What comes to mind when you think of Wilfred Owen? Poetry – of course. War – particularly the futility of. An undoubted talent and fittingly tragic figure. Personally I think of hours spent reciting and revising in frantic preparation for A Level English exams, a fate that would have irredeemably blighted the works of many a lesser writer but not the striking and strangely beautiful observations of Owen. Whatever it may be, it’s unlikely an immediate association would be made with Birkenhead. Yet the town on the other side of the Mersey played a major part in Owen’s life and is now host to a permanent exhibition specially dedicated to the poet; indeed, the first of its kind not just in the country but in the world.
The Wilfred Owen Story opened last Friday – on what would have been Owen’s 118th birthday. Not only is it a celebration of Owen’s life, work and poetry but a reconciliation of Owen to the place where he lived his formative years; he attended the now demolished Birkenhead Institute School between the ages of seven and fourteen, developing his love for poetry and extending his own poetic influence during his academic life. The three houses that Owen lived in during his tenure in Birkenhead are all still standing to this day, so it is incredibly fitting that such a comprehensive memorial should be situated there.
The exhibition was masterminded by Dean Johnson who hopes it will consolidate the link between Owen and Birkenhead, leading fans and admirers towards the other landmarks in the town that are associated with the poet. It will also be used as a space to exhibit new works of poetry inspired by Owen; a place of life, voice and creation and a “symbol of freedom” rather than merely a historic museum.
The Wilfred Owen Story is at 34 Argyle Street and entry is free.