OF POEMS BY SOLDIER POETS
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
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 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
Write an introduction of 750-1000
words in which you define the purpose of your
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.
introduction should reflect your most mature thinking and
demonstrate your ability to apply critical concepts and terminology,
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
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
- 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
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
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,
particular reference to war, would not do, nor would a paper on
pastoralism that made no arguement about or reference to poetic form or
- 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
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.
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
- Be sure to do more
than point to the existence of certain motifs in the poems, and be sure
more that repeat our class discussion. When choosing poems to discuss,
choose a poem our readings have already discussed in the same context.
example, don’t discuss pastoral imagery in a poem Fussell used as one
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
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
you quote from or cite a poem, be
sure to say how the example supports your argument. Don’t assume it is
SHORT PAPER ON WAR & MODERNISM or WAR
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 “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
and general attitudes of the student, rather than closely discussing
It may show an unacceptable level of error in grammar, construction,
spelling. It may be excessively redundant. It may show an ignorance of
terms. It may lack citations or rely on poor sources. >
- 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
- Citations are in
MLA format with few errors or omissions.
Exam Questions from a previous War Poetry course.
This was a take-home, open-book exam, for which students wrote two
<>1) Jeffrey Walsh has
“Every war has two histories in literature: it has its own internal
which literature may record a particularity of circumstance; and it has
history, its place in that wider history of events and nations that
the immediate and interprets situations more comprehensively in time.
effective war writers are generally those who manage to live long
their military service to unite both kinds of history.” One could
course, that some poets who did not live long at all were able to
portrayal of war experience with awareness of wider historical and
written for this exam.
Choose two poems from our reading and
discuss how they exemplify this combination of perspectives. You may
to state (briefly) if you agree more with Silkin, for whom
historical contingency impinges on
the poetic, or with others, such as Featherstone, for whom historical,
and political contexts are a primary
determining force in literature, and for whom even Owen’s famous
2) The philosopher Herbert Marcuse has written that
in war creates the enemy “not as he really is but rather as he must be
to perform his function for the Establishment.” We might well modify
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
this question. >
3) Briefly summarize Allyson Booth’s
discussion of the
portrayal and the function of corpses in the literature of World War I.
the portrayal of corpses and/or the absence of corpses in two poems
reading. You may choose two poems from World War I or one from each
sure to develop an argument about these particular poems – don’t just
examples that conform to Booth’s analyses.
4) Historians say that in World War I the
classes encountered for the first time, up close and personal, the
consequences of the Industrial Revolution and modern technology –
they had previously experienced primarily as advances in personal
By World War II, critics say, this new destructive vision of
become a familiar trope for the modern world in general, so poets of
war witnessed the spectacle of techno war with a mature cynicism and/or
mature philosophical need to confront its implications. Walsh’s phrases
machine and God” and “aesthetics after war” point to these conflicts.
critics have written extensively about the pervading image of bombers
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?
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
the utopian recasting of masculine values, whether homoerotic or
poems that are ostensibly “anti-war.” Briefly summarize Featherstone’s
development of these ideas, then choose one poem from each war and
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
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
genre. Do certain formal tactics in the poem sharpen its politics or
our allegiances,” for example? Or does its relationship to other poems
given genre underwrite or modify its politics? (You may here define
something as large as pastoralism or as narrow as “war poems about
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
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
sure to include some discussion of form. Does meter or rhythm
tone, for example, in a way that leads us to judge or to withhold
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
anti-pastoral.” In these terms, war is demonic, and its description
brings to mind, either implicitly or explicitly, the “model world” of
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
Ruskin, red flowers, etc.). Briefly summarize Fussell’s argument about
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
the same way as every other officer will interpret’ them. Modernist
works train their readers to interpret in just the opposite way,
awareness of and an appreciation for multiple points of view. Puns and
in a book like Finnegans Wake, for
example, will not only emerge differently for different readers, but
articulate and modify one another in the course of one and then
readings, as memory preserves, erodes, and distorts the accumulated
Choose a modernist poem of World War I (or
passage from a long
poem) and discuss the means by which it constructs multiple meanings
of view. Is this poem (or passage) “merely” descriptive of war, or does
some way engage with the kind of linear and uniform interpretation of
alluded to by Booth? Be sure to include some discussion of formal
the poem. Are conceptually disparate elements linked by sound, for
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
poems begin at an earlier point in experience than Owen’s, which are
as recollection. (In class I said this makes Rosenberg “more modern”
Owen.) When we reach World War II, we encounter a group of American
Jarrell, Nemerov, Wilbur, Simpson, Eberhart, Ciardi, and both Shapiros;
might fit except for his avoidance of metaphor) strongly in favor of
recollection and of the unifying, intellectualizing functions of
metaphoric structure, consistent tone, and a restrained speaker. Walsh
to these values when he characterizes the war poets as adopting “an
slightly self-mocking tone,” “verse forms and linguistic expression
communicative of detached observation,” and “a propensity towards
American poem of the
second war and discuss how the poet uses “raw experience” as one source
poem while creating an aesthetic structure that distances both poet and
from “too much” direct emotional contact with that experience. What
prevent “too much” reaction to war’s barbarity? Be sure to
discussion of form.