Friday, 6 March 2009

Is there an American War Poetry?

My post on Gerald Dawe's Irish War Poetry made me think about what is, as its title suggests, the nearest thing to a U.S. counterpart: American War Poetry, edited by Lorrie Goldensohn. War, like nothing else, obliges an urgent consideration of topoi of national identity; at the same time, most languages (and therefore most literatures) cross national boundaries. To what extent, then, does it make sense to think of war poetry in national terms? Is there an American war poetry?

Having published a book titled Modern English War Poetry, I am in no position to be dismissive about national categories. Had I referred to British rather than English, I would still be writing it now. All books need to end somewhere, and as I had a large temporal range --- from the Boer War to the present --- I felt entitled to narrow the geographical focus. But there was a political imperative as well. Whatever the various reactions of English poets to the nation and their government, Scottish and Welsh nationalisms take a fundamentally different attitude both to Westminster and to established symbols of Englishness. More than that, I wanted to claim that the ways in which English war poets talk to each other during the last century do constitute a tradition; not a simple tradition, not even a linear tradition, but a tradition perhaps in the sense of a shared awareness, community or engagement. For example, when Keith Douglas decorates a photograph of himself in his army finery with the words 'Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori', he looks to assault a poetic tradition (while reinstating an allegiance to an Horatian one); but that breaking is itself an acknowledgement and a continuation of a drama played through Wilfred Owen's poetry. Owen uses his predecessors to create a discordant antiphony; Douglas uses Owen in the same way.

I am not sure that the same can accurately be said of American war poetry. Goldensohn doesn't say it, although the book's blurb does: 'While the birth of a national identity is documented in early poems, the anthology also conveys the growing sophistication of a uniquely American style.' Reading the many wonderful and not-so-wonderful poems from the eighteenth-century Colonial Wars to (many would argue) those new colonial wars in the Persian Gulf, I am not convinced that the anthology's contents support that claim. Poetry is not a branch of science: it does not progress. And talk of a 'uniquely American style' risks belittling a nation which upholds among its self-evident truths the freedom of the individual; the freedom, that is, to choose to be different. America is nothing if it is not various; it seems too vast to have one 'style'.

None of this detracts from Goldensohn's anthology, which is quite appropriately a collection of the best war poems written out of a particular nation. War poetry does not seem to be part of a national psyche in the States as it is in England; there is no Yankee Brooke or Owen. The best poets in the book --- Emerson, Whitman, Stevens, Frost, Bishop, etc. --- are what we might term occasional war poets. Whitman (as always) comes closest to an exception, and the story of how Drum Taps influenced English war poets like Gurney and Rosenberg has still not been fully told. Whitman is, with 8 poems, the most heavily-represented poet in Goldensohn's anthology, and as war poet he stands head and shoulders above the others. Yet when we think of Whitman's crowning achievements, we probably think first of 'Song of Myself', 'I Sing the Body Electric', or the elegy for Lincoln.

Goldensohn's introductions to each war are excellent, but one line made me smile: 'The United States is still considered the key to the victory of 1918.' Far be it for me to want to start a transatlantic bunfight at a time when we British attempt to salvage a 'special relationship' from our position of utter powerlessness, but this comes close to the Oh What a Lovely War version of history. The hundreds of thousands of American soldiers who fought in the war certainly didn't harm the Allied cause... and yet it would be more diplomatic to drop the definite article. American entry into the war was, undeniably, 'key'.

32 comments:

  1. As a Yank, i read with interest this new post. It's my recollection from grad school and a lifelong part-time interest in writing/reading poetry (Henry Reed was my mentor in the mid-Sixties), that your statement about "occasional" is most accurate. "Death of the Ball-Turret Gunner" is oh so short but still the most anthologized of American war poems. Writers like Lowell and Whitman were writing more about the horrors of war and their (outspoken or not) opposition to it. To cite another, i can't recall the Melville poems (there were many, i believe) deriving also from the Civil War. maybe our expansionism and grandiosity and capitalism-conquers-all attitude mitigate against inner reflection by soldiers. At any rate, i'd say the American poetic tradition is more anti-War than experience of it. all those Allied deaths occurred so far away...

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  2. There's also that excellent poem in your handbook, John Balaban's 'In Celebration of Spring'.

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  3. You rightly speak of the notion of English versus British, the Scottish and Welsh (and even Cornish) having a different outlook from the overriding English one with which they have been lumped in the centuries of English overlords.

    The United States is vast, and one wonders, particularly during the American Civil War about which Whitman was writing, whether a more localised identity, be it by city, state or wider region, is portrayed in the works of some. Does Whitman, for instance, give a partisan view when compared with whomsoever else is writing at the time?

    I am not in a position to give any answers, but it is a question that occurs and would make an interesting comparison with the smaller scale but distinctively separate traditions and identities of Britain.

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  4. Thank you for the comments. To take the points in order:

    Ed, I'm delighted to be told by an American that my comments were justified. As for Melville, he wrote what I imagine is the best-known poem of the Civil War, 'Shiloh'. Goldensohn includes it along with four others. Type Shiloh into Google now, and the first thing to come up will be a celebrity couple's baby. O tempora! O mores!

    Seb, you're right about Balaban's poem. It's a masterpiece in that 'war pastoral' tradition. Unfortunately, it's not in Goldensohn's book, and the two poems by him which she does include are good but not quite that good.

    Philip --- I think that one paradox about Whitman is that his close association with Brooklyn exists alongside the (achieved) ambition to speak for the entire nation. 'He IS America', Pound stated. It might be more useful to think of Whitman's not as a 'partisan view' but a 'partisan style'. On the one hand, it's utterly unlike any contemporary; and on the other, it is an attempt to create a national poetics free from the contamination of foreign literatures. This is what he tells Emerson in 1856:

    The genius of all foreign literature is clipped and cut small, compared to our genius, and is essentially insulting to our usages, and to the organic compacts of These States. Old forms, old poems, majestic and proper in their own lands here in this land are exiles; the air here is very strong. Much that stands well and has a little enough place provided for it in the small scales of European kingdoms, empires, and the like, here stands haggard, dwarfed, ludicrous, or has no place little enough provided for it. Authorities, poems, models, laws, names, imported into America, are useful to America today to destroy them, and so move disencumbered to great works, great days.

