Already two weeks into their autumn series of literature and spoken word events, last night the Southbank Centre presented “Celebrating Edward Thomas”, an evening exploring the work of the revered First World War poet, hosted by Matthew Hollis.
Thomas could easily be described as “the best war poet you’ve never heard of”. Not traditionally part of the “War Poets” canon, he has remained something of a poet’s poet since his death at the Battle of Arras in 1917. But a new book by Hollis tracing the last five years of Thomas’s life, including his friendship with Robert Frost, is bringing his work to a wider audience.
Readers at the event, Andrew Motion, Michael Longley, Gillian Clarke and Sarah Hall, credited Thomas as not only a great poet, but a revolutionary one. His work brought in colloquial, idiomatic and conversational speech to poetry for the first time. In the words of National Poet for Wales Gillian Clarke, Thomas â€œset the century freeâ€. The poems read last night were beautiful, evocative and to me, entirely fresh.
Tall nettles cover up, as they have done
These many springs, the rusty harrow, the plough
Long worn out, and the roller made of stone:
Only the elm butt tops the nettles now.
This corner of the farmyard I like most:
As well as any bloom upon a flower
I like the dust on the nettles, never lost
Except to prove the sweetness of a shower.
Upcoming events as part of the Southbank Centre’s autumn Literature and Spoken Word season include an evening with President Jimmy Carter, a screening of Louis Malle’s â€œMy Dinner with Andreâ€, and Carol Ann Duffy reading from â€œThe Beesâ€, her first full collection since becoming Poet Laureate in 2009.
“Now All Roads Lead To France” by Matthew Hollis is available to buy from Amazon.