Poems from Spain:
British and Irish International Brigaders on the Spanish Civil War
Edited by Jim Jump
Reviewed by Caroline Walsh, The Irish Times, July 29, 2006
This book costs £10.99 and should be available from good bookshops, if not try Amazon. It is published by Lawrence and Wishart
Where poets exploded like bombs
With the horrors of Iraq and Lebanon continuing, anniversaries of past conflicts can slip by almost unnoticed, as is the case with that of the Spanish civil war, which started 70 years ago this month. Coinciding with the anniversary comes publication of a slim (160 pages) but page-turning volume of poetry called Poems from Spain: British and Irish International Brigadiers on the Spanish Civil War.
While there have been well-known anthologies - notably The Penguin Book of Spanish Civil War Verse - this one is characterised by the fact that it's an anthology of poetry written only by people who went to Spain to throw in their lot with the Republican side between 1936-39, mainly as soldiers or as part of the medical services. Jim Jump, the editor, gives his rationale for the absence of some big names you might expect to see included: "There are no poems by WH Auden, Stephen Spender or others who made trips of propaganda value to Republican Spain and of whom unsubstantiated claims have been made of ambulance-driving, stretcher-bearing and even firing at the enemy." Jump does, however, quote Auden's line from Spain (1937) about the conflict being one that saw "poets exploding like bombs".
According to Jump, many brigadiers were irritated by the "poet's war" tag, with its implication that the conflict was the preserve of intellectuals, but he concedes that it did provoke a particular outpouring of verse in Britain and Ireland and caused many writers to rush to arms. One reason he proffers for this is that the great contemporary Spanish poets, including Lorca and Machado, had sided with the Republic. When, for instance, Jessica Mitford's first husband, Esmond Romilly, volunteered at the age of 20, his war luggage contained the works of Keats, Swinburne and Shelley.
The Irish poets in the anthology include, inevitably, the legendary Charles Donnelly (The Tolerance of Crows and Heroic Heart), who soon after enlisting transferred (like many of the Irish) from the British Battalion to the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, and who was killed at Jarama. Also included are Jim Haughey, from Lurgan (who died in the second World War), Ewart Milne, Joe Monks (both born in Dublin), Pat O'Reilly and Thomas O'Brien.
One of the most fascinating parts of the book is the biographical notes, which show that, contrary to popular perception, Oxbridge graduates didn't dominate the ranks. Mechanic, miner, accounts clerk, commercial traveller, pawnbroker's clerk, reporter, labourer and taxi driver are among the occupations listed. While many of the poems were published at the time, in periodicals such as Left Review, New Writing and Poetry and the People, many are published here for the first time and some are anonymous.
Among the better-known names included are Laurie Lee, John Cornford and Sylvia Townsend Warner. Published by Lawrence & Wishart and illustrated with intriguing photographs, the volume is sponsored by the International Brigade Memorial Trust, which maintains more than 60 memorials to the volunteers. Five writers killed in Spain - including Donnelly and Virginia Woolf's nephew, Julian Bell - are commemorated on a Madrid plaque in the Residencia de Estudiantes where Lorca and Machado once lived, behind the National Museum of Natural Sciences.
Published by Lawrence & Wishart, 99a Wallis Road, London E9 5LN, England; http://www.lwbooks.co.uk/
Paperback, 128pp, All rights