Dominic Hibberd and John Onions (eds.), The Winter of the World: Poems of the Great War (London: Constable & Robinson, 2008), 346pp
An exceptionally well-balanced collection of poetry from the First World War. Taking its title from a Wilfred Owen poem, The Winter of the World does of course present us with the more well-known poets, such as Owen (killed only one week before the end of the war) and Siegfried Sassoon. But it also has a lot of lesser-known poets, both soldiers and civilians, who certainly deserve to stand alongside their more famous peers. Organised more-or-less chronologically, the anthology does an excellent job of demonstrating how attitudes changed as the war progressed, both individual poets' attitudes and also the general mood of the times. The Winter of the World also engages in a bit of myth-busting, presenting the works which inform our contemporary dominant impression of the war (the solemn, 'never forget' mood embodied by such works as John McCrae's 'In Flanders Fields') but balancing them out with other poems - some jingoistic (particularly in the early part of the war), some satirical, some resentful, some nihilistic or despairing, some hopeful of a better world arising out of the bloodshed and destruction. I do respect our society's dominant view of World War One - the solemn remembrance, the poppy-wearing, the lost youth - especially as I read this book on Armistice Day, but I was grateful that this book showed that this was just one interpretation of the war. By highlighting the diversity in experience, outlook and, indeed, talent of the war poets, rather than spouting solemn, well-meaning clichés and relying on the works of Owen and Sassoon to propel their book, the editors of The Winter of the World have provided perhaps the most comprehensive and educational anthology of war poetry out there today.