ENGLISH 685:002  /  SUSAN TICHY  /  FALL 2005



First anthology First paper Tips  /  Second paper   /  Final project 

Grading criteria  /  Sample essays


Create a mini-anthology of 10 poems written by "soldier poets" of World Wars I & II. Design your selection as one of following:
  • a general introduction to this genre, such as might be used in a university course on war litearture or Engish-language poetry of the 20th c., or in a high school classroom
  • an introduction to one particular aspect of the poetry, such as might be used in a course on a certain topic (e.g. satire, gender, poetic form, pastoral, poetry of trauma) or in a special setting (e.g. a veterans' hospital, a youth program)
Reproduce the poems. This has one main purpose: to save my time and sanity when grading. However, if the poems are not too long, I highly recommend that you type them out, rather than photocopy or scan: there's nothing like typing to reveal details of word, line, punctuation, and meaning in a poem you thought you knew.

an introduction of 750-1000 words in which you define the purpose of your anthology and explain why each poem was chosen. Depending on your selection, you may also want to explain why certain other poems were NOT included. This might be called for if you are not including major poems.
  • "Define the purpose of your anthology" means you must make a specific statement about your selection, even if your model course is a general one. For example, if your model is a course on war literature, your introduction should state what specific aspects of war and/or war literature the selected poems embody. General statements like "I think this poem represents a soldier's experience," are too general to be adequate.

  • Your introduction should reflect your most mature thinking and demonstrate your ability to apply critical concepts and terminology, and to articulate cultural and aesthetic perceptions. “I really like this poem and I think students will like it too” may be a true statement but it is not an adequate statement in this context.
  • Do not write an introduction aimed at the audience for your model course (e.g. high school students, veterans at a homeless shelter). No matter whom your model course is designed for, your introduction must assume an audience of your peers and your instructor.
  • I have never assigned this in a War Poetry course before, so I can't provide directly relevant examples. Here are examples of excellent anthology introductions (along with some papers) from another course. You will note that though the intros are short, they are highly specific and detailed.

  • May you exceed 1000 words? No, you may not. Pare down your prose, make each sentence count. Dispense with unnecessary intros and conclusions. Don't repeat yourself. See "general advice" below. INCLUDE A WORD-COUNT.


This paper provides practice in comprehending, synthesizing, and becoming part of an ongoing critical conversation. To this end, you are required to develop a thesis about a small slice of material (typically 2-4 poems) in dialogue with the critical ideas we have read and/or discussed in class. You may, for example:
  • extend (or critique) an existing critical argument by applying it to new texts;
  • synthesize two critical arguments by applying them to a single text or set of texts;
  • develop an orginal thesis and apply it to appropriate text(s).
Whatever your thesis, your paper must discuss the poems as responses to war and as poetic texts. For example, a paper on Randall Jarrell as an ironist, without particular reference to war, would not do, nor would a paper on pastoralism that made no arguement about or reference to poetic form or genre.

For this short paper, most of you will not want to venture much beyond the course readings for sources and for critical angles to explore; but of course you may if you wish to. My only requirement is that you bring any "outside" angle into dialogue with some of the critical and formal ideas we've been reading and discussing.
  • Length: 1750-2500 words. Include a word count. Do not include the words in poems or other texts you quote at length. If you quote a line in the middle of a sentence, count it; if you quote two stanzas of a poem or a paragraph from an essay, leave it out. The point of this rule is to be sure your paper is of an adequate length to develop your ideas, not just filled up with quoted material. Bad papers are often stuffed in this way, so that word or page count appears to conform to the assignment but in fact very little is said.   
  • It is greatly to your advantage to state your thesis clearly.

  • <>Whatever critical angle(s) you choose, you must clearly define your project. Be brief, but be clear. At the bottom of this page I've posted  a few of the questions I wrote for a mid-term take-home exam in a previous version of this course. While not precisely analagous to an original paper with thesis and argument, they should give you an idea of what level of inquiry I am looking for. If you are feeling shaky about formulating a thesis, choose one of these questions and write out possible, specific theses one might develop in response to the general question I have posed. Along with the questions, you'll find a link to three excellent essays I received in response to this exam.

  • Be sure to do more than point to the existence of certain motifs in the poems, and be sure to do more that repeat our class discussion. When choosing poems to discuss, don’t choose a poem our readings have already discussed in the same context. For example, don’t discuss pastoral imagery in a poem Fussell used as one of his prime examples of pastoral imagery
  • What you may not do is simply present an unframed close reading of a couple of poems, as if you and your audience are known to be in perfect agreement about what “a reading” should be looking for. I have received papers in the past that did just that--launching into a “close reading” without ever (at the start or the end or anywhere) saying what this reading was supposed to demonstrate. Remember: the purpose of this paper is not simply to mirror back your unsituated response to a text.

