Wilfrid Gibson poems for Armistice Day, November 2018

Here are four poems for Armistice Day, by Wilfrid Gibson. Best known  for his  poems of the First World War, he continued to write about war and its aftermath until the Second World War. For more of his war poems, see Suspense and War Poems

Bacchanal (November, 1918)

 Into the twilight of Trafalgar Square
They pour from every quarter, banging drums
And tootling penny trumpets – to a blare
Of tin mouth organs, while a sailor strums
A solitary banjo, lads and girls
Locked in embraces in a wild dishevel
Of flags and streaming hair, with curdling skirls
Surge in a frenzied reeling panic revel.

Lads who so long have stared death in the face,
Girls who so long have tended death’s machines,
Released from the numb terror shriek and prance –
And, watching them, I see the outrageous dance,
The frantic torches and the tambourines
Tumultuous on the midnight hills of Thrace.

From ‘Neighbours’, 1920.

“The Glorious Dead”

He talked about “the glorious dead”,
And how we always should remember them;
And then she turned on him and said –
If you mean Willie, Dick and Jem,
The living lads they took from me
To blow to pieces with artillery –
Much good to them ’twill do
To be remembered by the likes of you;
And as for “glorious memory,”
What’s that, think you, to me
When out of sleep I start up in my bed
Remembering my little lads are dead?

From ‘Aftermath’, 1930

The Kill

He saw a figure crouching in the crags,
And fired; then charged with bayonet fixed to find,
That writhing body, slumped behind
A boulder on the rocky shelf,
Was his own self.

From ‘The Outpost’, 1944.

 

poem "Armistice Day, 1932" by Wilfrid Gibson on red background with white peace poppies.

Image by Judy Greenway
All poems © trustees of the Wilfrid Gibson estate.

 

Wilfrid Gibson Dazzles at the V&A with his poem ‘Suspense’

This weekend sees the final days of an installation, Dazzle at London’s V&A, centred around Wilfrid Gibson’s war poem Suspense. The installation is one of a series inspired by the use of ‘dazzle’ camouflage used to reduce the risks of submarine attacks on shipping in World War One. Suspense  draws on Gibson’s own experience of crossing the Atlantic as a civilian passenger on a troop ship from New York to England in 1917, shortly after the USA joined the war, and shortly before he joined the army.

Suspense

As gaudy flies across a pewter plate
On the grey disc of the unrippling sea
Beneath an airless sullen sky of slate
Dazzled destroyers zigzag relentlessly;
Whilst underneath the sleek and livid tide,
Blind monsters through the soundless deep,
Lean submarines among blind fishes glide
And through primeval weedy forests sweep.

Over the hot grey surface of my mind
Glib motley rumours zigzag without rest;
While deep within the darkness of my breast
Monstrous desires, lean, sinister and blind,
Slink through unsounded night and stir the slime
And ooze of oceans of forgotten time.

Unfortunately the information display in the V&A has a misprint in the poem – “guide” for “glide” in the seventh line. Nevertheless, it is an impressive installation – the “dazzle” is made up from the typography of the poem.

 

New in June 2018: A selection of poems by Elizabeth Gibson Cheyne, plus biographical information.

Although poet and feminist Elizabeth Gibson (later Elizabeth Gibson Cheyne), was a prolific writer, publishing some forty books of prose and poetry, her work is very difficult to find. As I discovered doing my own research, there is hardly any publicly available information about her. As a step towards remedying this, I have produced two new pages about her: a selection of thirty of her poems,  and a brief biographical outline, with a timeline and list of publications. I have also added two anti-war poems from 1907, ‘The Sacrifice’ and ‘Brothers’, to the existing page Elizabeth Gibson Cheyne on Violence and War.

I am still in the process of researching her life, and have published a number of articles about her which are available on this site. I  hope these new additions will be useful, and I would be glad to hear from, and share information with, anyone who has come across her in the course of their own research.

 

New in May 2018: 1968 and Grosvenor Square

‘1968’ is a fragment from an uncompleted novel by lifelong campaigner for social justice Helen Lowe. It draws on her experiences as a young political activist in nineteen-sixties and seventies London, and opens with an account of the anti Vietnam War demonstration in Grosvenor Square in 1968.

