A handful of anti-war war poems by World War I soldiers are among the most famous and admired poems in our language. They established the modern definition of "war poem" as a bitter, ironic, yet highly polished artifact crafted by a man whose extreme experience granted him special moral and epistemological authority. Poetic styles since have come and gone, but the tendency to keep war writing ‘in parenthesis’, as David Jones phrased it, isolated from the literary and intellectual cultures which produce it, has proved one of our most enduring literary practices. In this survey of 20th century responses to war by English, Welsh, Scottish, and American poets, we will follow a more recent trend in the criticism of war poetry, one which examines its foundation in personal witness while also addressing the cultural, intellectual and linguistic resources by which such experience becomes a constituent of art.
In other words, we will approach our texts as both war
poetry and war poetry.
Please read Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory before
the semester begins.
This study of English Great War poetry
(and poets' memoirs) is a touchstone for every discussion of the
subject published since. Its fundamental thesis, that war experience
sets war writing apart from other literature, is shared by most critics
and cultural historians. It is fair to say that the brilliance of
Fussell's book can obscure the possibility of there being another
position. As you will see, Simon Featherstone does take another
position, one that is not antithetical to Fussell but
establishes a somewhat larger definition of "war poetry" in British
by extension, American) culture. This course will follow Featherstone
that regard; nevertheless, Fussell's treatment of subjects such as war
pastoral, war and the erotic, strategies for expressing the
and the mutual, multiple influences of experience on literature and
on experience, make his work indispensable.
The Great War and Modern Memory (Oxford University Press, 1975) is widely & cheaply available. I did not order it at the bookstore. If pressed for time, concentrate on Chapters I, II, IV, V, & VII.
Using this site
Simon Featherstone: War Poetry: An Introductory Reader. London & NY: Routledge, 1995. 0-415-09570-0.
Jon Silkin, ed. Penguin Book of First World War Poetry. Rev. Second Edition. NY: Penguin, 1997. 0-14-118009-9. If you buy a used copy, be sure of the edition, as we will be reading some of the added poems.
Harvey Shapiro, ed. Poets of World War II. New American Library, 2003. 1-931082-33-2.
H.D. (Hilda Doolittle). Trilogy. New Directions Publishing, 1998. 8811213994. Trilogy is also available in her Collected Poems from New Directions. We will concentrate on the first section, "The Walls Do Not Fall," which may be available in other formats as well.
Susan Howe. The Europe of Trusts. New Directions. 0811215075. The earlier edition by Sun & Moon is also fine.
T.S.. Eliot. Collected Poems 1909-1962. Harcourt. 0151189781. I have not ordered this at the bookstore. We will read "The Waste Land" and (time permitting) "Four Quartets," both of which are widely available. Online links appear on the weekly detail pages.
W.D. Ehrhart, ed. Carrying the Darkness: Poetry of the Vietnam War. Lubbock: Texas Tech UP, 1989. 0-89672-188-4.
Philip Mahony, ed. From Both Sides Now: The Poetry of the Vietnam War and Its Aftermath. NY: Scribner, 1998. 068484947X.
Kevin Bowen & Bruce Weigl, eds. Writing Between the Lines: An Anthology on War and Its Social Consequences. Amherst: U Massachusetts Press, 1995. 1-55849-054-X. This volume is available on paper, but it's also available as an electronic book via the GMU library, so I have not ordered it at the bookstore. To access, go to http://library.gmu.edu. Use the catalog to search for the book, then choose the electronic copy instead of the hard copy. That link will take you to a page that asks for your G-number, and that takes you to the book.
George Oppen. New Collected Poems, New Directions, 0-8112-1488-5. This is the newest and most complete edition of Oppen, but it's expensive. The poems we will read are also included in an earlier and much cheaper paperback Collected Poems (NY: New Directions, 1975. 0-8112-0615-7). I did not order either volume at the bookstore, so find the version you prefer. You'll need this late in the semester.
+ Photocopied readings purchased at the campus book store, materials handed out in class, materials at the Reserve Desk, and short readings posted or linked on this web site.
FYI, many books in the public domain are available at http://www.bartleby.com / Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/ / & elsewhere.
