War Poet.ca - A CFAP Project by Suzanne Steele

a little light reading

on the bedside table, the kitchen table, the desk, the coffee table…

Modern English War Poetry by Tim Kendall
War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, by Chris Hedges
On Infantry, by John A. English
Once a Patricia, by C. Sydney Frost
And No Birds Sang, by Farley Mowatt

I’ve read Kendall’s 4 page introduction to his critical study of modern english war poetry (20th century) a few times already and have to go back a few more times at least to chew on some of his observations, his quotes…

W.H. Auden…in an essay on war poetry, ‘the serious poetry of any given moment is always at odds with the conscious ideas of the majority’. The truths told by war poets continue to disconcert…

from my modest foray into the world of war poetry, I absolutely agree with that statement…

and the following is so interesting…

War poets cannot wholly regret even the most appalling experiences, as they transform violence, death, atrocity, into the pleasing formal aesthetics of art. Poetry, we never cease to be told, makes nothing happen; but war makes poetry happen.

and to avoid the danger of quoting the entire introduction to Modern English War Poetry, I’ll leave it with this last quote…

Wainwright also makes a point about the reception of war poetry, which has often been marginalized by critics suspicious of its readership… The history of the twentieth century has demonstrated how generally valid the war poet’s experiences continue to be…

And while Tim Kendall’s book is scholarly and focused on English war poetry (though he does mention MacRae’s In Flanders Fields), I think it’s a worthwhile read if one is lucky enough to locate a copy.

I’ve read War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning rather quickly. A fellow war artist recommended it. The author is a former war correspondent and he examines humanity’s love affair with war. He tells stories of the drug of war, the addiction to excitement, the stripping down of life to its most basic and purposeful… and indeed, I’ve heard enough people say how they feel so alive in a war zone. I remember someone told me about a friend who had grown up as a teenager in a war zone and who then moved to Germany as a refugee and found it very tough getting used to the dullness of ordinary life.

On Infantry is a primer lent to me by a retired CO of an infantry battalion (thanks Col.). It astonishes me that I’ve come this far in life, have read thousands and thousands of books, have two university degrees, etc. etc., and didn’t realize there is a whole body of literature out there that exists – military. I pore over the little diagrams of Japanese rifle Coys. and U.S. platoons and Panzer formations, and though generally mystified, am aware of the history of the discipline that easily traces its roots to Roman history and probably much earlier.

The CO (ret’d) also lent me Once a Patricia and No Birds Sang. Once a Patricia is an autobiography of a PPCLI who fought in the WWII Italian campaign and looks very interesting. As with the Kendall book, I’m taken with the Preface to Once a Patricia and the author’s reference to the D-Day Dodgers slur. Something I had never heard of before I had coffee with the Col. last week. I’m looking forward to reading this very much.

The Farley Mowatt book, And No Birds Sang, which I read awhile ago, is his account of fighting up the boot of Italy in WWII. The Col. told me that Mowatt’s book was required reading for all his officers as Mowatt’s ability to describe the inside of an infantryman’s mind is spot on in his opinion… particularly Mowatt’s depiction of battle fatigue and stress, the creeping PTSD as it would now be called.
I’m going to reread it.

in all my spare time

2 Comments (Closed)


Pretty damned good list so far.

Realizing you can’t read everything you might want to, might I suggest three more books?

1) “Starship Troopers” by Robert Heinlein (http://xrl.us/bekpcj)
military philosophy from state all the way down to individual soldier

2 & 3) David Grossman’s readable, accessible works on the psychology and physiology of military training, combat and post-combat recovery “On Killing” (http://xrl.us/bekpcm) and “On Combat” (http://xrl.us/bekpco)

Also looking forward to more on what you take away from your reading mixed in with your experiences. Keep up the good work!

Mar 18 2009 · 04:40

Alex VanderWoude

The Auden quote (“the serious poetry of any given moment is always at odds with the conscious ideas of the majority”) stuck in my head for some reason. After thinking about it a little I believe this should be taken as a warning, but not in the obvious way. The surface warning is that a poet may find themselves reviled by society, which admittedly is not a trival thing. But the deeper pitfall is that a poet, eager to be perceived as “serious”, may choose a position that is “at odds with the conscious ideas of the majority” simply because it is contrarian, not because she really feels that way. I hope you have seen this trap, and are thus fore-warned.

Ditto on the Heinlein recommendation. Another piece I recommend is Bill Whittle’s “Tribes”, which talks about the military’s relationship to society in more general, but arguably deeper, terms.

Mar 20 2009 · 13:06

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