When she died in 2011, Helen left behind some draft chapters of an unfinished novel. Though fictionalised, the writing drew upon her own experiences. Opening with the 1968 anti-Vietnam war demonstration in  Grosvenor Square, this excerpt sees her beginning  to locate the protest within a wider context of interconnecting social movements worldwide, and the emergence of debates around internationalism, authoritarianism, violence, class, gender, sexuality, personal life and the meaning of revolution. She began to write the novel in the 1990’s, and last revised the few remaining fragments of it in 2001. Her executors have agreed to publish this piece  in the hope that it may be of some value as a version of events written, a couple of decades later, by a critical participant who remained committed to the ideals of that time.

New in March 2016: more war poems by Wilfrid Gibson and Elizabeth Gibson Cheyne

I have uploaded four more war poems by Wilfrid Gibson and one by Elizabeth Gibson Cheyne. They are among those mentioned in my latest article, ‘”War is a business of innumerable personal tragedies”: Wilfrid Gibson, Elizabeth Gibson Cheyne and the First World War’. (Published this month in Dymock Poets and Friends, No 15, 2016, it will be uploaded here later this year).

The Universal God Speaks in Wartime, an anti-war poem published by Elizabeth Gibson Cheyne in 1914, had its meaning transformed  by the jingoistic Bishop Basil Wilberforce when he quoted it in a pro-war sermon. (Wilberforce, at least in the printed version of the sermon, also omitted a line spoken by God in the poem: ‘When women and children are affronted and ravished, I am affronted and ravished.’ ) This incident, and its bearing on Gibson Cheyne’s changing views on the war, are discussed in the article.

Two of the newly added poems by Wilfrid Gibson draw directly on his own experiences as a private soldier in the First World War. His initial attempts to volunteer were rejected on health grounds; he eventually joined the army in 1917. The closest he ever came to serving abroad is described in The Fatigue: the most explicitly autobiographical of all his war poems, it is based on an incident described by Gibson in his letters of the time. The Conscript draws on his time as an army medical officers’ clerk, and is unusual for Gibson in its use of religious imagery. The Shells, published during the Second World War, is about a woman factory worker, while Desert Night gives to a weary sentry Gibson’s own memories of the Northumberland landscape of his youth. Despite Gibson’s general anti-war sentiments, his poems too have been interpreted in many different ways.

 

 

 

New in February 2016: Wilfrid Gibson’s ‘Devilswater’

Wilfrid Gibson’s poem ‘Devilswater’,  set to music by James Gillespie, appears on the recently launched Brothers Gillespie CD, Songs from the Outlands. The poem, which refers  to places near Hexham, Gibson’s Northumberland hometown, was influenced by the regional folk tales and Border Ballads he heard from childhood; I think Gibson would have loved the Gillespies’ version, which fits into this tradition. You can find out more and listen to the song on the Brothers Gillespie website. To celebrate the occasion, I have uploaded the poem here.

Devilswater

Up the hill and over the hill,
Down the valley by Dipton Mill,
Down the valley to Devilswater
Rode the parson’s seventh daughter.

Her heart was light, her eyes were wild —
Seventh child of a seventh child —
Down the valley to Devilswater
Rode the parson’s black-eyed daughter.

Down she rode by the bridle-track.
Down she rode, and never came back —
Never back to the Devilswater
Came the parson’s black-eyed daughter.

Up the hill and over the hill,
Down the valley by Dipton Mill,
High and low the parson sought her
Sought his seventh black-eyed daughter.

He tripped as he trod the bridle track,
A bramble tore his coat of black,
And he stood on the brink of Devilswater
And cursed, and called her the devil’s daughter.

* * *

Up the hill and over the hill,
Rode a black-eyed gipsy Jill,
Down the valley to Devilswater
Rode the devil’s black-eyed daughter.

Rode in a yellow caravan,
By the side of a merry black-eyed man;
Down to the bank of Devilswater
Rode the devil’s merry daughter.

Her heart was light, her eyes were wild,
As kneeling down with her little child,
She christened her bairn in the Devilswater —
The black-eyed brat of the devil’s daughter.

