The Day Destroyed
New anthology from The Wilfred Owen Association
The title of this volume is taken from “The Manor”, by Alan Franks, the poem which won the first prize in The Wilfred Owen Association International Poetry Competition 2014
All the prizewinning poems are included here, together with another sixteen under the categories of “Highly Commended” and “Runners-up”.
We received more than seven hundred entries, from all over the world, and it took three judges – Gladys Mary Coles, Merryn Williams and Meg Crane – about six weeks to come to their conclusions. Many excellent poems were brought to light by the competition, and it was inevitable that not all of them reached the final list: we hope, in the fairly near future, to ask their authors’ permission to print some more of them in the Wilfred Owen Association Journal.
All the entries were judged anonymously. In the event, in spite of knowing nothing about the authors until after we had decided upon the final list, we have ended up with a selection in which men and women poets are almost exactly balanced. All the winning entries were from Europe; those from the United Kingdom represent more of a geographical spread than we usually achieve in the Journal. Most areas of England are represented, but there is only one representative apiece from Scotland and Wales, and none from Northern Ireland – next time, perhaps …. And three of our six winners ended up with two poems which reached the final selection: a tribute, we like to, to our consistency of judgment.
Some of the poems are more obviously “literary” than others – Martin Bennett in “Now Thrive the Armourers” draws upon Shakespeare’s Henry V, and Alan Franks in “Late Rendezvous” weaves a subtle web of his own and Wilfred Owen’s words and images - but all use language in some way which brings new light, even in so many poems in which darkness is a theme. We had asked for poems “in the spirit of Wilfred Owen”, which was the title of the Association’s previous anthology, edited by Merryn Williams and published in 2002 after our last poetry competition. We had no fixed expectations, and certainly no policy statement. A few of the poems we chose have no direct bearing on war as such, but we felt that they exhibited Owen’s characteristic imaginative sympathy with the forgotten, the marginalised, the victimised - Pat Winslow’s “Stroyka 51”, Susan Davies’s “The Mango Tree”, Gill Learner’s “The Lodestone of the Upper VIth”, Margaret Holbrook’s “In a Village of Many Ash Trees”. Of course we did not all agree on every specific poem; but given that we had made few or no pre-conditions, it was remarkable how closely the three of us agreed most of the time, particularly when it came to the short list.
Unsurprisingly, there are no “pro-war” poems - whatever that means - and there is a full measure of tragic sympathy. But not all the poems dwell exclusively on the waste and futility of war: like Wilfred Owen himself, many competitors “found music” in stories of friendship and generosity (Susan Davies’s “The Invaders”); courage and loyalty (Greg Freeman’s “Learning by Heart”) even alongside the horrors. The poems which most often aroused our admiration were never literally in the style of Wilfred Owen, though some competitors drew upon his sound-patterns and stanza forms (Alan Franks in both poems, and Mark Haworth-Booth in “The Anthropocene”). Those entries which were in effect a pastiche of Owen or of lesser First World War poets - “mud” rhymes with “blood” and “death” rhymes with “breath” - were often quite effective and moving in their way: but more as a tribute to Owen than as an addition to the canon, and none of them reached the final list.
In fact none of the finalists has written directly about the experience of conflict in 1914-18. Alan Franks’s winning poem itself presents the Great War and its aftermath through an extended metaphor. Others - Pamela Trudie Hodge with “Those Green-Thumbed Boys”; Conor McKee with “The Miners”; Hazel Hutchison with “Intermezzo: Gallipoli”, Chris Raetschus with “How to Survive the News”, Don Nixon with “War Wreck of a Torpedoed Troopship” - all look at that war obliquely. The war which almost as much pervades the collection (and I don’t think that we had foreseen this) is the Second World War. Even poets now well into their adult lives have no literal memories of that time: but inherited memories can make powerful poetry - “Pat Winslow with “Utah”, Andria J. Cooke with “The Last One Left” – as can collective memories raised in the imagination: Rebecca Bilkau with “On Not Visiting Bergen-Belsen”, Kathy Miles with “Picking the Grapes”.
And then there are those other, later wars, the civil wars which we ourselves have escaped bodily but cannot escape in the imagination – Bosnia (Michael Brett with “Every Dead Baby is a Baby Croatian”) and Syria (Roger Elkin with “Fishing the Khabur River”).
In this volume the Wilfred Owen Association has the privilege of presenting twenty-two fine new additions to the world of poetry. We thank all our competitors for making it possible.
The anthology is dedicated to the memory of Richard Graham (1942-2014). Richard was a loved and valued member of the Wilfred Owen Association. Almost his last gift to us, before his sudden death, was the administration of the Poetry Competition.