And now for me remains the shell of life;
A round of days that pass without a goal;
Dark, wakeful endless night with anguish rife,
When Fear long-chained, stalks forth and rules my soul.
Lover of mine afar or near, dear heart,
Say now; Whose is the harder part?
Dr Vivien Newman’s Tumult & Tears is the latest anthology to be released by Pen & Sword Books and, in a centennial age of facts and figures, it’s refreshingly clear and concise. As an avid reader of wartime poetry, I’m a strong advocate of its importance in comprehending and contextualising the atrocities of the combat, and Dr Newman successfully presents the pieces to the reader in a new and innovative way, with strong background research to support her statements.
The anthology is divided into five core chapters, with each exploring its own specific theme—the home front, religion, nature, active service and grief—and with each unpicking its own representation within female-written poetry of the time. Every idea is contextualised by and supplemented with multiple poetry pieces, grounding a particular thought or concept in lyrical evidence. Each chapter also has its own small conclusion, which both revisits the ideas which have been covered and provides a useful, succinct summary of the different poetic stances.
As such, Dr Newman presents whole concepts and the women standing behind them, rather than regurgitating and revisiting the same topics with the introduction of each new poet. And so, as I was reading, unknown names steadily became familiar and began to leap out at me across the chapters, allowing me to connect themes and ideas and, most importantly, to first learn about each woman through their own words. Each theme is extensively explored and multi-faceted, and there are some incredibly interesting female stories which were—to me, at least—previously unthought of: the deaths of women during wartime, the notion of disenfranchised grief and the reactions of mistresses, to name but a few.
The collection, welcomingly, feels less about the women as particular individuals and more about their words, and what messages and emotions they’re trying to convey through them. Biographies on each referenced poet are collected into an alphabetised appendix and are very useful, but by no means do they command the bulk of the text. Dr Newman’s detailed study presents the female poets as a vital part of the war; a potent and powerful voice of womanhood, in an era which was so completely dominated by its men. To say that she gives them a voice would be wrong; they already had one. Rather, she scrapes aside all the mud, clay, and preconceived beliefs to make sure that it’s actually heard.