Low she laughed as she hugged it tight,
And it clapped its hands at the golden light
That glanced and danced on the Devilswater —
To think she was once a parson’s daughter.

Taken from  Whin, 1918, the version here corrects some errors which crept in when it was republished in Homecoming, 2003. The Brothers Gillespie have made some slight changes for their sung version.

New in July 2015: Michael Gibson article from ‘Eagle Times’. Work in progress: dissenting poets in the First World War

New Upload:
Eagle Art Editor’:  Michael Gibson’s 1998 illustrated account of his time working for Eagle and associated comics and annuals in the nineteen-fifties.

My previous upload of Michael Gibson’s unfinished memoir of his time at Eagle in the nineteen-fifties has been attracting interest from comics fans, so I’m pleased to have located and got permission to upload this earlier piece which includes some of his own artwork for Eagle and its associated comics and annuals.  At present I’ve just  uploaded image scans of the article (kindly provided by Will Grenham of Eagle Times) but hope in future to provide a  fully searchable and accessible version. Many thanks to Will, and to the Michael Gibson estate.

Work in Progress:
‘”War is a business of innumerable personal tragedies”: Wilfrid Gibson, Elizabeth Gibson Cheyne and the First World War’.

I’m currently revising this talk comparing the impact of the First World War on  Wilfrid Gibson and his sister, fellow poet Elizabeth Gibson Cheyne. In 1915, Wilfrid published ‘Battle’, his influential collection of war poems. That same year, he invited the recently widowed Elizabeth to share his home at the ‘Poets’ Colony’ in Dymock. But she and her brother became increasingly estranged as their attitudes to the war began to diverge. The loss of their once close and supportive relationship became just one more of the personal tragedies of war.

Originally given at the ‘New Numbers, New Approaches’ conference at the University of Gloucestershire in June, the revised paper is to be published in a special conference issue of Dymock Poets and Friends.  I will also upload a longer version to my website, together with a selection of the poems discussed.

 

 

New in April 2015: Michael Gibson remembers teenage authorship, bomb disposal, and Eagle comics

Michael Gibson (1918-2000), a prolific children’s author, was the art editor of the Eagle comic during the 1950s.  As his niece, I became the lucky recipient of a gift subscription which, arriving earlier than the copies in the shops, made me the envy of my schoolmates (especially the boys). Towards the end of his life, Michael started to write memoirs of his own childhood and his life as a writer, but died before he could finish them. I have now uploaded some edited extracts,and  illustrated them with material from his own collection of books and ephemera. In future I plan to upload further extracts covering his childhood, as well as examples of his own artwork for comics, book covers and story illustrations.

New Uploads:
Michael Gibson Memoirs: First Books and War Work. Gibson remembers his early interest in aircraft, writing his first book while still a schoolboy, and  war work in Gloucestershire as a technical artist and in bomb disposal.

Michael Gibson: working for Eagle. Gibson’s account of his early days working as art editor of Eagle comic in the nineteen-fifties.

New in March 2015: additional resources on Wilfrid Gibson

Last summer the Sunday Mirror,  in an issue commemorating the outbreak of the First World War, printed one of Wilfrid Gibson’s war poems. The accompanying one-paragraph biography  contained seven factual errors. Though I managed to get these corrected in Mirror Online,  other misinformation about Gibson persists on the internet and in print.  He did not ‘come from the south of England’; he did not fight on the Western or any other front; he was a never a ‘social worker in the East End’. It would be interesting to track down the origins of such false statements, and to speculate why they persist. For now, in response to the increasing interest in Gibson’s war poetry,  I have uploaded some basic biographical information, and a timeline, in the hope that  these will be useful to students and others  trying to find reliable sources about his life. I have also added  information about the copyright in Wilfrid Gibson’s work.

I have also fixed the link on the Links and Resources page to Kathy Ferguson’s site Emma Goldman’s Women, which documents little known anarchist women. Please let me know of any other broken links you find on my site.

Coming Soon

Michael Gibson, Wilfrid’s son, became a writer of boys’ adventure stories, and also worked as the art editor on the boys’ comic Eagle. My next upload to the site will include some of his autobiographical writing about these and other aspects of his life.