here are few things finer in the creative arts than a project that is totally unexpected but in hindsight makes perfect sense, like the end of a really good novel. The album This Time It’s Personal (Sony 2016) is one of those projects, a musical collaboration between the godfather of performance poetry, Dr. John Cooper Clarke, and legendary guitarist, singer/songwriter and author, Hugh Cornwell, the original Guildford Strangler, a cultural event as modest as it is huge.
For Remembrance Day, this is my maternal grandfather, Alexander Kennel-Webb, who I think was in the 8th (Service) Battalion, Norfolk Regiment. Service battalions were part of Kitchener’s ‘New Army,’ and were raised entirely from volunteers. (My father’s father, James, was a professional soldier; an RSM in The British Indian Army, he returned home during the war to train volunteers like Alexander - I don't have a picture of him in uniform.)
‘The Soldier’ by Brooke is an instantly recognisable poem. It is one of a collection of sonnets written early in the war, collected under the title of 1914 & Other Poems. These achieved popular acclaim after The Times Literary Supplement printed two in full in the spring of 1915, ‘IV: The Dead’ and ‘V: The Soldier.’ The latter was subsequently read from the pulpit of St. Paul’s Cathedral on Easter Sunday. These poems were composed before the poet reached the Front and had an opportunity to witness the horror of industrial warfare. The language is romantic, in the literary sense of the term, idealistic and patriotic, with much repetition of ‘England.’
Being between editorial jobs and an operation, I’ve been cleaning out my study this week, a task that was long overdue. Amongst the glory holes and dusty-musties, I found a hard copy of the following, which I wrote for Gracie while we were courting, years before we married, before Lily, who didn’t make it, and Vincent, who’s five in July. Anyway, I am not, by nature a poet – as I’m sure you can tell – but this caught me funny, because it was and remains just so us: Lux and Ivy, Lily and Herman, off in a little world of our own, a cornucopia of love and horror. So this one’s for Gracie – I hope you don’t mind. I’m so glad I found you. I thank the old gods every day. Happy Birthday, babe, I love you…