(Photo by @ed_needs_a_bicycle via Flickr)
As we prepare for a year in which we will commemorate the outbreak of the First World War Sue Wilkinson, our CEO, muses on the role war poets have in enhancing our understanding of the Great War.
"The pity of war"
We have spent the weekend talking about World War 1. My husband is the WW1 historian in our house and a veteran of over 30 years of leading school trips to the battlefields. He has been creating a resource for his students which pulls together what he thinks are the best websites, books, museums and films on the subject - and we have been debating which books should go into it. Embedded in it now, as you might imagine, is the Chatterbooks activity pack which is full of suggestions for things for children to read and to talk about as we start to commemorate the First World War.
This has, of course, led us to a debate about the poetry of the war and the poets who wrote it. Historians, led by Gary Sheffield are revisiting WW1, challenging the view of it being a futile conflict and arguing for the need to fight it; the importance of the victory and the quality of the military leaders involved. In doing so they take issue with the views of the poets of the war; poets like Wilfred Owen who argued for "The pity of war and the pity war distilled".
Questioning our questions about war
The poets, of course, were writing from the trenches, surrounded by the daily horror of war and witnessing at first hand its impact on the lives of those around them. One of the many fascinating aspects of the debate going on today is how it demonstrates the different perspectives taken by those who live through and in an event and those who afterwards can stand back and review it. We need both of course - the historian's analysis of cause and impact and the poet's insight and creativity bringing to life for all of us the human cost of the war.
Was it a just war, a war that had to be fought, a successful war? And are these the questions we should be asking over the course of the next 4 years and what should we be reading to help us get the answers? Was it a war that produced great poetry? Of that there is no doubt. What is more it is still inspiring great poetry - I loved so many of the poems in Andrew Motion's The Customs House and he has of course now produced a selection of First World War poems.
From Wilfred Owen to Edward Thomas
So, what is my favourite war poem? As you might know by now, choosing a 'favourite' is not something that comes easily to me - I refuse to narrow my favourite books down to anything less than a top 200 and I am now wishing I had allowed myself many more. How do you do it when there are so many that you love and want to share?
I studied the poems of Wilfred Owen as part of my English A level so his poems are embedded in my DNA now; I find that I can still quote huge reams of them (not that anyone ever wants me to) and but if I have to pick one of his then I think 'Futility' is my favourite. However, once I had started on Owen I quickly became obsessed with reading all the other poets of the war, haunting the library for collections so I could compare what he was saying with what others were writing. I fell in love with Edward Thomas' poems; so if I am only allowed one and if it has to be one written in WW1 then I would pick 'As The Team's Head Brass'.
Download our WW1 Chatterbooks activity pack to use with your children's reading group.
Do you have a favourite war poem? Share it with us via facebook or twitter.