Note that the writing requirements are very different from those described in the course description at time of registration. This change is partly due to the survey nature of this course and partly due to feedback I received last spring when I asked grad students what changes in course or program design might reduce stress. Many students said that the fact that all their literature courses required long papers due in the last week of class made stress higher and performance lower than might otherwise have been the case. I have used this format of multiple shorter assignments before and found it satisfactory. You'll also note that the last project is due on the exam date, not the last day of class. If you have your own reasons for wanting to do a long research paper for this course, let me know and we'll work something out. Also, if you are interested in writing poems or producing some other creative project in conjunction with this course, come talk to me. Substituting creative for analytical work is rarely advisable in a lit seminar, but may be possible at the end of the semester if your work in the first two thirds has been exemplary. Guidelines for written assignments are linked at left.
1. Participation in Class Discussions 15%
Each of us brings a different perspective to the texts. Some of you are cultural theorists, some literary scholars, some creative writers, some perhaps pursuing a degree outside of English. Some of you will have read some of these texts before, or thought long on the issues they raise; for others all this material will be new. We all share responsibility for making our discussions useful. They will be most useful if we all prepare well, have opinions, argue with spirit and respect, and learn from each other. You should expect to volunteer to lead off discussions, make special preparation, or otherwise take responsibility for particular discussion topics from week to week.
Informed participation may mean that you introduce a line of discussion, or that you respond to others’ ideas, thus extending a line of inquiry into greater depth. This is not meant to encourage showing off or competition to see whose ideas make the most splash. You can also contribute by facilitating the process of discussion, asking good questions, making sure we cover the basics of each topic, and not letting unanswered questions slip away.
If this is your first experience of a once-a-week class, keep in mind that a lot must be accomplished in each class session, and if you miss a class you miss an entire week of class. Thus, you are expected to attend the full length of every class meeting, to be prepared for class, and to take part in discussions. These are the reasons "participation" is graded, and, yes, you will damage your grade with excessive absence or lateness, lack of preparation, and/or lack of participation in discussion.
In addition, we each bring with us a unique personal relationship to war. Emotions in this course can be difficult. Compassionate respect for experiences and attitudes different from our own is essential if our classroom is to be a place for intellectually challenging but personally safe inquiry.
2. Leading Class Discussions 10%
You are asked to prepare and lead class discussion on selected topics at least twice during the semester. Handouts are helpful though not always necessary. Please turn in to me any notes, bibliography, or other material you prepare. This is especially important if you find talking in class difficult and/or your classmates are especially sleepy on the night you present.
3. Anthology of Poems by "Soldier Poets" from W.W.I & W.W.II, with a short Critical Introduction. 10%
You will turn in a draft of the WWI portion of this anthology on Sept 22. (Note: this is not a "topic" but a draft.) Final draft (on both wars) will be due two weeks later. This is the only assignment for which I will read drafts ahead of the due date.
4. Short paper on a topic of your choice, re: "soldier poets" from W.W.I & WW II. 15%
5. Short paper on a topic of your choice, re: Modernist or Postmodernist poetry responding to war. 20%
6. Final project. (30%) Choose from:
A note on plagiarism
ScheduleWeeks 1-6: Soldier Poets of World War I & World War II
Week 1: Sept 1: Introduction to the course
Week 2: Sept 8: World War I: British Soldier Poets & the Definition of a Genre Weeks 1 & 2
Week 3: Sept 15: World War I: British Soldier Poets continued Week 3
Week 4: Sept 22: World War II: British & American Soldier Poets Draft of anthology due: poets of WWI w/ introduction
Week 5: Sept 29: World War II: American Soldier Poets continued Weeks 4 & 5
Week 6: Oct 6: War in British Folk Song Final draft of anthology & first paper due
Weeks 7-12: Modernism & Postmodernism
See Updates page for revised discussion schedule for Oct 20-Nov 10.
Week 7: Oct 13: World War I & Modernism
Week 8: Oct 20: World War II & Modernism: H.D. & Stevens
Week 9: Oct 27: World War II & Objectivism: Pound & Oppen
Week 10: Nov 3: World War II & Postmodernism: Susan Howe
Week 11: Nov 10: Ian Hamilton Finlay Second paper due
Though we are behind schedule with discussion, I strongly recommend you turn in your paper on the 10th, unless you are writing on Oppen or Howe. All papers must be in by November 17. No exceptions.
Weeks 12-15: Vietnam War
Week 12: Nov 17: Vietnam War: Protest Poets
Week 13: No class: Thanksgiving
Week 14: Dec 1: Vietnam War: Veteran Poets
Week 15: Dec 8: Aftermath
Exam Date: Dec 13: Final project due: paper or anthology