen and Isaac Rosenberg for example - would be remembered without such a collection as this, for the greatness of their poetry has ensured their inclusion in all libraries devoted to literature.

The vast majority of poets in this collection may not be represented today, except in the largest reference libraries, and many of the unknown soldiers whose works were printed privately in memory of their death in action will probably only be found in local collections.

Recent acquisitions have included: Here, Bullet (2007) by Brian Turner writes first hand of his experiences in Iraq. And the donation of two books by Geoffrey Fyson Here Comes She Home (1949) and The Survivors (1919)

The Library has taken out a subscription to War Poetry Review, published annually from 2007 by the War Poets Association.

See also External Links below for a list of useful websites.

Famous War Poets

Wilfred Owen

I am the enemy you killed my friend

Wilfred Owen. Strange meeting (1918) Poems, 1920

Isaac Rosenberg

Sombre the night is;
And though we have our lives we know
What sinister threat lurks there

Isaac Rosenberg. Returning we hear the larks. Poems, 1922

Edward Thomas

This is no case of petty right or wrong
That politicians or philosophers
Can judge

Edward Thomas. Last poems, 1918

War Poetry Suggested Readings: This booklist complements the War Poetry collection

You can check the availability of these books through our Online Catalogue

General Anthologies

Jon STALLWORTHY (Ed.) The Oxford Book of War Poetry, Oxford University Press, 1984

Kenneth BAKER (Ed.) The Faber book of War Poetry, Faber, 1996

Angus CALDER (Ed.) Wars, Penguin, 1999

First and Second World Wars: Critical Works

Mildred DAVIDSON, The poetry is in the pity, Chatto and Windus, 1972

Amitava BANERJEE, Spirit above war: a study of the English poetry of the two world wars, Macmillan, 1976

Edna LONGLEY, Poetry in the wars, Bloodaxe, 1986

Joan Montgomery BYLES, War, women and poetry 1914-1945:British and German writers and activists, University of Delamere Press, 1995

First World War Anthologies

Brian GARDNER (Ed.) Up the line to death: the war poets 1914-1918, an anthology. Revised edition, Methuen, 1986

Anne POWELL (Ed.) A deep cry: a literary pilgrimage to the battlefields and cemeteries of First World War British soldier poets, edited and introduced by Anne Powell, Palladour, 1993

Jon SILKIN (Ed.) The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry. 2nd edition revised. Penguin, 1996

Catherine REILLY (Ed.) Virago book of women's war poetry and verse Virago, 1997. (Includes Scars upon my heart, 1981 (WW1) and Chaos of the night, 1984 (WW2)

First World War Literary Criticism

Paul FUSSELL, The Great War and modern memory, Oxford University Press, 1975

Patrick BRIDGWATER, The German poets of the First World War, Croom Helm, c.1985

Robert GIDDINGS, The war poets, Bloomsbury, 1988

Nosheen KHAN, Women's poetry of the First World War, Harvester, 1988

David ROBERTS (Ed.) Out in the dark: poetry of the First World War in context, Saxon, 1998

Hana SAMBROOK, Poetry of the First World War, Longman, York Notes, 1997 (Introductory)

Jon SILKIN, Out of battle: the poetry of the Great War, 2nd edition Palgrave Macmillan, 1998

Martin STEPHEN, The price of pity: poetry, history and myth in the Great War. Leo Cooper, 1996

Fran BREARTON, The Great War in Irish poetry from W.B.Yeats to Michael Longley, Oxford University Press, 2000

Jon STALLWORTHY, Anthem for doomed youth: twelve soldier poets of the First World War, Constable in association with the Imperial War Museum, 2002

Second World War Anthologies

Victor SELWYN (Ed.) Return to Oasis: war poems and recollections from the Middle East 1940-1946, Shepheard-Walwyn for the Salamander Trust, 1980

Victor SELWYN (Ed.) From Oasis into Italy: war poems and diaries from Africa and Italy 1940-1946, Shepheard-Walwyn for the Salamander Trust, 1983

Leon STOKESBURY (Ed.) Articles of war, a collection of American poetry about World War II, University of Arkansas Press, 1990

Desmond Graham (Ed.) Poetry of the Second World War: an international anthology, Chatto and Windus, 1995

Anne POWELL (Ed.) Shadows of war: British women's poetry of the Second World War, 1999
(see also Reilly above)

Second World War Literary criticism

Vernon SCANNELL, Not without glory: poets of the Second World War, Woburn Press, 1976

Linda SHIRES, British poetry of the Second World War, Macmillan, 1985

Susan SCHWEIK, A gulf so deeply cut: American women poets and the Second World War. University of Wisconsin Press, 1991

Katherine HODGSON, Written with the bayonet: Soviet poetry of World War Two. Liverpool University Press, 1996

Boer War Literary Criticism

M.VAN WYK SMITH Drummer Hodge, the poetry of the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). Clarendon Press, 1978

American General Bibliographies

Lorrie GOLDENSOHN American War Poetry, Columbia University Press, 2006

American Civil War Anthologies

Richard MARIUS (Ed.) The Columbia Book of Civil War Poetry, Columbia University Press, 1994

Lee STEINMETZ (Ed.) The poetry of the American Civil War, Michigan State University Press, 1960

Spanish Civil War Anthologies

Valentine CUNNIGHAM (Ed.) The Penguin Book of Spanish Civil War verse, Penguin, 1980

Cesar de VICENTE HERNANDO Poesia de la Guerra Civil española 1936-1939, Madrid: Ediciones Akal S.A, 1994 (In Spanish)

Spanish Civil War Literary criticism

Marilyn ROSENTHAL, Poetry of the Spanish Civil War, New York University Press, 1975

Access to the Collection

The collection is housed in the Library of Birmingham in Archives, Heritage and Photography

External Links

War Poetry

Wilfred Owen Association

Imperial War Museum