Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Gurney on Radio 4

This afternoon a programme was broadcast on Radio 4 about Gurney's medical condition and how it affected his creativity.

The programme - the fourth and final part of the series Robert Winston's Musical Analysis - is to be repeated on Saturday at 3.30pm and is available to 'listen again' on the Radio 4 website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00hpk02.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

First War Poet?

At present, in my reordering of the Gurney collection, I am bringing together and sorting the writings from September 1922 into 1923 - a collection of letters/appeals and a large number of poems, many of which are at present unpublished.

Following the comments on my previous blog post I was drawn to look more closely at those poetry manuscripts titled 'Armistice Day', of which there are three from this period, being two copies of one short, ten line poem, and one manuscript containing a poem of c.58 lines. Both poems contain the phrase 'One of Five', and looking around papers of this period there is occasional mention of this, being a claim that he be amongst the 'First five war poets' doing/giving 'honour' to England; in another manuscript he writes 'Claiming place in First Five Writers of Western Front (left alive - perhaps of dead)' (GA44.112).

A corner of another manuscript from this period is titled 'War poets at a guess.', under which Gurney lists himself, Robert Graves, S.Sassoon, R.Nichols, F.W. Harvey, Brett Young, 'Owen/Wilfred', Julian Grenfell, R.Sorley [sic], and 'Peter Quennell?'. Rupert Brooke was added to one side, but only in brackets.

Peter Quennell was a young poet whose first book (Masques and Poems) was published in 1922, the year before that in which Gurney made this list. Gurney's question mark was perhaps justified: Quennell, born in 1905, would not have seen action in the war. It is perhaps a subject portrayed within his book (I have not yet seen a copy) for Gurney to have noted it, although is most likely that Gurney saw a review of the volume in the press and might have presumed, with its timing, that Quennell was a young poet who had experienced life at the Front. One wonders whether Gurney's seemingly grudging addition of Brooke in parentheses is a comment on his value as a war poet. Gurney certainly wasn't very sympathetic of Brooke, writing his 1917 set of Sonnetts, published at the end of Severn & Somme as a 'counterblast against [Brooke's] "Sonnetts 1914", which were written before the grind of war and by an officer' - the latter being a damning indictment (Collected Letters, p.210).

In this manuscript list of War Poets, three have been appended by a number, perhaps a grading of the poet: (1) Robert Nichols, (2) Brett Young and (3) Gurney's friend F.W. Harvey.

Whether it is through the further examination of his fellow War Poets' work, through the way in which he sees his own work taking direction over the next couple of years, or just through a more forthright/positive view of his work in relation to that of the others, it is interesting that by 1925 he is seen in his letters and poems he is being assertive in his claim to be the 'First War Poet of England'. This is a view that some critics are coming round to believing to be true, but it is one that is not able to argued fully until the many unpublished poems are available to be assessed by the various critics. Only four years to wait!

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Despair & Joy: the bitterness of work, 1918

The necessity of sorting through the mass of papers is exemplified by two sides of paper that I have just come across whilst working in the archive.

Amongst numerous letters, appeals, essays and poems, dating variously from 1922 to 1927, is a rare section of diary, seemingly discovered amongst Ivor's things by his mother or sister, following his death. It dates from the end of November 1918 - a time when Haines began to recognise in Gurney's poetry a new departure, under the influence of Edward Thomas, and a time when Gurney was endeavouring to piece his life back together following the end of the war and his breakdown earlier that year. I believe the Cornish holiday of December 1918 (see earlier blog, Cornish Influences) to be the beginning of a turning point for Gurney, when he began to look forward and return to his work with some vigour in early 1919. The short diary extract of November 1918 - on two pages torn from an exercise book - finds Gurney trying to rediscover his drive and love of the music and poetry he wrote. It tells us that the act of creativity was for Gurney - as with many artists - a necessary part of him, and more importantly it was an act of hope, of seeking and of giving; a selfless act, as Gurney himself puts it in the diary entry, wanting to 'give others joy' where he has none:

Friday Last F[riday, 29th] of November 1918

It is better to work than despair; better to use than to be used. Better to force than to drift. Better to leave work accomplished than a memory of empty hours in despair, though that work causes bitterness. For having no Joy, I may as well make and give others Joy - at worst this is. And all the bitterness may pass, to leave a love of work whence all the other love may come.
Being what I am I must do every morning something I can show, without reference as to what difference it will make in the future; but it must make some.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Other Gloucester Archives

Although the major part of my brief whilst in Gloucester is to organise and catalogue the major collection in the Gloucestershire Archives (what was formerly the Record Office), I have been adventuring abroad in Gloucester, beginning to search out Gurney related items in other locations.

Before I began my archival work two photographs of Gurney were found in the Soldiers of Gloucester Museum, where, at some point in the near future, I hope to be making fuller investigations. Initial enquiries reveal that they hold Gurney's war medals, pictured above.

There are two further archives of interest. Firstly, the King's School, where Gurney was educated. The staff of the small museum there have been wonderfully helpful, and within their small collection from that period is a photograph of Gurney as part of the King's School Football XI, taken in front of the building that adjoins the cathedral's north transept - what was once 'Big School' but is now the school gymnasium. The photograph is slightly mislabelled (J.B. Gurney) but it is certainly Ivor (front row, second from the right):

The other archive of interest is that of the Cathedral. It is hoped that this may be accessible some time soon as they are seeking to appoint a librarian, at which point who knows what will be found! Hopefully records of Gurney's choristership will be there; record of his being articled as pupil to Brewer; or perhaps even confirmation of whether he was, as later claimed, at any point officially 'Assistant organist' of the Cathedral - not a common post at the time, cathedral organists being at the organ console, leaving the gentlemen of the choir to direct themselves.