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This review is taken from PN Review 219, Volume 41 Number 1, September - October 2014.

Half the Seed of Europe john greening, To the War Poets (Carcanet) £9.95

A hundred years past 1914, and there are no remaining veterans of the ‘War to End All Wars’ with which to converse, poet or otherwise. Still, the war’s centennial has inspired poets and anthologists to recall the advent of global conflict and war poetry. From Glyn Maxwell on Ivor Gurney’s ‘To his Love’ (excerpted from On Poetry) to Carol Ann Duffy’s anthology-­hybrid 1914: Poetry Remembers, to the more straightforward Poetry of the First World War (ed. Tim Kendall) and Poetry of the World Wars (ed. Michael Foss), the year leading up to 2014 saw a proliferation of books reflecting this particular breed of poet. In the window of renewed general interest, amongst the thicker anthologies published in 2013 emerged a book that sounds like an anthology, but isn’t – John Greening’s To the War Poets, a selection of poems that attempts to close the gap of time. There are, of course, elements of commemoration here, but they are not exactly the point.  

Poems addressed to particular poets are titled ‘To – ’, with place name attached (read down any memorial list, mix names with places and numbers where a life used to be, and one feels resonance). In this way, Greening’s book is like the Kendall anthology – placing poets in their surroundings, ordering them chronologically, considering their lives beside the poetry; this offers each a certain transparency. The poems are often truly letters. In some, he imparts the subtext of the anthologies, as in ‘To Rupert Brooke  Grantchester’: ‘we reach for you still, ...

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