Poems of World War One by Steven Leslie Hill
This collection of poems, produced as an imprint of Tommies Guides, is a very personal exploration of the emotional strain and physical hardships endured by the average fighting man, down in the trenches and missing his home and family. Hill writes in the short introduction that being given his Grandfather’s campaign medals led to his fascination with the conflict and the senseless waste of human life, but there is also room in his poems for heroism, brotherhood, duty and patriotism.
Anyone writing poems set during the Great War cannot avoid the reputations of the War Poets – Sassoon, Brooke, Owen, Gurney and others. But that should not deter modern poets, since the feelings raised by conflict are, of course, relevant today. Hill has kept the tone of his verses simple and direct, with a deliberately limited, unpoetic vocabulary. The poems have a strong visual sense and are often spoken in the voice of the ordinary soldier. This gives them a pleasing immediacy that, where it works, reminds me of songs of the period. Phrases and echoes from the War Poets themselves are used effectively, to allow these poems to spark a dialogue with their work. Finally I must mention the illustrations by Soren Hawkes; pencil and ink sketches which stand outside any period and effectively complement the poems.
It is hard to give a rating to poetry, since it is so much a matter of personal taste and one line, even, will be enough to stay with the reader. These poems are not technically accomplished or poetically experimental, but they are sincere and direct; the book as a whole is a very pleasing object to own. Therefore I give it 3 ½ Mr Mushrooms.