Monday, 23 May 2016

Leslie Coulson (1889 - 1916) - British poet and journalist

Leslie was born in London on 19th July 1889.   His father was a journalist on “The Sunday Chronicle”.  Leslie and his brother were educated in boarding schools in Norfolk, after which Leslie became a reporter on the London newspaper “The Evening News”.

In 1914, Leslie joined the 2nd London Regiment and was posted to Egypt.  He became ill with Mumps and was hospitalised on the Island of Malta.   He saw service in Egypt and Gallipoli before being posted to the Western Front in April 1916.  Leslie was transferred to the 12th (County of London) Battalion (The Rangers) and was wounded at the Battle of Le Transloy on The Somme on 7th October 1916. 

He died of his wounds on 8th October 1916 and was buried in Grove Town Cemetery, Méaulte, Picardie, France.  At the time of his death, Leslie held the rank of Sergeant.

Leslie Coulson’s WW1 poetry collections were:  
“From an outpost, and other poems”, published by Erskine Macdonald, London in 1917
You can read some of Leslie's poetry here:
Poems by Leslie Coulson were also included in 16 different WW1 poetry anthologies.


Catherine W. Reilly "English Poetry of the First World War A Bibliography" (New York, St. Martin's Press, 1978)

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Cecil Roberts (1892 - 1976) - British Poet, Writer and Journalist

I discovered Cecil Roberts while researching Nadja Malacrida (nee Green) who was one of the Female Poets of the First World War featured in the exhibition of Female Poets at The Wilfred Owen Story museum in Birkenhead.   I noticed a ‘Cecil Roberts’ included in a volume of Welsh Poets so I had to find out whether it was the same man and so I read some of his books and discovered what a great writer he was and what an interesting life he led.

Born Cecil Edric Mornington Roberts on 18th May 1892 in Nottingham, Cecil’s parents were John Godber Roberts (1858 – 1908) and his wife Elizabeth Mary, nee Woolfitt, (1855 – 1926).   Cecil had an older brother, William, who was born in 1881.

Cecil was educated at Mundella Grammar School, Nottingham, where he demonstrated an aptitude for poetry and literature.  Leaving school at the age of fifteen, he worked first as an office boy in a solicitor’s firm, then as a clerk for Nottingham Corporation and, for a short time as a school teacher.  Cecil’s father died in 1908 and, as his elder brother was married, it fell to Cecil to support their mother, so he put his dream of becoming a writer on hold. Every spare moment he had was spent writing poetry and prose. 

When war was declared in August 1914, there was initially no general call up and recruiting was on a voluntary basis. Cecil and his friends joined the local University Officer Training Corps (OTC), training three nights a week.   He decided to join up but was rejected on medical grounds.   At around that time, as his writing career began to take off, Cecil joined the “Nottingham Journal” as a ‘gentleman pupil’ - an unpaid post, following in the footsteps of J.M. Barrie.

From there, Cecil went to work for the “Liverpool Post” newspaper – first as Literary Editor, then as a war correspondent. This was soon after the loss of the "Lusitania".   Enchanted by the great Mersey River with its liners, ferry boats and tugs, Cecil took lodgings in Seacombe on the Wirral Peninsula.   He worked from 6 pm till midnight, so he walked along the Promenade to Egremont Pier and took the ferry to Pier Head in the shadow of the Liver Building.  He was lonely, missed his mother and his friends in Nottingham and was still mourning the loss of his father. The sound of the foghorn on the Mersey in wintry nights inspired Cecil to write a poem.

And oft the siren's wail is heard,
Borne inland, like a cry of pain
Of a lost soul, to darkness lured,
That has no hope of light again.

"The Years of Promise" p. 90

Cecil was sent to report on the Royal Navy and the newly-formed Royal Flying Corps. Head-hunted as assistant to a top Civil Servant, Cecil moved down to London in March 1917 where he worked during the daytime at the Ministry of Munitions and in the evenings as theatre critic for the “Liverpool Post”.

