This 1919 issue of Wheels, an annual modernist poetry anthology, is dedicated to the memory of poet-soldier Wilfred Owen. Significantly, Wheels was the first publication to print several of Owen’s poems together for the first time. Totalling seven, they appear as follows: ‘The Show’, ‘Strange Meeting’, ‘Á Terre’, ‘The Sentry’, ‘Disabled’, ‘The Dead Beat’ and ‘The Chances’.
Owen was killed in action a week before the armistice was signed between the Allies and Germany on 11 November 1918. Five months prior to this, the editors of Wheels had asked Owen to contribute poetry to their anthology. Unfamiliar with the Sitwells’ work, Owen ordered a copy of the 1917 issue. Biographer Dominic Hibberd regards this purchase as Owen’s introduction to modernist poetry.
The origins of Wheels
Formed in 1916, Wheels was edited by the poet Edith Sitwell along with her brothers Osbert and Sacheverell, all of whom formed part of an early 20th-century avant garde literary circle. Wheels was characterised by its contributors and editors as being ‘in open revolt not only against conventional techniques and subjects but also against the war’.
This issue features a cover and inside design by William Roberts, a British artist originally associated with the Vorticist movement. Enlisted as a gunner, Roberts had first-hand experience of the Western Front. The cover design, titled ‘Gun Drill’, blurs the line between man and machine. The machine gun shares the same grotesque pink – reminiscent of flesh – with the soldiers, while their angular bodies meld into the lines of the mechanical weaponry.
 Dominic Hibberd, Wilfred Owen: A New Biography (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2002), p. 323.
- Full title:
- Wheels: an anthology of verse. (Wheels: a second [-sixth] cycle.)
- 1919, Oxford, Oxfordshire
- B H Blackwell
- Book / Illustration / Image
- Wheels [Edith Sitwell, editor], Wilfred Owen, William Roberts [artist]
- Usage terms
Edith Sitwell: © Extracts from Wheels by Edith Sitwell reprinted by permission of Peters Fraser & Dunlop on behalf of the Estate of Edith Sitwell. Except as otherwise permitted by your national copyright laws this material may not be copied or distributed further.
Wilfred Owen: Public Domain.
William Roberts: © Estate of John David Roberts. By Permission of the William Roberts Society. Creative Commons Non-Commercial Licence.
- Held by
- British Library
- Article by:
- Santanu Das
- Literature 1900–1950, Power and conflict
Santanu Das examines the crafting of one of Owen’s most poignant poems, ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, and shows how Owen’s war poems evoke the extreme sense-experience of the battlefield.
- Article by:
- Randall Stevenson
- Literature 1900–1950, Capturing and creating the modern, Power and conflict
Randall Stevenson describes how the violence and loss of the First World War affected modernist writers’ attitudes towards nature and time, as well as shaping their experiments with language, literary form and the representation of consciousness.
- Article by:
- Richard Price
- Art, music and popular culture
Looking at examples such as The Germ and Blast, Richard Price examines the defining characteristics of little magazines and their legacy within literature, art, and culture.
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