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  5. I would disagree with Goldensohn about “a uniquely American style”. America is a vast, sprawling land of great physical and human diversity, an ethnic melting pot. Our literature reflects this diversity in the regional focus of our writers and poets. If Britain is divided by Wales, Scotland, Cornwall and England imagine the divisions here: north, south, mid-west, southwest, northwest, west as well as the divisions within those regions and the writers from them who made their small towns a microcosm of the nation as a whole while giving voice to universal conditions. Each region has it own rhythm, its own light and it own way of life. As northerner now living in the south I am acutely aware of how different everything is here: the musical drawl of the natives, the slow pace, the strangeness of an isolationist mentality, the blind intensity of religion, the richness of the story-telling tradition, even the food. Our regionalism is a complex subject.
    Is there one writer who represents a uniquely American style? I can’t think of one. Whitman? I don’t think so. He was cut from a different cloth spiritually but his rhythms and cadences and his vision are cast in northern energy and in northern light – ship masts, sea grass, city streets and liberal attitudes. Of the poets writing about WWI in Goldensohn’s anthology, most were writing as observers. Only Hemingway, MacLeish and Seeger fought in WWI while Cummings and Cowley served in the ambulance corps.
    Missing from Goldensohn’s collection is one poet who qualifies as an American War Poet – John Allan Wyeth (1892-1981), who has been rediscovered by American poet and critic Dana Gioia. Wyeth was born in New York City, the son of a surgeon from Alabama who had served in the Confederate cavalry and was held a prisoner of war, nearly dying in captivity. He wrote poetry and a memoir, With Sabre and Scalpel: The Autobiography of a Soldier and Surgeon. His son John Allan, Jr., a loner, attended Princeton where others viewed him as “an aesthete”. After teaching high school French out west, he returned to Princeton to study Romance languages. He enlisted in the army as a second lieutenant in 1917 and by May 1918 he was on his way to France to serve mainly as an interpreter although he did perform other duties. Wyeth’s war is found in This Man’s Army: A War in Fifty-Odd Sonnets (1928). “His poems are remarkably distinguished for specifically literary reasons, but they have the additional historical virtue of documentary exactitude,” observes Gioia. “They chronicle the poet’s journey through the war with a fidelity to circumstances more typical of non-fiction prose than lyric verse. Although no literary reader need note their accuracy, a military historian can rely on each sonnet to render the time, place, situation, even the weather.” To learn more about Wyeth see Dana’s “The Unknown Soldier: The Poetry of John Allan Wyeth” in the Summer 2008issue of The Hudson Review.

    Pam Blevins

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  6. Thanks, Pam. Jon Stallworthy has also recommended Wyeth to me. I'll look him up.

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  7. Wyeth's This Man's Army is available in the UK in a new edition published by the University of South Carolina Press in October 2008. It features an introduction by Dana Gioia.
    Pam

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  8. I assume that you know of the U.S. ex-infantryman Brian Turner and his book, Here Bullet. He writes of his experience as a platoon commander in Iraq.

    As a North American, I agree with Karen that this continent has multiple voices, no singular style. We are too large geographically and ethnically to create a unique voice.

    I see my work as a war poet with the Canadian Infantry as that of witness and compassion. I like to think of my work as being akin to single dot of paint in a Seurat painting and that it will take thousands of points to make the bigger picture.

    Something I say to the soldiers when I am out with them and they ask what I'm writing and what I do is, "Art is like ordinance, sometimes it takes thousands of attempts to hit the target."
    Ultimately only time will tell if a single image or line that comes out of this work will last. At the very least, it will be a small record of a period of time in the life of my country and I am amazed to find myself in this position.

    Finally, based on the reactions to my work that I've experienced (through print, in person, by letter), there is a huge appetite for this subject.

    I leave on Ex. with the infantry again next month. Then to Afghanistan, where the real writing begins.

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  9. Regarding the question of American war poetry, can anyone recommend any books or articles which discuss the question of why America failed to produce any poets of WWI of real significance? I'm working on an essay which examines this question, and I'm having a hard time finding much published discussion of it.

    Thanks,
    BJ Omanson

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  10. I don't know about any particular book, and I wouldn't presume to state that there was no significant American poet of WW1. However...

    A while back, in a fit of madness which thankfully soon passed, I was planning to organise a 4-day conference on international poetry of the First World War. I chatted to a colleague about which countries would need to be covered. When the United States was mentioned, he assured me that the Americanists wouldn't turn up until lunch on day 3.

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  11. a vile calumny! no self-respecting American anything would skip free dinners. (though breakfast maybe.)

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  12. I heartily concur with Mr Anonymous: free meals are the key, and I would not even omit breakfast. I'm sure the Yanks would have been there in force, if only for a few minutes after each dinner gong.

    I'm not presuming there were no Yank poets of significance during WWI -- I'm only seeking some discussion of the question. I'm sure I've seen the opinion more than once as a general observation, even as a self-evident truism.

    If no one can offer any sources, how about some opinions? Were there American poets of significance in WWI, and if not, why not? This was, after all, the era of Eliot, Pound, Frost & Robinson, so it's not as if America wasn't producing poetry of the first order during the war years.

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  13. Well, i guess i'll nominate e.e. cummings (or hee hee cunnings, as Joyce might have held), who was ambulance driver or some such and then prisoner, and wrote poetic prose at least about that, plus some anti-war poems later. But what with Imagism and the new mag Poetry, and HD and Amy Lowell holding sway, not much was said by "the poets." Ah, but then move on to Hemingway and Faulkner and maybe Fitzgerald obliquely, and you find the War Unpoets gathering steam thereafter. (Grad school was a long time ago for me now; i welcome dissenters.)

