was so loved
they wrote her name on a bench
where she had watched
sunsets and swifts,
waited for the silver hammock-moon
to swing in the sky;
rested after reading
the names picked out in gold
on the plaque in the church:
Bartlett, Beresford, Burgess,
Christmas, Coombes, Cooper,
soldiers long gone,
their names remembered
in the scent of evening air,
the breath of cut grass.
Extract from Ed. Jacky Dillon’s interview with Poet Denise Bennett
Jacky: What was the inspiration behind your poem Edith Silvester. Does the location hold a personal significance for you and the names are they real or fictional?
Denise: The names are all true. I went for a poetry outing with some friends and we went into Portchester Castle and the names were all on the memorial board, First World War soldiers who were killed in the conflict. Portchester does have a significant memory for me, because my Mother’s first husband was killed in the 2nd World War and they have only lately put up a plaque to commemorate those who died from Portchester. I didn’t live in Portchester myself, but my Mother did when she was widowed.
Jacky: Your poem is paired with Edward Thomas’ ‘As the Team’s Head Brass’. Has Edward Thomas’ poetry influenced you in the past?
Denise: Yes, very much, I wrote my dissertation on Edward Thomas, so he has always been someone whose work I have really liked. I liked his poetry from the beginning as it talks about the English Countryside, why he fought and his reasons. I think he was just a remarkable poet, although he had a very sad life, but yes, he was the choice for my dissertation as his work interested me and I really like his poetry.
Jacky: I understand that you are also interested in the work of Ivor Gurney, do you think their work has any similarities?
Denise: I am not sure, Ivor Gurney, greatly admired Edward Thomas. He was principally a musician, but also a poet. He admired Edward’s work and set several of his poems to music. There is a similarity in that both Ivor and Edward were thinking about the English countryside in their poems, but they didn’t ever meet. Helen Thomas became a friend of Ivor Gurney after Edward’s death and that was the connection between them. She would take Edward’s ordnance survey maps with her when she visited Ivor Gurney in the mental asylum. Ivor being a poet from the Gloucestershire area would trace the steps that the Dymock poets wrote about. Edward Thomas was one the Dymock poets and often stayed with them in Gloucestershire where they had set up home in the Village of Dymock between 1911 and 1914. The group also included Thomas’ close friend Robert Frost.
Jacky: You have a wonderful poem called ‘Welcome’ which you sent me recently (to be published in a later post) which refers to Ivor Gurney’s first time in the trenches. When did you write this?
Denise: It was written a few years ago, about five or six years ago, I think. I was very very impressed with one of his poems in particular. Ivor Gurney expected to be brutalised when he went into the trenches, but what he found was four Welshmen who sang beautiful welsh songs all through the gunfire and they made him welcome and that is why I called my poem Welcome. Ivor Gurney’s poem was First time in – that is the one that inspired me.
Jacky: What were the main reasons that made you decide to get involved in the England Remembered project. A desire to write the poetry or rather to take part in the readings, or both?
Denise: Well I think that the First World War was a tragedy and as a pacifist and a Quaker I have always been reading up to see why these events happened, if things could have been done differently. My sympathy is with those who died and had their lives taken away from them by being involved in the First World War. I think it was both actually, I did want to write the poetry. I think it is nice to be part of a larger project as well – to be able to work with a group that has sympathy about the same subject.
Jacky: What do you feel makes poetry stand out from other forms of writing?
Denise: Well I think it is the language really and the message that people give in poetry – it’s a condensed form of writing. I think it comes so much from the heart and it’s the emotional connection that poetry gives you that other writing doesn’t – it touches parts that other writing doesn’t. I think as a poet if you written something and the reader has been moved by it then you have completed your writing – “the emotion starts in you and has to end up in somebody else” – that is a quote from Philip Larkin.
Denise has kindly contributed two poems to the England Remembered Book; ‘Edith Silvester’ and ‘Letter to…’.
Read the second part of my Interview with Denise here
Header image © Jacky Dillon (Edwardian Pergola, West Dean Gardens)