  • <>Whatever your topic, direct your paper toward a reader who is at least as sophisticated (re: poetry) as yourself. Don’t waste space explaining, for example, what a metaphor is. This would be relevant only if you were contesting “metaphor” as a category or comparing metaphor with some other concept or trope.
  • Do define your terms, however.
  • When you refer to any poem or idea be concise and specific -- e.g. "Fussell links the prevalence of dawn and dusk imagery to Romantic concepts of the Sublime,” not "Fussell discusses the use of images of dawn.”

  • When you quote from or cite a poem, be sure to say how the example supports your argument. Don’t assume it is self-evident. .


Depending on which poems you choose to discuss, this paper may closely resemble the first one in structure. However, if you choose a long work such as Trilogy or "Pythagorean Silence," you may wish to discuss only that single piece.

Length: 2500-3500 words. Include a word count.

Otherwise, all guidelines for the first paper apply.


Option 1:

Anthology of poems responding to the Vietnam War, with critical introduction: guidelines as for the first anthology; and

Short paper on poetry responding to the Vietnam War: guidelines as for the first paper.

Option 2:

A longer anthology (approximately 20 poems, depending on the length of the poems and nature of your project) on a topic of your choice, with 2500 word introduction. In this expanded anthology your introduction will constitute a short paper and must make a cogent argument about the purpose and selection of the anthology.

Option 3:

A 3000-4000 word paper on a topic of your choice. This paper may focus exclusively on poetry responding to the Vietnam War, or may draw on a range of texts from throughout the semester. General guidelines from the first short paper apply, though here you will have space for a somewhat more developed argument.

If you wish to develop an earlier paper (or your first anthology intro) into an expanded topic, you may, but I recommend you discuss the topic with me first, to be sure you are developing enough new material to satisfy the requirement.

Option 4:

Rare, but sometimes possible: a set of poems or other creative response to what we've read, accompanied by an introduction placing your work in relation to critical frameworks of the course.


An “A” paper

  • Has a specific, complex and/or striking thesis, developed w/o digression thru the paper; demonstrates an ability to understand, synthesize, and apply ideas from the reading, including the criticism, in a complex and nuanced argument grounded in the primary texts.
  • Prose is a step up from merely “clear”: it is adequate to the expression of complex ideas and relationships, and has few surface errors.
  • Uses literary terms accurately and addresses poetic form and/or genre in a meaningful way, connecting form or genre to meaning and integrating formal insights into the general discussion of the poem.
  • Citations are complete and in MLA format.

A “B” paper

  • Has a specific thesis, thesis generally developed through the course of the paper, consistently good interpretation of text, references the critical ideas of the course and demonstrates a good basic understanding of the issues and ideas we have been discussing. Argument is accurate and plausible but may lack nuance and complexity in the application of ideas to the poems.
  • Prose is clear and competent, with no more than minor mechanical problems.
  • Uses literary terms accurately and discusses form; treatment of form or genre may be somewhat elementary or not well integrated with the rest of the argument.
  • Citations are in MLA format with few errors or omissions.
<>A “C” paper has failed to reach the standards outlined above. It may discuss the poems without reference to the critical ideas of the course. It may record personal responses and general attitudes of the student, rather than closely discussing the poems. It may show an unacceptable level of error in grammar, construction, usage, and spelling. It may be excessively redundant. It may show an ignorance of literary terms. It may lack citations or rely on poor sources.

Exam Questions from a previous War Poetry course. This was a take-home, open-book exam, for which students wrote two essays.
 Three essays written for this exam.

<>1) Jeffrey Walsh has written: “Every war has two histories in literature: it has its own internal history in which literature may record a particularity of circumstance; and it has another history, its place in that wider history of events and nations that transcends the immediate and interprets situations more comprehensively in time. The most effective war writers are generally those who manage to live long enough after their military service to unite both kinds of history.” One could argue, of course, that some poets who did not live long at all were able to combine the portrayal of war experience with awareness of wider historical and political contexts.   <>

Choose two poems from our reading and discuss how they exemplify this combination of perspectives. You may also wish to state (briefly) if you agree more with Silkin, for whom political and historical contingency impinges on the poetic, or with others, such as Featherstone, for whom historical, social and political contexts are a primary determining force in literature, and for whom even Owen’s famous “pity” is political.

2) The philosopher Herbert Marcuse has written that language in war creates the enemy “not as he really is but rather as he must be in order to perform his function for the Establishment.” We might well modify that to say that language in war poetry creates the enemy “as he must be” to perform some function for the poet. Choose a poem from each war and discuss how language constructs the enemy in each. You may wish to include a discussion of form in this question.


3) Briefly summarize Allyson Booth’s discussion of the portrayal and the function of corpses in the literature of World War I. Discuss the portrayal of corpses and/or the absence of corpses in two poems from our reading. You may choose two poems from World War I or one from each war. Be sure to develop an argument about these particular poems – don’t just point to examples that conform to Booth’s analyses.


