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This review is taken from PN Review 16, Volume 7 Number 2, November - December 1980.

CRUSADERS FOR SPAIN The Penguin Book of Spanish Civil War Verse, ed. Valentine Cunningham (Penguin Books) £2.95

This book will be a disappointment to anyone seeking a general anthology of Spanish Civil War poetry. Its title is a misnomer in that Mr Cunningham's collection includes great gobs of (often pedestrian) documentary prose, and is mainly devoted to Anglo-Celtic poets (as belatedly revealed in the blurb) of a narrowly defined political persuasion. The disappointment continues with an overlong (67-page) introduction which is atrociously written and suffers from a number of typographical and factual errors (the 1936 Olympics held in Munich, the author of Autumn Journal referred to as Macneice). The introduction is by turns fatuous and banal, and lacks essential biographical information about those poets Mr Cunningham rightly rescues from oblivion.

Some of the material Mr Cunningham prints is little more than versified political uplift, the book apparently being designed to tell us more about the atmosphere and collective psyche of the English leftwing homefront 1936-9 than about Spain. Given the advantage of reading such material forty years on, one finds an often total unawareness of the labyrinth, Spanish and geopolitical, into which some of the poets were plunged as battlefield volunteers and in which others were involved, less deeply, as literary campaigners operating in the peaceful environs of Hampstead or W.C. In view of the schoolboy antics Mr Cunningham describes in his introduction, the level of some of the poems he presents, and the lofty role he accords to Stephen Spender (whose 'contribution . . . to the literature of Spain' [sic] he assiduously ...


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