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This review is taken from PN Review 222, Volume 41 Number 4, March - April 2015.

A New Perspective Poetry of the First World War: An Anthology, ed. Tim Kendall (Oxford University Press) £14.99

In the recently ended centenary year of civic commemorations, any reader could have been forgiven a kind of 1914–18 version of Stendhal Syndrome – the dizzy malaise of over-exposure to cultural artefacts – when faced with another volume of First World War poetry. If we reached a point of media-­saturation last summer with a bombardment of high-profile events in memory of Britain’s entry into the war, we surely now face the danger of compassion-fatigue setting in among the ephemeral attention-spans of audiences, the genuine atrocity and tragedy of the war experience mislaid amid the nostalgia-industry’s stock of patriotic commonplaces and our ‘national ghost’ (as Ted Hughes called the war’s aftermath) domesticated into the period-drama of British heritage. The War Poets themselves, as they are invariably handed down to us – simplified for school curricula, sentimentalised as pacifist romantics cut down before their prime – are liable to be subsumed within this reductive set of clichés and their work read more in terms of Owen’s ‘The poetry is in the pity’ than as still-resonant literary texts in their own right.

It is greatly to Tim Kendall’s credit, then, that he has managed to produce an anthology which not only restores our sense of the vitality and importance of canonical First World War poetry but also places it within a context of lesser-known material and a critical framework which serves to realign our perspective on what is often familiar territory. With the tact and balanced insight of a long-standing scholar in this field – as ...


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