At the beginning of this year, I bought an anthology of World War II poetry on eBay, Return to Oasis: War Poems and Recollections from the Middle East 1940 – 1946, edited by Victor Selwyn, Erik de Mauny, Ian Fletcher, GS Fraser and John Waller, and published in 1980. Unfortunately, I’d misread the description of the book on eBay and thought it contained poetry by Lawrence Durrell, but in fact he only provided the introduction. Return to Oasis was based on Oasis, an anthology published in Cairo during World War II, and used the same criteria for inclusion: “the poet must have served in the Forces in the Middle East theatre of war in the 1940s and have written his or her poems at that time.”
So I received the book, flicked through it, realised I’d made a mistake, and stuck it up on my book-shelves. Where it languished unread until today.
There is a poetry forum moderated by Marion Arnott on Interaction, the T3A Publications board. One of its threads is about war poetry and, being an admirer of Wilfred Owen‘s poetry, I’ve posted to the thread. But everyone knows Owen’s poems, so today I decided to contribute something a little different to the discussion. Remembering the copy of Return to Oasis on my book-shelves, I got it down, opened it at random… and discovered John Jarmain.
Like Wilfred Owen, Jarmain did not survive the war which formed the subject of his poetry. Unlike Owen, he seems to have been completely, and criminally, forgotten – a single collection published posthumously in 1945, and a single small press reissue of that collection in 1998. On the strength of the four poems by John Jarmain published in Return to Oasis, he certainly deserves to be remembered. Here is one of those poems:
At a War Grave
No grave is rich, the dust that herein lies
Beneath this white cross mixing with the sand
Was vital once, with skill of eye and hand
And speed of brain. These will not re-arise
These riches, nor will they be replaced;
They are lost and nothing now, and here is left
Only a worthless corpse of sense bereft,
Symbol of death, and sacrifice and waste.
So there you go. I’m now glad I “accidentally” bought Return to Oasis. And I think I might try and find myself a copy of Jarmain’s Poems from 1945. He also wrote a novel, Priddy Barrows, described as “with a Brontë-like atmosphere and a cast of vivid characters”. That sounds like it might be an interesting read, too…