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’.[1]

Cover design

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.

[1] Dominic Hibberd, Wilfred Owen: A New Biography (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2002), p. 323.