War Poet.ca - A CFAP Project by Suzanne Steele

the art of witness

oh how interesting, the author Tim Kendall’s first chapter in Modern English War Poetry*, is titled, Thomas Hardy’s Witness. so many ideas to think through, to mull over. here are a few that resonate with me:

[Hardy’s] war poems were, emphatically, eyewitness accounts, claiming an authority denied to absentees… This emphasis on experience over hearsay and propaganda is affirmed many times by war poets throughout the following century.

Kendall referring to Irish poet Seamus Heaney’s statement on war poetry,

his reference to the ‘truth-telling urge’ recognizes the inspiration of the testimonial poet, who will typically risk hardship and death to speak the truth to power. (please do not read this mom)

interestingly, Hardy published his war poems within a few days of writing them – such was the speed and interest of the press in those days… a publishing cycle now, if one is lucky, can be anywhere from 2-5 years… the main reason I set up this website was because the great Scottish-Canadian poet, Tom Bryan, told me that I had to get my stuff out there “while Canadians are being injured and killed over there”. and yes, it’s probably foolish to put unedited and often poorly-written (and purposely unpunctuated) stuff online, but I feel the temporal nature of war, warrants this. I’ll take my lumps. I’m rather used to it anyway…

over the years, Hardy denigrated his Boer war poetry as mere ‘scraps of verse…of no profundity’

yup, that’s what I say about my own work. how can it be otherwise? my hands are as dirty as the soldiers’ who are digging in… they’re not building pyramids, I’m not writing gospel… they follow orders, I listen to the story, hope to catch just a tiny bit of it…

and Hardy’s challenge, as with all war artists who see their work as witness, is to not betray that witness by laying emotional IEDs (my words)… I quote Tim Kendall, to provoke a desired emotional response, he [Hardy] counteracts one kind of insidious war propaganda with another.

fascinating, and these quotes come from just the first few pages of the book…

* source: Kendall, Tim, Modern English War Poetry, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.)


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The page you're reading contains a single diary entry entitled the art of witness. It was posted here on March 18, 2009.

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