War Poetry Collection
Important Update July 2011 - At the present time access to this collection is closed to allow for preparation of stock in readiness for the move to the new Library of Birmingham in 2013. Find out more about the changes in Central Library
Due to work required to ensure that material is conserved ready for the move to the new Library of Birmingham it may be necessary to withdrawn some items from the collection. Please ensure that you contact us before making your journey.
"What connects the war poets with our time is, among other things, the inescapable war - not only as they were committed to realizing the terror of their condition, but as those conditions are relevant to poets now."
Jon SILKIN Out of battle: the poetry of the Great War, 1972
The War Poetry Collection was originally presented to Birmingham Central Library in 1921 in memory of Private William John Billington of the 2/24 Regiment, who was killed in action in Palestine in March 1918. The donor, William John Cross of Rubery, had assembled an unrivalled collection. It contained 1,233 printed books in English, French, Italian and other languages of the British and Allied Nations, consisting mainly of First World War poetry, written by both soldier poets and civilians.
Since 1921 many additions have been made to the Collection, notably in 1938 when a fine collection of over 40 albums of newscuttings of poetry and verse from many newspapers and periodicals of the 1914-1918 period was acquired. They represent an unusual conspectus of the social attitudes of war, and display clearly the moods of the British people from patriotic jingoism to disillusionment and concern.
In 1971 it was decided to widen the scope of the Collection and to include war poetry of all times. An attempt has been made to add poetry from the German side of the 1914-1918 conflict. Poetry by major and minor poets of the Second World War has been transferred from the main literature collection and a number of volumes of poems from that period have been bought expressly for the Collection. Poetry by those involved in the Vietnam War has been added, and small sections have been formed for poetry of the American Civil War, the Boer War and the Spanish Civil War, with some representative poems from even earlier wars.
The War Poetry Collection is now one of the largest of its kind in the world. It has gathered together evidence of poets reacting to the strains, stresses, tribulations and horrors of war. Some of the poets represented - Wilfred Owen and Isaac Rosenberg for example - would be remembered without such a collection as this, for the greatness of their poetry has ensured their inclusion in all libraries devoted to literature.
The vast majority of poets in this collection may not be represented today, except in the largest reference libraries, and many of the unknown soldiers whose works were printed privately in memory of their death in action will probably only be found in local collections.
Recent acquisitions have included: Here, Bullet (2007) by Brian Turner writes first hand of his experiences in Iraq. And the donation of two books by Geoffrey Fyson Here Comes She Home (1949) and The Survivors (1919)
The Library has taken out a subscription to War Poetry Review, published annually from 2007 by the War Poets Association.
See also External Links below for a list of useful websites.
Famous War Poets
I am the enemy you killed my friend
Wilfred Owen. Strange meeting (1918) Poems, 1920
Sombre the night is;
And though we have our lives we know
What sinister threat lurks there
Isaac Rosenberg. Returning we hear the larks. Poems, 1922
This is no case of petty right or wrong
That politicians or philosophers
Edward Thomas. Last poems, 1918
War Poetry Suggested Readings: This booklist complements the War Poetry collection
You can check the availability of these books through the Birmingham Libraries catalogue at:
Jon STALLWORTHY (Ed.) The Oxford Book of War Poetry, Oxford University Press, 1984
Kenneth BAKER (Ed.) The Faber book of War Poetry, Faber, 1996
