In the beginning, we focused on Wilfred Owen, his poetry and his death on the Sambre-Oise Canal in Ors on the Western Front in November 1918. This was because we were fortunate to be invited via Art Connexions, Lille, in 2010, to the initial stages of the re-imagining of La Maison Forestiere by the British sculptor, Simon Patterson. This house where Owen and fellow soldiers from the Manchesters’ spent their last night, just outside the village of Ors, is now a celebration of the poet’s life and work. It was the inclusion of an outside performance space in the plans which inspired our thinking about commissioning a poetry project to take advantage of this in the future.
We were grateful to the Suffolk Branch of the Western Front Association for donating seed funding, Mosaic Stanza, and Poetry Wivenhoe, to whom proceeds would be donated to further community poetry activities. We began by commissioning mainly local poets to submit work on the general theme of ‘Conflict’ and we also invited interested students on the M.A. Fine Art course at Colchester Institute to choose a poem from the final selection and respond with an illustration. The resulting anthology, edited by Stephen Boyce of Winchester Poetry Festival, so too have the doves gone (Jardine Press), was published in 2014 to coincide with the outbreak of hostilities a hundred years previously.
To commemorate the ending of the War in 1918, we commissioned a further anthology on the theme of ‘Reconciliation’ from as many of the original poets as possible. Towards the Light was published in 2018 and includes translations of some of the poems into French, German and Italian, in the spirit of reconciliation. This anthology was edited by Vivien Whelpton, an expert in the poetry of the First World War, and author of the acclaimed biography, Richard Aldington, Poet, Soldier and Lover. Proceeds from the sale of Towards the Light are to be donated to Colchester Refugee Action.
The Project was brought to a fitting conclusion at La Maison Forestiere, in the performance space, as we had originally envisaged, by a reading on November 5th from both anthologies by some of the contributing poets, with the support of the editors, as part of a Battle Honours Tour, Wilfred Owen on the Western Front. This reading followed a moving ceremony at Owen’s graveside where a bagpipe lament was played, a German bugle owned by Owen sounded the last post, and there were readings of his poems. This was broadcast live by the B.B.C. on Armistice Day.
A list of events associated with the Project follows. It has been an amazing few years and our grateful thanks go to all those, especially the poets, who made it possible.
A few, too few for drums and yells
May creep back, silent, to village wells . . .
Wilfred Owen, The send-off
Pam Job and Judith Wolton
- Launch of Project at Essex Book Festival of so too have the doves gone with readings from contributing poets together with slides of The Forester’s House, Ors, at The Minories Gallery, Colchester.
- Launch at Poetry Wivenhoe, sponsor of the first part of the Project
- Launch at Essex Poetry Festival, The Cramphorn Theatre, Chelmsford
- Readings at the Winchester Poetry Festival, The Martello Tower, Jaywick, at Arlingtons Poetry Cafe, Ipswich, and Felixstowe Book Festival.
- Launch of Towards the light -The Minories Gallery, Colchester
- Invitation to read at Halstead Library as part of Essex Poetry Festival
- Readings as part of a Remembrance event at Quay Place, Ipswich
- A reading at the WW1 Exhibition at the Minories Gallery commemorating the end of WW1
Pam Job’s poem, The Parcel, written for so too have the doves gone, was chosen to be read at Ipswich Remembers, a multi media event held at The Corn Exchange in March to mark the end of the First World War.
This poem has subsequently been set to music, together with poems by Siegfried Sassoon and Carl Sandburg, by the tenor and composer Tom Randle and it will receive its world premiere perfomance by Ipswich Choral Society at Snape Maltings in April 2019.
The following poetry workshops based around the anthologies were held over the 4 years:
- Suffolk University students
- Minories, Colchester – artists from the Institute of Fine Arts.
- Mosaic Stanza, Colchester
- Two workshops in Parsons Heath Primary School