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  14. Ed, you touch on a point I that I had planned to make in my essay, that the American experience in WWI yielded fiction of a very high caliber, so why not poetry as well? In the discussions of this subject that I recall, a comparison is made between the four long years of trench-hell endured by soldiers of the major combatant nations compared to the brief half-year or so of mostly successful engagements experienced by the Americans in order to explain why American poetry of the war seems superficial and jingoistic compared to the best British and European poetry. If this were an adequate explanation, then American novels of the war should display a comparable superficiality, which they don't.
    I'm interested in your point about Imagism, Ed, and its sway over much of American poetry of the time. I think there's something to that. As a vehicle for describing wartime experiences, brief impressionistic lyrics seem decidedly inadequate.
    However, Imagism wasn't the only strong current in American poetry during the war years. Don't forget naturalism. Spoon River Anthology was published during the war and was a national best-seller, and Frost's North of Boston was published during the war as well, I believe, as well as strong naturalistic work by Robinson. The techniques employed by these three would have been well-suited to handling the experience of war. (Just imagine if the author of "Home Burial" had served in the Argonne...!)
    Pam mentioned John Allan Wyeth. His sonnets, which possess a strong naturalistic strain -- very precise & gritty -- and make extensive use of realistic, slangy dialogue, suggest he had read his Frost and Robinson closely (though almost nothing is actually known of his reading). Wyeth only came to light this past autumn and, so far, aside from a couple of essays by Dana Gioia, he has received no critical notice at all. I look forward to a discussion of his work by some major critic of WWI literature (Gioia is a very capable, even gifted, critic and historian of Modernist literature, but his military knowledge of WWI is limited). It will be interesting to see if Wyeth's cycle of some fifty war sonnets can force a change of perception in literary history as far as the question of American poetry is concerned.

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  15. Perhaps this might help bj omanson. My book shelves are creaking a bit under the weight of WWI memoirs written by Americans, both men and women. Observation and personal experience seemed to drive our writers during the war, sometimes resulting in a blistering reality that caused censors to blanch. Curiously the most powerful memoirs came from the pens of women and I think that this might help shed some light on why we didn’t produce a memorable WWI war poet. As bj omanson suggests time is a factor. The women who wrote these memoirs and published articles and poetry during the war had already chalked up a great deal of war experience by the time our soldiers arrived fresh, idealistic and naive from farms and cities in 1917. These women had had the time to participate in the war and to feel and observe its full impact, to let it sit in them and ferment before they put words to paper. Some like Mildred Aldrich were in France when war broke out. Aldrich found herself in the thick of it living on a hilltop above the Marne but she portrayed a propagandist view of war. In her best-selling books, Aldrich blunted the horror that surrounded her, neglecting, for example, to mention her view of dead soldiers strew outside her home, sanitizing her war as heroic while Mary Borden, Ellen La Motte and Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant brought their war into sharp, unsparing focus. Borden, a wealthy expat writer, started her own mobile hospital in France in 1914 – she stayed for the duration, recounting her experiences in angry war poetry published in 1917 and in her memoir The Forbidden Zone (1929) and later in the WWII book Journey Down a Blind Alley. La Motte, a nurse who worked with Borden, arrived in 1914 and left in 1916 to fight against he opium trade in China. In 1916 she published The Backwash of War, a book so uncompromising in its reality that Britain and France banned its distribution. Sergeant, later a biographer of Robert Frost, was a journalist who covered the war from 1917 to 1918 when she was severely wounded by a grenade during a battlefield tour. She recounted her experiences as a woman wounded in a man’s war in Shadow-Shapes (1920). “Last night the ward was like a sombre tunnel, full of smoke and noxious gas; monstrous moving shadows; painful reverberation,” she wrote – there’s poetry in her prose. I think that the American experience was more commonly rendered in prose for several reasons. Few poets actually fought or experienced the war. Many soldiers were not educated, having lived hardscrabble lives so poetry was outside their reality. The men who served earlier in the war were largely in the ambulance corps and they were usually college graduates. Our soldiers did not fight long enough to absorb the war the way Owen, Sassoon, Gurney did. Writers like La Motte and Borden had been there from the beginning. They were on a mission to stamp the full horror of war in the minds of readers and they didn’t feel that poetry could do the job as effectively as their hard-hitting prose.

    Pam Blevins

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  16. Perhaps this might help bj omanson. My book shelves are creaking a bit under the weight of WWI memoirs written by Americans, both men and women. Observation and personal experience seemed to drive our writers during the war, sometimes resulting in a blistering reality that caused censors to blanch. Curiously the most powerful memoirs came from the pens of women and I think that this might help shed some light on why we didn’t produce a memorable WWI war poet. As bj omanson suggests time is a factor. The women who wrote these memoirs and published articles and poetry during the war had already chalked up a great deal of war experience by the time our soldiers arrived fresh, idealistic and naive from farms and cities in 1917. These women had had the time to participate in the war and feel and observe its full impact. to let it sit in them and ferment before they put words to paper. Some like Mildred Aldrich were in France when war broke out. Aldrich found herself in the thick of it living on a hilltop above the Marne but she portrayed a propagandist view of war. In her best-selling books, Aldrich blunted the horror that surrounded her, neglecting, for example, to mention her view of dead soldiers strew outside her home, sanitizing her war as heroic while Mary Borden, Ellen La Motte and Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant brought their war into sharp, unsparing focus. Borden, a wealthy expat writer, started her own mobile hospital in France in 1914 – she stayed for the duration, recounting her experiences in angry war poetry published in 1917 and in her memoir The Forbidden Zone (1929) and later in the WWII book Journey Down a Blind Alley. La Motte, a nurse who worked with Borden, arrived in 1914 and left in 1916 to fight against he opium trade in China. In 1916 she published The Backwash of War, a book so uncompromising in its reality that Britain and France banned its distribution. Sergeant, later a biographer of Robert Frost, was a journalist who covered the war from 1917 to 1918 when she was severely wounded by a grenade during a battlefield tour. She recounted her experiences as a woman wounded in a man’s war in Shadow-Shapes (1920). “Last night the ward was like a sombre tunnel, full of smoke and noxious gas; monstrous moving shadows; painful reverberation,” she wrote – there’s poetry in her prose. I think that the American experience was more commonly rendered in prose for several reasons. Few poets actually fought or experienced the war. Many soldiers were not educated, having lived hardscrabble lives so poetry was outside their reality. The men who served earlier in the war were largely in the ambulance corps and they were usually college graduates. Our soldiers did not fight long enough to absorb the war the way Owen, Sassoon, Gurney did. Writers like La Motte and Borden, who had been in the war from the beginning, were on a mission to stamp the full horror of war in the minds of readers and they didn’t feel that poetry could do the job as effectively as their hard-hitting prose.

    Pam Blevins

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  17. Pam,

    I'm not sure there is always a direct correspondence between the extent or intensity of war experience and the quality of literature produced by that experience. Neither Hemingway nor Remarque (nor, looking back, Stephen Crane) saw any front-line experience to speak of, yet the war novels they produced are major works of literature.

