Saturday, 28 September 2013

An Embarrassment of Riches

The title expresses my feelings as I look forward to the events of the next year.  As if it were not enough to have enjoyed such a successful annual conference earlier this month, we are already building up to the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, with so many treats in store.

The next major event for many of us who are members of several war poets' societies is the AGM of the Wilfred Owen Association, which takes place on 2nd November at St Anne's College, Oxford, and is combined with a Dominic Hibberd memorial event, with readings by several WOA members who were involved in the 2007 programme based on Dr Hibberd's celebrated "Winter of the World" anthology; the latter will form the basis for our own centenary event at Heytesbury next August, about which you will already have heard if you receive Siegfried's Journal or look at the SSF website.

Dominic Hibberd (3 November 1941 - 12 August 2012) was a noted academic, writer and broadcaster and the biographer of both Wilfred Owen and Harold Monro.  It is the words of these two poets that will be read at the memorial event.  Dr Hibberd had been closely involved in the work of the WOA for many years and has been much missed since he was gripped by a neurogenerative disorder that caused his withdrawal from public appearances and put an end to his creative contributions.  

For myself, I only met Dr Hibberd a handful of times, the first occasion being at the famous "Sassoon Day" in Marlborough as a result of which the Siegfried Sassoon Fellowship came into being.  Those who were there will recall that he slipped and fell on some steps at Marlborough College and had to receive medical treatment before he was able to give his talk; he told me, some years later, that he still did not feel fully recovered.  He never became a member of the SSF, but it is clear from the response of WOA members to his death that he was a much-loved and valued member of their community.  

Dominic Hibberd is one of so many distinguished speakers and writers I've had the privilege to hear and meet over the years since we set up the SSF, and I know that there are many more such "discoveries" to come - as there are in store for those of you who have been unable to attend our events so far.  A poet I had never heard of until I became interested in First World War writing (which is less than 15 years ago) is Isaac Rosenberg, whom many regard as one of the most gifted of his generation.  On 9th November at the Imperial War Museum, our patron Dr Jean Moorcroft Wilson will show off another of the many strings on her bow by hosting an event about Rosenberg, at which she will once again take the stage with another of our patrons, Max Egremont.  Those who have attended the events Jean has run every November for the past three years will know how enjoyable this promises to be.  Tickets are only £10 and more details are available on the IWM website: http://www.iwm.org.uk/events/iwm-london/isaac-rosenberg-lecture-by-irsac

Rosenberg is one of many poets who do not have their own societies to commemorate their life and work, so it is not too often that we get the opportunity to hear about him.  The SSF's collaboration with the Wilfred Owen Association has proved extremely fruitful in recent years, and another joint event is planned for next spring, of which details will be made known as soon as possible.  In the meantime, there are numerous dates in 1914 that you can put in your diaries immediately.  I've already mentioned the Heytesbury event on 2nd August, but July is also jam-packed with interesting happenings, including our annual cricket match (no date as yet) and of course the third in a series of War Poetry tours of the Western Front, jointly organised by the Western Front Association and Battle Honours tours.  Next July will see us back in Ieper (Ypres), which was the base for a very successful SSF tour back in 2010.  (Can it really be three years ago already?)

In the week leading up to our Heytesbury event, there will be two major festivals going on in that part of the country:  The Wylye Valley 1914 group will be putting on an exhibition at Codford Village Hall on the weekend of 26th-27th July (see their website for details: http://www.wylyevalley1914.org.uk/event-dates/ ) and there will be guided walks around the area.  In the meantime, the Thomas Hardy Society is holding its biennial festival in Dorchester from 26th July to 2nd August, and we are hoping to collaborate on an evening event some time during that week.

The icing on the cake, of course, will be the English Association's "British Poetry of the First World War" conference at Wadham College, Oxford, from 5th to 7th September 2014.  The Siegfried Sassoon Fellowship will be hosting a small exhibition and speaker panel and several members of the SSF will be actively involved as panel speakers, not all of us on the subject of Sassoon!

It's all very exciting, and hard work for a lot of people.  I can hardly wait - although, come to think of it, I am going to need quite a bit of time to prepare for all these events, especially the ones that involve the SSF. What I am looking forward to most, however, is what I always look forward to: meeting friends old and new, whilst combining entertainment with a learning experience.
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