Field Punishment No.1 / Recording

Wilfred Owen

“… it is the preface, by Wilfred Owen, to a volume of his poems which was to show, to England, and the intolerant world, the foolishness, unnaturalness, horror, inhumanity, and insupportability of war, and to expose, so that all could suffer and see, the heroic lies, the willingness of the old to sacrifice the young, indifference, grief, the soul of soldiers …  he is a poet of all times, all places, and all wars. There is only one war: that of men against men.”
Dylan Thomas

Wilfred Owen – the great English war poet and a namesake of my son, Fred – has been very much in my thoughts as I’ve been writing the music for Field Punishment No.1. Though he fought in Europe, was honoured with the Military Cross for gallantry and died in action (during the act of encouraging his men onwards as they went into battle) in November 1918, he was deeply conflicted about the nature of war and his participation in it. In a letter to his mother, he described himself as “a conscientious objector… with a very seared conscience.”

I suspect Archibald Baxter would not have been an immediate friend of Wilfred Owen’s. Owen took a dim view of Pacifists and, in many ways, sought to earn his right to object to the war using the exact opposite of Baxter’s means of protest – active participation. However, I like to imagine the things these two artists might have found in common, and the mutual respect that could have developed between them, had they met and spent time in each others company. Reading Baxter’s biography and noting his clear language, his quietly fierce conviction, and his utter lack of self-pity and self-indulgence, I think that there are parallels to Owen’s work, his own perspective on the war, and his deeply convicted nature.

The preface by Owen, to which Dylan Thomas was referring in the quote at the top of this post, is as follows:

Owen's Preface copy

“This book is not about heroes. English poetry is not yet fit to speak of them.

Nor is it about deeds, or lands, nor anything about glory, honour, might, majesty, dominion, or power, except War.

Above all I am not concerned with Poetry.

My subject is War, and the pity of War.

The Poetry is in the pity.

Yet these elegies are to this generation in no sense consolatory. They may be to the next. All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true Poets must be truthful.”

(The following websites have a lot of thoughtfully presented information about War Poetry and about the work of Wilfred Owen (and his contemporaries): The First World War Poetry Digital ArchiveThe Wilfred Owen Association, The War Poetry Website. All of the images and quotations in this post were found on these sites.)

We begin recording live instruments for Field Punishment No.1 on Tuesday and finish on Saturday. It will be a very quick turnaround after that and I’ll look forward to posting some of the finished music after the film has been broadcast.

Published by

Victoria Kelly / Music

I am a composer and performer of music. I have three gorgeous children and a sweet (yet manly) husband... I'm a vegan (but my husband and children are passionate carnivores)... I love reading (and I'm not a literary snob, but I just could NOT stomach more than 2 pages of Fifty Shades of Grey)... I try to keep up a regular yoga practice (and regularly fail)... I appreciate honesty, clarity, mischief, intelligence and humour in other people... my many heroes include Oscar Wilde, Christopher Hitchens, Tina Fey, JS Bach, Prince, Kurt Vonnegut, Igor Stravinsky, Bernard Herrmann, Joni Mitchell, Stanley Kubrick and Francis Bacon... because they all tell the truth, individually and uncompromisingly, as they see it. I wish I could still eat cheese, mayonnaise and red meat but I'm better off without them and the world would probably be a better place if the manufacturing of those foods was carried out on a smaller scale, in a more compassionate, environmentally and socially conscious way. It would be great if we were all more directly involved with our food chain. I always vote, and get a bit tearful on election day, because brave women fought for that right on my behalf and there are women in the world who are still fighting for that right today. But I vote, now, with a sense of hopelessness and cynicism, because I don't think politicians have anything except their own, and their benefactors', best interests at heart. At the risk of sounding too serious, it should be said that I do love a good bottle of Pinot Noir. And indeed, Champagne. In fact... maybe even more than one bottle. More than two bottles however and I will either sing Eye of the Tiger or pretend to be a Solid Gold Dancer. Neither of these things are desirable outcomes. If a person can make me laugh until I cry, struggle to breathe and roll around in pain, I will be their friend forever. My guilty musical pleasure is Roger Whittaker. And, while I like to think of myself as fairly educated about music, I must confess that I simply cannot listen to Wagner. I love my work. And I love being a mother to my children. But I do feel as if, when I'm trying to do both, I do neither well. And yet, if I did only one of those things, my longing for the other would be as miserable as feeling that I can do neither thing well. I think this catch 22 is paralysing almost every woman I know. Feminism is not dead and neither should Masculinism be... men and women have been equally displaced by the social changes of the past few decades. But someone or something is profiteering from our compromises and our sacrifices and I would like to see that injustice addressed and some balance restored. I have no idea what that says about me politically - I believe as much in personal responsibility as I do in compassion for others. I cannot abide greed, racism or prejudice - or the proud and willful ignorance & arrogance that tends to go hand in hand with them. I fear for the world when I see those traits overrepresented in the people who lead us. But show me a good thing well made - whether it's a piece of art, a book, a song, a car, a building, a meal, a neighbourly gesture, a garden or a unified field theory - and I regain my hope for humanity instantly. (The painting is Dirty Grapes by Mark Rothko)

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