Sunday, July 31, 2011

Lieut. Raymond Heywood and his Poems

War poetry, particularly that of the First World War, often ends up in anthologies or bibliographies of gay literature but, in truth, it is notoriously difficult to unpick the nature of the sentiment in much of it. It was written in a time when the expression of sentiment between men was somewhat more open and under circumstances so extreme that expressions of love, even, seem the only possible vocabulary in which to measure the relationship between men living, fighting and dying in hideous close-quarters.

But, there are also those poets of the First World War whose poetry was clearly more than that so when I was doing some work which involved pouring through Ian Young's bibliography of Homosexuality in Literature: I was intrigued to see a book titled No Greater Love by Raymond Heywood. It turns out to be exceptionally rare but I was able to track down a copy of the above, Roses, Pearls and Tears (Erskine MacDonald, London, 1918). It's a book which offers a masterclass in the difficulty of finding gay readings in war poetry. There are poems in which he switches gender and writes as a 'mother': there are other poems about loving a 'her' but they could be more easily read as referring to a mother than a lover: there are the usual tantalising love poems which are gender unspecific and then, right at the back a poem called 'A Prayer' which begins, "To-day my hero-lover went away".

Often the inclusion of poetry in the 'gay archive' is done on knowledge of the author's life, well, apart from a reference to the Devonshire Regiment, at the moment I have little to go on. Obviously there may be more openly homoerotic poetry in the book I haven't yet found, certainly the title is something of a secret signal, but my reading of the poems I do have so far leads me to think that often there is nothing more than an undefinable 'something' which results in a work being 'placed' within our canon.

The cover, because I know there are a number of you who will love it, is by someone called J Hancock and is dated 25.3.18.


Brendan said...

That is a great cover! Really sparked my curiosity. Thanks to the University of Michigan, I was able to find the whole book available online here:

Callum said...

Hi Brendon,

thanks so much for that. I have just taken my copy to my tame bookbinder for a decent repair otherwise I would have added some quotes here, thank you for pointing the way... still no sign of the first book though...


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