Poets from across the South Downs converge to commemorate armistice centenary

Poets from across the South Downs will gather at Midhurst Church on Wednesday, November 7 at 7.30pm, to give readings of some of the classic poems written in response to the events of the First World War.

Lord Egremont
Lord Egremont

The programme has been put together by the South Downs Poetry Festival, working in partnership with the church, to mark the centenary of the armistice which ended the war in 1918.

Giving the address is historian, biographer and editor Lord Egremont from Petworth House.

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Lord Egremont will set the poetry in its historical context. He will deliver an address to mark to mark the occasion.

Lord Egremont is the author of several books related to the war, as well as being the biographer of Siegfried Sassoon and the editor of an anthology of First World War poetry entitled Some Desperate Glory.

Poets whose work will be included on the night are Wilfred Owen, who died in the last few days before the peace was signed, Isaac Rosenberg and local South Downs soldier poet Edward Thomas, who lived at Steep.

South Down’s Poetry Festival director Barry Smith said: “Stepping up to give the readings in the atmospheric church setting are some famous names from the poetry world, such as Patricia McCarthy (editor of Agenda), Steven O’Brien (editor of the London Magazine), Jeremy Page (editor of the Frogmore Papers), Ted Hughes Award winner Maggie Sawkins and local author Mandy Pannett, who is nominated for the Robert Graves Award.”

New poetry will also be celebrated as part of the proceedings.

“The poets have all written new poems, many drawing upon their own family history, to read alongside the well-known classic poems.

“Musical interludes will be on piano and organ from the church music director Paul Legrave, while local tenor Peter Rice will sing from Housman’s A Shropshire Lad.

“The occasion will also feature local sculptor Vincent Gray’s statue of a World War One soldier as a striking visual reminder of the many local people who fought and died in the conflict.”

Barry added: ‘The war produced a remarkable body of some of the finest poetry written in the English language.

“It wasn’t just the household names, great poets like Wilfred Owen, who died in action in the final days of the war, or Siegfried Sassoon who was awarded the MC for his heroic deeds, but many ordinary soldiers who were prompted to write by their experiences and the sights and sounds of the battlefields.’

Barry added, ‘The role women played in the war will not be forgotten. Poet Patricia McCarthy will be marking the contribution and responses of women to the conflict by reading from her collection, Horses Between Their Legs, the title poem of which won first prize in the National Poetry Competition.’

1914 – 1918: War and Peace, Midhurst Parish Church, Church Hill, GU29 9PB, Wednesday, November 7. Tickets: £7.50 (under 16 free) from www.thenovium.org/boxoffice; tel 01243 816525 or from Midhurst Parish Office 01730 815356. Parking at the Grange Centre.