    I also question the idea that Americans did not fight long enough to absorb the experience of war in a profound way. Duration does not always equal intensity. The American Second Division (out of which came at least three significant works of fiction) was only in combat for about six months, during which they fought only three major engagements, but in that short time they suffered a casualty rate of over 100%. I would submit that the handful of 2d Div members who survived the whole six months knew as much about the nature of warfare as any soldier from any nation.

    I think you are right that most writers in the war probably considered prose to be more effective than poetry for the purpose of unmasking the truth about war, but in the hands of an Owen or a Sassoon, poetry could accomplish that task as effectively, perhaps even more memorably, than the finest novel or memoir. To do so was difficult; it demanded fundamental changes in the nature of poetic language, but -- as Owen, Sassoon and a number of others demonstrated, it could be, and was, accomplished. Americans had access to the same literary tools and traditions as the British, and they were equally accomplished as writers. There were even a few, such as Seeger, who were in combat from the beginning of the war. As for the majority of Americans -- who did not see combat until 1918 -- there were many who, in places like Belleau Wood, Soissons and the Argonne, served in units which suffered extremely high casualty rates. All in all, therefore, I have to conclude that conditions were more than sufficient for the appearance of a significant American poet.

    Literature is literature. If a novelist can penetrate to the truth of a particular historical moment, so equally can a poet. Poetry is as adaptable as fiction. There is no truth available to fiction which is not similarly available to poetry. I don't see how a situation (the American experience in WWI) which produced a fertile seedbed for a sizeable body of significant fiction, letters and memoirs, would at the same time contain conditions which were somehow inimical to the production of significant poetry. For me, at least, it just doesn't add up.

    bj

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  18. Seeger's 'I have a Rendezvous with Death' must be one of the most famous poems of the war. Gurney has a strong poem titled 'To the Memory of Alan Seeger' in Best Poems:

    I had already cut, and stuck in with potato fat
    In my note book 'I have a rendezvous with Death'... etc.

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  19. I think Seeger is significant, yes. To write a universally popular poem is significant in itself. I have seen it argued by some historians that Seeger's death on the Somme, and the immense popularity of the "I have a Rendezvous..." helped sway the public mood in America towards entering the war, which is exactly what Seeger had set out to do. I would not claim that "I have a Rendezvous..." has much intrinsic literary significance, as a statement about the nature of war, but, like Brook's 'The Soldier', Grenfell's 'Into Battle', Binyon's 'For the Fallen' and McCrae's 'In Flanders Fields', it has considerable historical importance and wielded great influence in its day. (I have a website devoted to Seeger, by the way, at: http://www.scuttlebuttsmallchow.com/alansee1.html

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  20. Tim,

    To steer this thread back to your original post and the question you raise of whether there is an identifiable American style -- I believe (thinking especially of the Great War), that a case can be made either way. There was a production on American television several years ago dramatizing the story of the Lost Battalion. There was one scene in particular which showed three or four Yanks from different parts of the country razzing one another about their local accents and slang. They certainly had no trouble understanding one another generally, but much of the discussion involved soldiers having to provide definitions for particular regional terms. That much argues for American heterogeneity. But apart from regional slang, during the war there arose a national slang peculiar to the AEF, some of it based on inherited military usage, and some of it consisting of borrowings from the French, British and even Germans. (I grew up on midwestern farm in the '50s familiar with a number of odd French bastard phrases & terms, thanks to my grandfather's sojourn in the AEF forty years before). At this point one can say in truth that there is a recognisable American style, at least as far as soldier's speech is concerned. Whether such distinctive national speech made its way into American poetry from the war is another question. With too many poets of the era, Seeger for one, the language is self-consciously literary rather than vernacular, and any distinctively American touches are probably unintentional. With Wyeth, however, all that changes. His sonnets deliberately, and very skillfully, exploit all manner of national peculiarities of speech. They are filled with slang and argot. The 33rd Division was notable for being the only American division to serve under both the British and French, as well as side-by-side with the Australians, and speech from all three nationalities make their way into the Wyeth's poems. Moreover, language differences between the ranks and between classes are exploited, and a single sonnet might have two or even three languages together, with diction ranging from formal to slangy, depending on the speaker. Overall, though, I would venture to say that Wyeth's body of sonnets display a distinctively American style. He doesn't sound like Frost, but as much as anything by Frost, Wyeth's sonnets are immediately identifiable as American. When I first opened a copy of Wyeth's war poems, which I pulled out a large, unsorted case of WWI titles, the first thing that caught me attention was that they were sonnets written in English, so my first assumption was that the poet was most probably Bitish. However, reading half a dozen lines was enough to settle the matter -- there was no doubt the writer was American. I had never heard of Wyeth, or encountered any of his poems, and as the book was without a jacket there was no information about the author, but as to his nationality there could be no doubt. So on the question of whether or not there exists a distinctive American style, I would have to say that, even allowing for regional differences, yes, there is. I might be hard-pressed to define it, but I'm pretty sure I can spot it.

    bj

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  21. bj --- I know that feeling of recognising a fellow national through his or her poetic style. It's possible to make a great deal out of the differences between Frost and Thomas, for example, or between Whitman's poetry and Gurney's Whitmanesque phase.

    It sounds like I really do need to read Wyeth, although the price has put me off so far!

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  22. okay, some random thoughts/excuses re: the lack of American Great War poetry (is that a pun perchance?)--

    1) the class system of England with tradition of gentleman officers, presumably educated in literature as well as, well, whatever else suited them;

    2) vs. the sad truth that most US soldiers then and now come from the poorer or lower middle class strata (usually less well-educated), with soldiering as a means of raising oneself economically, but not literarily;

    3) America's cult of machismo, called something else of course, which sees poetry as somehow hoity-toity if not effeminate, and prose more manly--from WWI to the present stupid wars;

    4) with no hundreds of years of literary models before us, most US poets since 1900 have moved toward so-called free verse, which could lead to War Poetry, of course, but did not until (maybe) the Spanish Civil War and WWII (Wyeth being the exception that proves the rule?).

    i offer these as starting points for all the currently interested parties to examine, and then to refute... perhaps.