4) Historians say that in World War I the privileged/educated classes encountered for the first time, up close and personal, the barbaric consequences of the Industrial Revolution and modern technology – developments they had previously experienced primarily as advances in personal convenience. By World War II, critics say, this new destructive vision of mechanization had become a familiar trope for the modern world in general, so poets of the new war witnessed the spectacle of techno war with a mature cynicism and/or a mature philosophical need to confront its implications. Walsh’s phrases “the machine and God” and “aesthetics after war” point to these conflicts. Other critics have written extensively about the pervading image of bombers in World War II poetry.

Choose one poem from each war, or two poems from the second war, and develop a thesis about the presentation of mechanization and technology in relation to the the "mechanization" of poetic form. For example, does poetic craft falter under the power of weapons? contain it? extol it? mimic it? make it ironic?


5) Featherstone’s discussion of gender spends a lot of time on masculinity as it is constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed by war poems. He is particularly interested in the utopian recasting of masculine values, whether homoerotic or otherwise, in poems that are ostensibly “anti-war.” Briefly summarize Featherstone’s development of these ideas, then choose one poem from each war and discuss their constructions of manhood and masculinity. Be sure to develop a specific thesis about the poems you have chosen.

<>6) At the start of Out of Battle: The Poetry of the Great War, Jon Silkin writes that “…the value of politics is that they force clear-cut decisions upon us, just as the value of poetry may be that it permits us to qualify our allegiances.” Choose a poem we have read and discuss it not as an illustration of one of these impulses, but as a point of intersection between them. Be sure to include some discussion of the poem’s form or its participation in a recognized genre. Do certain formal tactics in the poem sharpen its politics or “qualify our allegiances,” for example? Or does its relationship to other poems of a given genre underwrite or modify its politics? (You may here define “genre” as something as large as pastoralism or as narrow as “war poems about enemy corpses.” Just be sure to make clear what “genre” you mean.) Be sure to develop a specific thesis about the poem.


7) Two common themes of war poetry are the suffering of soldiers and the evil done by soldiers. Perhaps the most memorable poems are those that take the soldier as both victim and agent of suffering, both murdered and a murderer. Choose one poem from our reading and discuss its handling of these issues. Be sure to include some discussion of form. Does meter or rhythm contribute to tone, for example, in a way that leads us to judge or to withhold judgment? Or does rhyme, perhaps, link and divide images in our minds?


<>8) Paul Fussell has written: “Since war takes place outdoors and always within nature, its symbolic status is that of the ultimate anti-pastoral.” In these terms, war is demonic, and its description always brings to mind, either implicitly or explicitly, the “model world” of pastoral harmony. Such ironies of contrast are widely evident in First World War poetry. Choose one particular motif developed by Fussell, (e.g. dawn, the sky, birdsong, moments of pastoral oasis within war, the influence of Ruskin, red flowers, etc.). Briefly summarize Fussell’s argument about the uses of this motif, then discuss its use in one or more poems from a later war.


9) Allyson Booth has written: “The military trains its officers to interpret maps one way, that is, ‘in exactly the same way as every other officer will interpret’ them. Modernist literary works train their readers to interpret in just the opposite way, cultivating an awareness of and an appreciation for multiple points of view. Puns and patterns in a book like Finnegans Wake, for example, will not only emerge differently for different readers, but will articulate and modify one another in the course of one and then repeated readings, as memory preserves, erodes, and distorts the accumulated networks of interconnection.”

Choose a modernist poem of World War I (or passage from a long poem) and discuss the means by which it constructs multiple meanings and points of view. Is this poem (or passage) “merely” descriptive of war, or does it in some way engage with the kind of linear and uniform interpretation of events alluded to by Booth? Be sure to include some discussion of formal elements in the poem. Are conceptually disparate elements linked by sound, for example, or by some form of grammatical parallelism? Do rhythms juxtapose or unify? Be sure to isolate a specific thesis about the work you are discussion.


10) Jon Silkin has pointed out that Rosenberg’s poems begin at an earlier point in experience than Owen’s, which are structured as recollection. (In class I said this makes Rosenberg “more modern” than Owen.) When we reach World War II, we encounter a group of American poets (e.g. Jarrell, Nemerov, Wilbur, Simpson, Eberhart, Ciardi, and both Shapiros; Dugan might fit except for his avoidance of metaphor) strongly in favor of recollection and of the unifying, intellectualizing functions of received form, metaphoric structure, consistent tone, and a restrained speaker. Walsh refers to these values when he characterizes the war poets as adopting “an ironic and slightly self-mocking tone,” “verse forms and linguistic expression communicative of detached observation,” and “a propensity towards cultural diagnosis.”

Choose one American poem of the second war and discuss how the poet uses “raw experience” as one source for the poem while creating an aesthetic structure that distances both poet and reader from “too much” direct emotional contact with that experience. What tactics prevent “too much” reaction to war’s barbarity? Be sure to  include some discussion of form.