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The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry Paperback – May 11 2007
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About the Author
Dr. George Walter is a lecturer in English at Sussex University. His research interests are 20th-century literature; madness and creativity; constructions of Englishness; the cultural impact of the First World War. He has edited editions of the poet Ivor Gurney's work for Everyman and Fyfield Books. He lives in Lewes, Sussex.
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But a more irritating aspect of the book is its lack of a proper index of poets and a table of contents listing the poems by author. Thus one has to rummage around looking for a particular poet, whose name, for an equally mystifying reason, is not given until the end of the poem.
The Introduction by the editor, George Walter, is excellent, as is, for the most part, his choice of poems, with the obvious exceptions. But the layout of the book itself is exasperating, even irritating.
The two main things that drove me up the wall:
1. As other reviewers have mentioned, the book is organized into thematic sections, tracing (roughly chronologically) the emotional experience of soldiers and homefront through the war. If you're reading the book to get an "experience" of WWI poetry, then this is not a bad way to do it. If you're reading it because you want to look at the works of a given war poet, it's ridiculous. Even within the thematic sections, the poems aren't grouped by author, and there is no index. My entire class had about an hour of "homework" in which we had to search through the book and put color-coded sticky tabs on the pages of the poems and poets were were assigned to look at, just so we could find them easily during class---whereas in the older editions of this anthology the poems were simply grouped by poet. (My professor was as dismayed/frustrated as I was.)
2. The editor's note at the beginning of the book explains that he chose to include only the first published edition of any given poem, on the logic that these were the first versions that the poets were ready to share with the world. If you're dealing with poets who published their own work, this is not unreasonable logic---but not all of the poets included here lived long enough to publish their work! Thus, the first printed editions are not necessarily the most complete or polished. I found this particularly annoying in the case of Wilfred Owen, where we get "Dulce et Decorum Est" with the short line "Bitten as the cud" replacing "Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud", not to mention "Strange Meeting" without the line "By his dead smile, I knew we stood in Hell" (which might well be an editor's error, given that the poem is written mostly in pararhyming couplets).
In short, I second the review that calls this "A Book for Browsers Only". If you have any serious interest in WWI war poetry, get the previous edition.