Book Review - Poems of Love and War

Posted on on 02 October 2015
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Author: Mary Borden
Publication Date: 01 October 2015

Publisher's Description:

'Suffragette, socialite, novelist, nurse, Mary Borden wrote some of the most remarkable poems of the First World War. Still in her twenties, she used her own money to set up and run a field hospital for French soldiers at the Somme, situated ‘as close to the fighting as possible’. Her poems are spontaneous, passionate reactions to what she saw and did. Although married with three children, she fell in love with a young British officer she met at the Front. The  poems she wrote to him while they were both at the war have an immediate and reckless intensity.  When her ‘erotic outbursts’ were discovered by her husband, he divorced her.

Mary Borden is featured in major anthologies of First World War poetry, but this is the first full book of her poems to be published, 100 years after they were written. Many of these poems are published in book form for the first time, including the love poems.'

Centenary News Review:

Review by: Eleanor Baggley, Centenary News Books Editor

Mary Borden is a much anthologised writer. Her poem 'Song of the Mud' and writings from 'The Forbidden Zone', most notably 'Conspiracy', frequently appear in collections of writing from the First World War. Despite this she remains relatively unknown.

In 1916 Mary Borden ran a field hostpial in the village of Bray, near the Somme. Borden was a wealthy woman in her own right and she set up this field hospital at her own expense. She became much admired in France due to her dedication to the men she nursed and was the first American woman to be awarded both the Croix de Guerre and the Legion d'honneur. At her field hospital in Bray she met Captain Louis Spears, for whom she wrote the love sonnets included in this collection.

Included in this collection are poems from 'The Forbidden Zone' (her memoir published in 1929), and a selection of uncollected poems, including 'There is a Monster in the Valley' where guns become monsters and men their slaves. The final section of poems are her 'Sonnets to a Soldier', published here for the first time. Such passionate outpourings of love seem almost out of place next to the horrors of war, but the more we read, the more we realise how integral the war is, and how the power of her love is able to almost neutralise those horrors.

Mary Borden is one of the most remarkable writers of the First World War. Being positioned so close to the front lines gave her a unique experience of war that transfers to her poetry and prose. This collection of Borden's poetry, chosen by Paul O'Prey, sheds new light on her war experience and demonstrates the passionate and 'erotic' side of her. Her love sonnets may have caused a scandal when they were discovered, but they are exceptional examples of truly intimate poetry. Placed alongside her war poems, these love sonnets take on an even greater meaning.

O'Prey has succeeded beyond measure in bringing Borden's poetry to the forefront of women's war writing. I hope to see her presence among the canon grow and grow.

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