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  23. Ed,

    I agree with much of what you say. In the US participation in war has increasingly been determined by economic class, certainly since Vietnam, when it was possible to avoid being drafted simply by remaining in school. And certainly now, when increasingly in poorer rural areas where the military is increasingly only available career choice. WWI, however, was another matter. Certainly the majority of Yank soldiers were from the less-educated, less-prosperous classes, but the exceptions were numerous. American volunteers into the French Foreign Legion or air service, or volunteer ambulance drivers before war was declared were overwhelmingly from ivy league schools, and enlistees into the AEF after war was declared continued to include significant numbers of college students and graduates. One entire company of US Marines was composed mostly of students from the University of Minnesota. My grandfather, a Marine, never finished high school, but his captain at Belleau Wood was a Harvard graduate. Virtually all the American war poets were ivy leaguers: Seeger, Reed & Cummings were Harvard men, Wyeth & Bishop Princeton men, Kilmer a Columbia man, and MacLeish & Wilder Yale men. If you look through the "war books" of Harvard or Princeton, for example, there are many hundreds of students and graduates who served in France. Vastly different from today. The Civil War drew from all strata of society, and so did WWI.

    England had its own cult of machismo, as did France and Germany, but I don't think that was a crucial factor in discouraging the writing of poems. Poetry was a manly enough occupation, if you consider Kipling, Grenfell, Frost, etc. Hemingway wrote poetry. Seeger wrote delicate verses out of the Romantic tradition, but you see his "Rendezvous" quoted in the official histories of many US AEF divisions. Every issue of Stars & Stripes was filled with poems by soldiers. My grandfather, an uneducated no-nonsense ex-Marine and farmer, quoted long passages by Bryant and Longfellow (out in the barn, walking through the fields) all his life to his grandchildren, and he was considered a hard-bitten man's man by his community. So I don't think poetry had such an effeminate stigma during the Great War as you suggest. I'm from a very pragmatic uncultured region of the midwest (rural Illinois), but during the years of WWI the region produced two national poets, Edgar Lee Masters & Carl Sandburg, neither of whom had any lilt in their step.

    I do agree that short free verse poems seem inadequate as a medium for war experience, and I agree that much of American poetry was tending in that direction, but it should not be forgotten that there remained a vital current of poetry written in traditional forms during the whole first half of the century (Robinson, Frost, Millay, Crane, Lowell & many lesser figures). Actually, all of the American poets (cummings excepted) associated with the First World War that come to mind wrote in traditional forms (Seeger, Joyce Kilmer, John Peale Bishop, Archibald MacLeish, John Reed, Amos Wilder). Virtually all of the poetry by Yank soldiers in Stars & Stripes was traditional in form, so perhaps the influence of free verse and imagism was still far from pervasive during the war years.

    As to your observation that America lacks the centuries of literary tradition available to British poets, I'm not sure it actually works that way. Whitman excepted, any major American poet I can think of has claimed, and been formed and influenced by, English poetry. We have tended to claim its heritage by right of speaking the same (more or less) language. The example of Frost is particularly instructive. He wrote his greatest, most distinctively American blank-verse narratives while living in an English cottage and hob-nobbing with the Georgians, and it was in England that his poetry first received serious critical notice. Whitman, perhaps the most distinctively American poet of all time, received more serious attention in England during his lifetime than in America. Robinson, another very distinctively American poet, wrote a major cycle of Arthurian poems. Even the unmistakably native Jeffers looked to the British Isles. The poet that first fired his heart and turned him to poetry for the rest of life was Rossetti(!), and in the midst of constructing his tower of native boulders on his coastal property (a labor of many years), he reserved a place of honor in his tower for a stone from Yeats' tower, which he made a pilgrimmage to Ireland to obtain. American literature is its own distinctive branch, but it grows directly out the English trunk.

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  24. Thanks for all the thoughtful comments and refutations, which i expected by and large, but i believe your references to officer-class Ivy League guys, and looking to England for literary models does slightly support my not-well-expressed point: most of the soldiers were not educated to write (and maybe suspicious of those who did?), and America was still copying or not yet creating in its own idiom, as WCW would have said, compelled by non-US models.

    WWI was brief and not too consequential (that is, from the US perspective), most American soldiers i think not encountering the terrible conditions and death rate and (maybe) poetry-compelling experiences. (I recently bought a big stack of WWI sheet music pieces, and they were almost uniformly comical or jingoistic.)

    You list all the US poets who were in the War, but did they actually write (many) War poems? The named became recognized poets later, yes, but they wrote mostly drawing upon other "interests" back home rather than composing while in the War. As the well-educated, i bet most of them went back to academia or other "important" work, even considering the Midwestern contingent you mention. The United States went to war and came home quickly; only the early volunteers and such lived a long War (thus cummings' and maybe Hemingway's books).

    This has been a fine education for me, bringing back fondly remembered years in grad school 40 years ago, but i'm not really conversant with the names and ideas you folks are debating. So in over my head, i say, Over and out!

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  25. On the question of an American idiom, it's certainly not true that it was not yet developed by the time of the war, Williams' view of the matter notwithstanding. A distinctive American idiom may not have been widespread during the war, but Robinson, Frost and Masters had all produced their finest work by war's end. It is true they all looked to England for models, but from that basis fashioned bodies of work that were distinctly native.

    Doubtless you are correct that the enlisted Americans were not, on the whole, well-educated, and that college men were mostly to be found among the officers, but is that any different than what was found in England or any other combatant nation? Was the average enlisted Tommy better-educated than the average enlisted Doughboy? Perhaps he was (I suspect he was) and if that is your point I'll concede it. I do have quite a number of letters and memoirs written by American enlisted men and while they are mostly undistinguished, they are reasonably well-written. Most of the poetry in Stars & Stripes is by enlisted men, and there was a lot of it. Miserable stuff as poetry, but most of it displaying a decent command of grammar and metrics. Enlisted men were frequently suspicious of, even hostile to, officers, but seemed, by and large, to have respected the ability to write. The surviving body of written accounts of the war by enlisted men is sizeable.

    You are about half-right regarding the American poets I list. Of all of them, five seem to have made a conscious effort to produce a collection of war poetry: Seeger, Kilmer, MacLeish, Wilder & Wyeth, though only Wyeth finally produced a significant number of war poems. The others, as you suspect, wrote only a few war poems.

    And yes, for America it was a short war, with enduring national effects that were minor compared to England, Ireland, France or Germany. For Hemingway and Wyeth the war was prolonged, in a sense, as they returned to France to live after the war. In Seeger's case, he was practically a French citizen when war broke out. One cannot help but speculate on the nature of war poetry he might have produced had he survived into 1917 or '18.

