Academic journal article Military Review

Poets of World War II

Academic journal article Military Review

Poets of World War II

Article excerpt

POETS OF WORLD WAR II, Harvey Shapiro, ed., The Library of America, New York, 2003, 304 pages, $20.00.

Was it so hard, Achilles, So very hard to die-Patrick Shaw-Stewart, Gallipoli, 1917.

This anthology is one in a series published by the American Poets Project, an effort intended to produce a first-time "compact national library of poets." Poets of World War II consists of 120 poems by 62 poets, 42 from veterans, making it similar in concept to kindred anthologies such as Jan Barry's Peace is Our Profession: Poems and Passages of War Protest (East River Anthology, Perkasie, PA. 1981). The book includes works by conscientious objectors and other war-resisters such as Robinson Jeffers and William Stafford. The contributors, all credible objectivists and imagists, are "followers of the formal school of Southern verse and dense rhetoric."

Editor Harvey Shapiro, an Ivy League-educated poet and a veteran of 35 combat missions as a B-17 tail gunner, sets a solemn tone, stating that although the Allies are victorious, "the sight of dead bodies is scattered among these poems the way bodies were washed up on the shores of invasion beaches." His purpose for compiling the anthology was "to demonstrate that the American poets of the war produced a body of work that has not yet been recognized for its clean and powerful eloquence."

Shapiro gathered some of the best poetry of the war, including infrequently published but no less majestically poignant, air war poems by John Ciardi, James Dickey, Richard Eberhart, Randall Jarrell, Howard Nemerov, and Richard Hugo (although his opus magnum, "Mission to Linz," does not appear here). Some of the best poems of ground combat are by Louis Simpson, George Oppen, and Anthony Hecht. …

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