In 1917, Cecil became an official War Correspondent – by then they had a uniform similar to that worn by officers in the British Army and special brass badges for their caps and shoulder tags with an initial “C”.   Cecil was sent to the Western Front where he joined some of the top war correspondents of the day who accompanied the British Army as they advanced, sending reports back about the last days of the war.

During the Second World War, Cecil worked for Lord Halifax, British Ambassador to the United States of America.    He died in Rome on 20th December 1976.

"Prayer for a Pilot"

Lord of Sea and Earth and Air,
Listen to a Pilot's prayer -
Send him wind that's steady and strong.
Grant that his engine sings the song
Of flawless tone, by which he knows
It shall not fail him where he goes;
Landing, gliding, in curve, half-roll -
Grant him, O Lord, a full control,
That he may learn in heights of Heaven
The rapture altitude has given,
That he shall know the joy they feel
Who ride Thy realms on Birds of Steel.

From "The Years of Promise" p. 279

Painting "Handley Page Bomber" by French Aviator artist Henri Farré (1871 - 1934)

Cecil Robert’s poems appeared in ten WW1 poetry anthologies and his WW1 collections were:
‘War Poems’ (1916)
‘Twenty-six poems’ (Grant Richards, 1917)
‘Charing Cross and other poems of the period’ (Grant Richards, 1919)

Sources: ‘The Growing Boy’ by Cecil Roberts, Hodder & Stoughton, London 1967
‘English Poetry of the First World War A Bibliography’ by Catherine W. Reilly, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978
‘The Years of Promise’ by Cecil Roberts, Hodder & Stoughton, London 1968.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Book Review "Apollinaire, Cocteau & Others French Poets of The Great War" by Michael Copp (Austin Macauley Ltd., London, 2016)

I have been very interested in the poetry of the First World War since I was a child, but only began to research in earnest for a series of commemorative exhibitions – Female Poets and Forgotten Poets of WW1 - in early 2012.   Since then, I have not found many anthologies that feature poems from other countries so Michael Copp’s “Apollinaire, Cocteau & Others” is a very welcome addition to my bookshelves.   From my point of view, however, it would have been extremely helpful to have had the original poems included with the translations.

In this WW1 anthology, Copp has translated poems into English by some of the poets who wrote in the French language during the First World War.  Apart from the more famous Jean Cocteau and Guillaume Apollinaire, you will find Francois Porché, Pierre-Eugène Drieu la Rochelle, Henry-Jaques, René Arcos, Charles Vildrac, Marcel Martinet, André Spire, Léon Chancerel and the Belgian poet Emile Verhaeren.   Each poet is introduced with a brief biographical account which is followed by examples of their poetry – fascinating to note that apart from Apollinaire and Verhaeren all the poets featured survived the war.   The poems Copp has included in his anthology are mainly about the conflict itself and reflect the brutality of the ‘war to end all wars’ that so shocked the world.  I found it interesting to note, however, that poetry written by women has not been included.

The book is obviously the fruit of a great deal of hard work as translation is never easy and translating poetry can be extremely tricky.   In the Introduction to the anthology, Copp explains that he has chosen “to follow Vladimir Nabokov's principle of what he calls 'Literal' translation, that is, sticking as closely as possible to the associative and syntactical demands of the original language”.  Having previously only consulted Clive Scott who wrote “Translating Apollinaire” (University of Exeter Press, 2014) which I found extremely helpful, it is good to have another take on poetry translation.
I thoroughly enjoyed Michael Copp’s book and would recommend it to anyone interested in the poetry of the First World War.  However, whether or not his translations do justice to the original poems I cannot say, for I shall have to start gathering the collections together in order to be able to compare.

Copp, an independent scholar educated at the universities of London, Leicester and Cambridge, also writes about the Imagist poets and translates and lectures on both Imagist poetry and the poetry of WW1.
"Apollinaire, Cocteau & Others French Poets of the Great War" by Michael Copp, published by Austin Macauley Ltd., London, 2016.

Lucy London, May 2016