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  26. At the end of the day I think that America failed to produce a “great” WWI because the men who went to war simply did not write that much poetry (four percent of the American population served in the war). Poetry was not a driving force in the US back then nor is it now for that matter. Yes, we had a tradition with Longfellow, Emerson, Poe, Melville, Whitman, Dickinson, Whittier. We studied English traditions IF we went to school at all, but poetry was not entrenched in our national soul. It was not part of our way of life. We were still a rough and tumble nation, considerably unschooled in many parts of the country, where survival might be the first order of the day. Children often didn’t attend school regularly because they had to work either on the farm or in the factories to help support their families. Among the working class there was a stigma about poetry being unmanly (and elite) but that did not stop those who had poetry in their blood from writing it, just as it did not stop those without an education from teaching themselves. I add here that one does not need a college degree to be a poet or a writer, artist, composer. One needs passion, talent, drive and discipline.
    While duration does not always equal intensity but I do believe that it is a factor in WWI. The ability to absorb intense experiences is highly individual. Six months of fighting in hell was certainly intense but could these men have taken it all in in the moment or were they too overwhelmed, too shattered, by all they had witnessed and suffered? When I was living in the moment of 9/11 in Washington, DC, my responses were quite different from what they were after I had had time to absorb what I had experienced, to stand away from it.
    In comments on Rupert Brooke’s war sonnets, Ivor Gurney observed: “Great poets, great creators are not much influenced by immediate events; those must sink in to the very foundations and be absorbed. Rupert Brooke soaked it in quickly and gave it out with great ease…but what of 1920?” (Letters, p. 29). Brooke’s sonnets spoke to people at a time when emotions were running high – his sonnets were just what the people needed. Brooke had captured a moment. His rendering of it has endured but his experience was not what Gurney, Owen and Sassoon would face. Dare I say that Brooke’s response was idealistic? But that does not make it any less valid.
    I find an interesting pattern in the literature of WWI that ties in with what Gurney observed. 1929 – eleven years after the Armistice -- saw the publication of Farewell to Arms, All Quiet on the Western Front, Her Privates We, Good-bye to All That. Wyeth’s sonnets appeared in 1928. These writers had by then digested the war -- had allowed “immediate events…to sink in to the very foundations and be absorbed”.

    Pam

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  27. Pam wrote: "... the (American) men who went to war simply did not write that much poetry ... Poetry was not a driving force in the US back then..." "Among the working class there was a stigma about poetry being unmanly (and elite)..."

    I think you would have a difficult time finding much evidence to support these generalizations. In the decades before WWI, as well as between the wars, every daily newspaper in the country had poetry, as well as nearly every magazine. I'm from the working classes myself, from a very small midwestern town, and personally knew many men -- all from the farming and working classes -- who had served in WWI. Few had much education -- only some had finished high school, and none to college -- but they all thought education was a good thing. At least a couple of them were very fond of poetry, and all of them encouraged me as a young man in my love of literature and books. They also expected that I should know how to work with my hands, work hard, be familiar with guns and know how to defend myself. But I never heard any discussion of "manliness" for its own sake. And I never once heard any reference to "the elite". No one in our community would have recognized anyone else as intrinsically superior, or as belonging a "higher class". Egalitarianism was the only acknowledged social creed. What set individuals apart was diligence, good sense and integrity, and these qualities were available to anyone. Neither of my grandparents finished high school. My grandfather was born in a one-room sod dugout on the Kansas frontier, and my grandmother in a one-room log cabin in the Appalachians. They raised seven children during the Depression in a four-room house with no electricity or running water. Cash was very scarce, but they had a case of books, and both of them read and memorized a good deal of poetry, and they believed nothing more important than education. One of their children earned a PhD and four of their grandchildren. Nor was this especially unusual. I was inside the houses of dozens of farming and laboring families from the WWI generation when I was a boy, and I remember seeing rifles and books in most of them. The commonest sort of book, after the Bible, was a thick anthology of quotations and poetry. Virtually every house had one. I know, because during any visit that would be the book I would curl up in a chair with. There were often framed poems hanging on the wall, and I would always stop and read them, so I trust my memory about this. Where I grew up in rural Illinois, there was almost no evidence of the fine arts, or higher culture of any sort -- I never knew anyone who had been to the theatre, and certainly not ballet or opera, or to an art gallery -- I didn't even know many old folks from that generation who read novels -- but poetry was very common. I've also seen (both where I grew up, and later as a used book dealer) countless scrap books from rural midwestern communities, many of them from the first third of the century -- and I have yet to find a single one which did not contain a great many poems clipped out of magazines and newspapers. My grandfather's scrap book, full of articles about livestock and crops, hunting and fishing stories, and sporting events, was also full of poems. Poems on every page, in fact. And if poetry was common in those years in the hard-bitten, no-nonsense German/Scandanavian farming communities of the upper midwest, then it had to be common everywhere in the country. I can speak with some authority about the ubiquity of poetry in the magazines and newspapers of the WWI era because I have spent decades as a book dealer and historian acquiring and reading them.

    I also have some interest in the "cult of manliness" in America from the Teddy Roosevelt era. Even there I really don't find a bias against poetry. Lady's palour poetry, maybe, but not poetry per se. Teddy Roosevelt had a very high esteem for poetry, and even played an active part in helping to bring EA Robinson out of obscurity.

    What I will agree to is that the importance of poetry has all but died out in the US since WWII. It has long since disappeared from newspapers and magazines alike. It's become completely marginalized, only thriving in the insulated little worlds of college MFA programs.

    I agree with your observation about a span of ten years or so being necessary for the writing of significant literature after the trauma of war. It wasn't only the literature that appeared in significant amounts during the late 20s and early 30s, but the memoirs as well.

    The key question you raise, in my view, as well as Ed, is whether six months of heavy fighting was enough to produce great literature. Well, the greatest work of American literature to come out of WWI was -- in the view of almost everyone -- A Farewell to Arms -- and the entire sum of Hemingway's experience on the front line (as a non-combatant, and on the Italian Front at that) was about half an hour.

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  28. well, bj, you certainly have the experience to back up your well-argued position. but i still wonder: in all that post-Victorian/Edwardian reading and admiration and scrapbook-clipping of poetry that you found in the Midwest, and cite as evidence for the rest of the nation (logicians might quarrel), how many of those admirers were also WRITING poetry?

