Out of the trenches;Reviews;English;Secondary

29th May 1998 at 01:00
Voices of the Great War. Selected and edited by Geoff Barton. Longman pound;6.50. 19th and 20th-Century Women Poets. Edited by Elizabeth Gurr and Celia de Piro. Oxford University Press pound;8.

A wet Friday afternoon, a fractious Year 10, and poetry in your scheme of work - it is not unusual on these occasions to reach for the war poems. Their appeal is diverse, direct and dramatic, and the relationship between form and poet's intention at its most clear-cut. Almost every department has its own much valued resource-bank of war poetry. With constrained budgets, the question to be asked about any addition to the field must be, does it extend the territory? The answer, for Geoff Barton's well-researched Voices of the Great War, is definitely "Yes".

Not only does Barton include the expected English soldier-poets, he also has poems by women and writers from other countries as well as selected non-fiction texts and excerpts from later fictional explorations.

This is not an adventurous book - it questions none of the long-held assumptions about the development of attitudes to the "Great War" - but it is a careful and compassionate overview, well-edited and with a useful array of activities.

19th and 20th-Century Women Poets is an adventurous book, in the quality of thinking it requires of students. The six poets, ranging from Emily Bront to Eavan Boland, speak with different voices, but with supreme craft and seriousness of purpose. The superb editorial supports students' explorations, while the activities invite them to think about each poet, and the whole question of women's writing.

The book inevitably presents a position, but with rigour and honesty. This is a must for any A-level course. Buy it, use it and lobby exam boards to put it on their set-texts lists.

Sarah Matthews is former head of English at Chipping Norton School, Oxfordshire

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