Angus CALDER (Ed.) Wars, Penguin, 1999
First and Second World Wars: Critical Works
Mildred DAVIDSON, The poetry is in the pity, Chatto and Windus, 1972
A.BANERJEE, Spirit above war: a study of the English poetry of the two world wars, Macmillan, 1976
Edna LONGLEY, Poetry in the wars, Bloodaxe, 1986
Joan Montgomery BYLES, War, women and poetry 1914-1945:British and German writers and activists, University of Delamere Press, 1995
First World War Anthologies
Brian GARDNER (Ed.) Up the line to death: the war poets 1914-1918, an anthology. Revised edition, Methuen, 1986
Anne POWELL (Ed.) A deep cry: a literary pilgrimage to the battlefields and cemeteries of First World War British soldier poets, edited and introduced by Anne Powell, Palladour, 1993
Jon SILKIN (Ed.) The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry. 2nd edition revised. Penguin, 1996
Catherine REILLY (Ed.) Virago book of women's war poetry and verse Virago, 1997. (Includes Scars upon my heart, 1981 (WW1) and Chaos of the night, 1984 (WW2)
First World War Literary Criticism
Paul FUSSELL, The Great War and modern memory, Oxford University Press, 1975
Patrick BRIDGWATER, The German poets of the First World War, Croom Helm, c.1985
Robert GIDDINGS, The war poets, Bloomsbury, 1988
Nosheen KHAN, Women's poetry of the First World War, Harvester, 1988
David ROBERTS (Ed.) Out in the dark: poetry of the First World War in context, Saxon, 1998
Hana SAMBROOK, Poetry of the First World War, Longman, York Notes, 1997 (Introductory)
Jon SILKIN, Out of battle: the poetry of the Great War, 2nd edition Palgrave Macmillan, 1998
Martin STEPHEN, The price of pity: poetry, history and myth in the Great War. Leo Cooper, 1996
Fran BREARTON, The Great War in Irish poetry from W.B.Yeats to Michael Longley, Oxford University Press, 2000
Jon STALLWORTHY, Anthem for doomed youth: twelve soldier poets of the First World War, Constable in association with the Imperial War Museum, 2002
Second World War Anthologies
Victor SELWYN (Ed.) Return to Oasis: war poems and recollections from the Middle East 1940-1946, Shepheard-Walwyn for the Salamander Trust, 1980
Victor SELWYN (Ed.) From Oasis into Italy: war poems and diaries from Africa and Italy 1940-1946, Shepheard-Walwyn for the Salamander Trust, 1983
Leon STOKESBURY (Ed.) Articles of war, a collection of American poetry about World War II, University of Arkansas Press, 1990
Desmond Graham (Ed.) Poetry of the Second World War: an international anthology, Chatto and Windus, 1995
Anne POWELL (Ed.) Shadows of war: British women's poetry of the Second World War, 1999
(see also Reilly above)
Second World War Literary criticism
Vernon SCANNELL, Not without glory: poets of the Second World War, Woburn Press, 1976
Linda SHIRES, British poetry of the Second World War, Macmillan, 1985
Susan SCHWEIK, A gulf so deeply cut: American women poets and the Second World War. University of Wisconsin Press, 1991
Katherine HODGSON, Written with the bayonet: Soviet poetry of World War Two. Liverpool University Press, 1996
Boer War Literary Criticism
M.VAN WYK SMITH Drummer Hodge, the poetry of the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). Clarendon Press, 1978
American General Bibliographies
Lorrie GOLDENSOHN American War Poetry, Columbia University Press, 2006
American Civil War Anthologies
Richard MARIUS (Ed.) The Columbia Book of Civil War Poetry, Columbia University Press, 1994
Lee STEINMETZ (Ed.) The poetry of the American Civil War, Michigan State University Press, 1960
Spanish Civil War Anthologies
Valentine CUNNIGHAM (Ed.) The Penguin Book of Spanish Civil War verse, Penguin, 1980
Cesar de VICENTE HERNANDO Poesia de la guerra civil Espanola 1936-1939, Madrid: Ediciones Akal S.A, 1994 (In Spanish)
Spanish Civil War Literary criticism
Marilyn ROSENTHAL, Poetry of the Spanish Civil War, New York University Press, 1975
Access to the Collection
The collection is available for reference only. Enquiries by letter, fax, telephone and e-mail are welcome.
Arts, Languages and Literature
Tel: 0121 303 4227
Fax: 0121 464 1005