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  29. If we are talking serious poetry, the kind that ultimately qualifies for greatness, I do not believe that American soldiers in WWI wrote that much poetry, be they ordinary soldiers or officers who came equipped with college educations and were already writing poetry. The spark to write verse might have been there but nothing seemed to ignite it into a burning flame the way it did with Owen, Sassoon, Rosenberg, Gurney.

    bj rightly points out that people in the US did like and enjoy poetry back then (and well before too), that newspapers and magazines did publish it (the Christian Science Monitor was the first publication in the US to publish Gurney’s poetry), that it did have its champions, that people bought it, read it and memorized it. No argument there. People did collect poems in scrapbooks. I have my grandmother’s poetry scrapbook (she was a contemporary of Gurney’s), and I have several others from family members of that generation. By and large most of the poems are humorous, feel good poems, or simple, homey poems about family, country, God and Jesus. Of course I’ve found Longfellow and others of his calibre tucked in among them. But as Ed asks, how many people who admired poetry were writing it themselves?

    I would like to suggest that everyone who has taken part in this discussion might want to read two important pieces by American poet-critic Dana Gioia: his controversial 1991 essay “Can Poetry Matter?” (The Atlantic Monthly) and his subsequent commentary “Hearing from Poetry's Audience” in the summer 1992 issue of also the Atlantic. Both are available online. I think that Dana’s insight, knowledge and experiences will address a lot of what we have been discussing in this lively exchange. I credit him with playing a major role in bringing poetry back to the people thanks to “Can Poetry Matter?” and other work he has done since. Poetry is alive and well in America today and these are exciting times here for poetry, something of a renaissance.

    Just one quick observation. There is experience and there is imagination – novelists are blessed with the latter and can use it to imagine situations beyond their experience. Hemingway had his brief experience with war but he had imagination, was a keen observer, listener and story teller so he combined these elements to create A Farewell to Arms.

    Pam

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  30. I appreciate the notice you gave to my anthology, American War Poetry, and the nice things that you said about it in your discussion on your War Poetry blog. But I would like to make a few additional observations on the points you raised.

    In your blog, you argue with confident absolutism that citing a developmental arc to American War Poetry misunderstands the nature of poetry: “Poetry is not a branch of science, it does not progress.” And here is the full sentence with its two apparently bothersome parts that you quote: "While the birth of a national identity is documented in early poems, the anthology also conveys the growing sophistication of a uniquely American style." I’ll talk about that uniquely American style, a characterization you question, in a moment. But first, to claim a growing sophistication for a genre of a national poetry over a period of a few centuries does not seem unreasonable to me: it is not quite the same thing as a bald claim of progress. When critics remark that Milton advanced the properties and possibilities of the sonnet when he turned the subject away from the sonnet‘s customary celebration of love to the angry vengeance of “On the Late Massacre in Piedmont” are they mistaken? When yet other critics see Shakespearian drama as the culmination of a form introduced by Kydd, Lyly, and Massinger are they incorrect to speak of precursors and a line of development? To note with approval a flowering of form in the hands of Shakespeare? When Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice, is it wrong to think that the depiction of Shakespeare’s Shylock doesn’t show a kind of progress over the ethical imagination of Christopher Marlowe in The Jew of Malta? To be born in the 21st century does not grant a poet a greater literary power over one born in the 16th. Obviously, sheer precedence in years confers nothing; but some ideas and insights bespeak what we can refer to as progress, as the development of technique or of a greater moral penetration, which we can think of as an extension of our ability to write the human.

    To get a bit more modern, as your blog respondents do, when women poets push back the boundaries of subject in the poetry of World War I and II to include the impact of war on the home front, is it entirely wrong to think that at the very least, they helped to broaden the scope of a genre? And doesn’t that broadening imply an advance, a progress of a sort? By adding the feelings and experience of a half of the human race generally not represented in the genre of war poetry, didn’t women alter the content of thinking about war to some degree? And doesn’t this inclusion represent a gain in anthology-making that for the moment we could even consider a kind of ethical righting? Or progress in our assumptions about a genre? In my anthology I included Julia Ward Howe’s tub-thumper, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” so I won’t make the essentialist mistake of saying that women are innate pacifists. I know they aren’t. But I also included a meditation in an Allied cemetery by Eleanor Ross Taylor called “Twenty Years After,” which has the mourner saying, “Oh the acres of undistinguished/ Crosses make me sick. […] Your nothing grave…” As I think about the bitter grief and revulsion towards the male war establishment that the maternal speaker of this poem expresses, I cannot think of a poem by a male poet that so rejects war and its after-effects with the same wrathful power: John Ciardi’s “A Box Comes Home” doesn’t do it; not even Alan Dugan’s “Portrait from the Infantry” speaks with this sense of furious loss and devastating waste. Is it that Eleanor Ross Taylor’s understanding of her speaker, an understanding which refuses the sort of sentimentalized mom that Stephen Crane projected in “War Is Kind,” does come about because of the different experience that women have of war? Responding to these differences, feeling an obligation to do so, also seems to be a part of what used to be too easily dismissed as progressive thinking.

    While we may say that arguments as to whether poets like Christopher Marlowe or Willie the Shake are better--or more advanced--or more progressive--do tend to be on the silly side, there is a place where the judgments “better” and “deeper” and “more advanced” and “more sophisticated” tend to slide into arguments about literary progress, as ethical arguments do creep in and corrupt our characterizations. As well as our favorite binaries: such as, only material science can claim progress, the arts are about timeless values.

    My last observation deals with your denying the existence of an American style--by definition uniquely American--because the notion risks belittling an American individualism recognizable only in a variety of styles. Maybe we could come to agreement by simply saying that American style is so formally many-stranded, that to declare American poetry a uniquely anti-traditionalist tradition would be a forgivable liberty. After all we’ve had several generations now of sounding our barbaric yawps, from Whitman to Ginsberg, and those yawps tend to sound fairly un-English. But while the cadences and un-metered line breaks of much twentieth and twenty-first century American poetry don’t particularly follow English sounds or practice, they do obey the English Romantic ideas put into play by Wordsworth and Coleridge, that poetry should follow the language of ordinary men.

    American poets, and American war poets as well, did move from fairly complete dependence on European models to something resembling a more native style, which over the course of the centuries diverged more and more from English styles and preoccupations. After more than six centuries of poetry, moving from Chaucer to Shakespeare to Tennyson and then on through Hardy, Kipling, Auden and Larkin, English readers may more easily spot the main contours of an English tradition: they’ve got a lot more to look at.

