Poetry and music honours the volunteers

Post date: 27/04/2023

Colin Carritt, Chair of the IBMT-affiliated Oxford International Brigade Memorial Committee, reports on 'Today The Struggle', an evening of poetry and music hosted by the Oxford group on 18 April 2023.

Folk duo Na-Mara. (Daniel Poole)

Poetry is fundamental to the human condition. Every war, every conflict, inspires an outpouring of literature and verse and the Spanish Civil War more than most. Music, too, from soldierly marching songs, to dyspeptic mockery of the boredom, chaos and dysfunction of military organisation, to songs of loss and regret.

In 2020 the IBMT-affiliated Oxford International Brigade Memorial Committee (OIBMC) put on an evening of readings, including letters home and memoirs of Brigade veterans. It was well received and we promised ourselves to do it again once the Covid lockdown was behind us.

This time we wanted to focus on poetry. But where to begin, there being such a wealth of poetry on the Spanish Civil War? We were fortunate to have, in Oxford, Professor Valentine Cunningham, a long-time supporter of the IBMT and its Oxford affiliate. Cunningham edited ‘The Penguin Book of Spanish Civil War Verse’, first published in 1980, and which today remains the foremost anthology of Civil War poetry. Cunningham agreed to select and curate the poetry and texts for our evening.

Paul Collins and Alison Skilbeck performing poetry. (Daniel Poole)

We booked the iconic Holywell Music Room in central Oxford: Europe’s oldest concert venue. It’s an intimate small theatre seating close on 200 people and it’s been the home of Oxford’s intellectual life for more than a century.

IBMT Patron Maxine Peake had hoped to headline the event but her filming schedules got in the way. But we were fortunate to have IBMT supporters Alison Skilbeck and Paul Collins to deliver the texts and poetry of Cecil Day-Lewis, George Orwell, Cambridge Brigader John Cornford, Wystan Auden and Nan Green amongst others. The poetry was interspersed with music by celebrated Flamenco guitarist Marcos and the folk duo Na-Mara, regular performers and friends of the IBMT.

Flamenco guitarist Marcos. (Daniel Poole)

We opened the doors on 18 April to an almost full house and an introduction from IBMT Chair Jim Jump. It was a wonderful evening and was enjoyed by all who listened, often in hushed silence to the sorrowful words of remorse at the loss of so many young lives, but also to the inspiring spirit of internationalism and commitment that was such a feature of the Brigades in Spain.

The evening ended, as it always had to, with a rousing rendition of La Pasionaria’s speech at the repatriation on the Brigades in November 1938 in Barcelona, ‘You are history; you are legend; you are the heroic example of democracy’s solidarity and universality...’.

Posted on 27 April 2023.

IBMT logo

Support our work

You can support the IBMT by joining us or affiliating your union branch – see details and membership forms here:
menuchevron-up linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram