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Greenlit: The Poet Who Loved The War: Ivor Gurney, BBC4

The Poet Who Loved The War: Ivor Gurney (1 x 60′) – When the Great War broke out, poet Ivor Gurney’s life changed utterly – for the better. Making use of a cache of newly discovered poems, this film tells the remarkable story of the writer with the fastest growing reputation of the entire Western Front soldier-poet generation. Ivor Gurney was a war poet like no other – he didn’t conform to the usual stereotypes.

Gurney was not an officer but a private – and wrote from the point of view of the ordinary front line soldier. He was an accomplished composer, which lent his poetry an entirely distinctive tone of voice. He loved the discipline of war and the routines helped him cope with an undiagnosed bi-polar disorder.

He wrote with real feeling and understanding for the Germans – and his own music drew heavily on the Lieder tradition. And, most unusual of all, he often presented the war from a comic perspective.

Gurney thrived at the Front. Having suffered manic-depressive bouts from his youth, he enlisted in 1915 and a marked improvement in his wellbeing followed. His motivation on signing up had been to swap ‘nervous exhaustion’ for ‘healthy fatigue’ and he succeeded: the discipline of military life, with its fixed schedules, regular meals and camaraderie ensured Gurney was happier during the war than before.

However, after the war Gurney struggled to adapt to civilian life. He suffered a breakdown and was confined to Dartford asylum until his death in 1937. But he carried on writing poetry – prolifically. Until now these poems have remained unpublished and largely unread, gathering dust in the archives. But in WWI’s centenary year, these poems appear for the first time as presenter Tim Kendall, the critic behind their rediscovery, brings Gurney’s unique poetic voice, with its singular perspective on the Western Front, to the wider public it deserves.

Producer: BBC Productions

TX: 2014

SourceBBC press release


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