    I like what you say about the influence of Whitman on Gurney or Rosenberg; I’d love to read such a paper. And while it’s clear that W.H. Auden laid a heavier hand on Randall Jarrell than Walt Whitman ever did, I’d also say that the misnamed confessional poetry of Plath, Lowell, Sexton and Berryman pretty much infiltrated English contemporary writing--whether for good or ill. Again, poetry in English, while it retains its insular or continental inflection as Australian or Welsh or American or British, it can still be seen that the best poets from anywhere steal from the best poets everywhere, as best they can.

    To end an overly long communication, let me return to another judgment of yours. The British, you say, have constituted a tradition of war poetry, “not a simple tradition, not even a linear tradition, but a tradition perhaps in the sense of a shared awareness, community or engagement.” You cite Keith Douglas copying Horace via Owen onto a photo of himself. Your next paragraph expresses doubt as to whether the same continuity of tradition can be found in American war poetry. I think your approach understates discontinuities in English war poetry over centuries; also, even given the reaches of influence, and the overlaps in experience as well as the existence of stark differences in national history, I believe we can find similar continuities in American war poetry. I try to show them in my anthology. Perhaps a more useful language, one for the moment setting aside both “tradition” and “national style,” can be found: poetry, like wine, develops from a specific terroir--a time, a place, a climate--and that grower’s term might be more precise when speaking of poetry.

    While American poets of the Vietnam War occasionally acknowledged Owen and Sassoon, there was a radical difference in how they saw and experienced their war, as radical a difference, I would say, as that felt by Sassoon and Owen for Tennyson’s or Kipling’s ideas of war. But the difference in American poetry can be expressed as a large advance in the ideologies implied by war poems, as large an advance in thinking about war as Owen and Sassoon represented over Wordsworth, Tennyson, and yes, even Yeats. Bluntly, Owen and Sassoon spoke to the victimization of one generation by another, in the horrors of trench warfare; “the pity of war.” But the tormented American poets of the Vietnam War could not find solace in their victimization, and in their time and place of war were forced to acknowledge the bitter conflict of being both victims and perpetrators of something more often ignoble and shaming than glorious. Their feelings are of course not new: George Gascoigne wrote them into The Fruites of Warre in the 16th century. And yet, remember the envy that writers like Christopher Isherwood expressed for the noble sufferers in the trenches? That feeling lingers in a kind of combat gnosticism, in the mythologies of brotherhood still to be found in war poetry. Progress? Dubious. But sharp changes in mood and emphasis definitely.

    Finally: “The best poets in the book…are what we might term occasional war poets.” Come on! If Wilfred Owen or Isaac Rosenberg or Keith Douglas had been allowed more years, they like Roy Fuller or W.H. Auden would have been something in addition to war poets. Robert Graves was; only Siegfried Sassoon never exceeded or went beyond his wartime achievement. But best, best--I find that word as a selection criterion inadequate. In both England and America, poets like Sassoon or Henry Reed, or Lincoln Kirstein or John Ciardi wrote memorable and surprising poetry about war, and about little else: and it is no embarrassment to honor their effort. On the other hand, poets like Anthony Hecht and Richard Wilbur say that their serious lives as poets began with the urgent need to write about the war engulfing them.

    But are you, Tim Kendall, trying to say something else? That to be a great war poet is not necessarily to be a great poet? That the genre itself calls for a special classification that has a uniquely extra-literary component?

    Lorrie Goldensohn
    Goldensohn@aol.com

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  31. Thanks Lorrie. You raise some good and interesting points, and I can't do justice to all of them, but I'd like to pick up on several things. First, the issue of 'progress' in literature. I would argue that your reference to Shakespeare and Milton undermines your own argument. Of course, Shakespeare and Milton are more sophisticated than their predecessors; but they are also more sophisticated than their successors. In terms of American war poetry, has there been a modern poet more sophisticated than Whitman? (Or, for that matter, Homer?)

    I strongly disagree with the view that 'to be a great war poet is not necessarily to be a great poet'. I was making a specific point about American war poetry. We can readily list a number of English war poets who are great only because of their writing about war. How many Americans fall into that category? So, yes, I stand by the claim that the best poets in your war anthology are 'occasional war poets' --- Emerson, Whitman, Frost, Stevens, Bishop, Moore, etc. Take away their war poetry and their reputation is almost undamaged. Take away Owen's, or Sassoon's, or Douglas's, and you take away almost the entire achievement.

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  32. Lorrie Goldensohn27 April 2009 13:28

    We were talking about “progress.” “Sophisticated” is a game-changer. And there IS a lot of, say, Cummings or Alan Dugan or Doug Anderson on the garrison state, the unarmed citizen and the soldier to which Whitman never gave a thought, for quite defensible historical reasons. (Remember, Whitman not only wrote “The Wound-Dresser” but also “Lo, Victress on the Peaks.”) To return to what I said, there are lines of development that expand the use of the sonnet, the play, the stanza, or the subjects of lilies and war: and these are questions that haven‘t to do with greatness.

    But let’s not revisit this endlessly: it seems to me we‘re getting at something more important when wrestling with what makes British war poetry British, American war poetry American. And here I still don’t much feature the use of “occasional” as the divider. Isn’t it rather that while both national poetries borrow back and forth from each other at different times in different ways, that there are quite dissimilar attitudes towards war, authority, and soldiering itself? Michael Howard, in an essay on war literature, thought that the English accept traditions of suffering and sacrifice, of loyalty to institutions like the crown or the regiment, that are not embedded in the more skeptical American character. Whatever the difference, poets like Keith Douglas went hell-bent to the battle, while even volunteers like Howard Nemerov and Randall Jarrell thought twice about suicidal assignments; they lived, Douglas did not. And so he remains a war poet, even though a poem like “Cairo Jag” could as well have been written by a journalist as a soldier.

    To return for just a moment to that idea of the occasional war poet, does that mean that on occasion an American turns to war, in poem or in fact, but that on some level an English poet more fatalistically accepts in her or his bones its ongoing necessity? Is a war poet simply someone who wrote more and better about war than anything else? And naturally, wouldn’t such a list of war poets exclude long-lived survivors, who, with the exception of Sassoon, eventually get on to other equally important subjects? It is intriguing that Howard Nemerov, late in life, returned to war as a dominant subject, and so apparently did John Ciardi.

    From here, one might move to what makes war poetry a sub-genre different from all others--and that is a question of great interest.

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