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ENGLISH 685:002  /  SUSAN TICHY  /  FALL 2005  / 





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.

Among our topics will be war poetry's place among contesting ideas of national identity; the impact of World War I on the development of literary Modernism and of subsequent wars on Postmodernism; "expression of the inexpressible;" and multiple skirmishing patterns set up around ideas of masculinity and comradeship, the dead or living body, guilt and confession, women and other noncombatants, and the ritually repeated drama of the loss of innocence. Our reading will emphasize the poets of World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War, including combatants and resisters, women and men, and a few Vietnamese writers whose work has been translated by American veteran poets. Our World War II and Vietnam War texts will also include some British and American music, both folk and rock.

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 (and, by extension, American) culture. This course will follow Featherstone in that regard; nevertheless, Fussell's treatment of subjects such as war and pastoral, war and the erotic, strategies for expressing the inexpressible, and the mutual, multiple influences of experience on literature and literature 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
  • On this page, WarPoetryMain, you'll find the book list, course requirements, and a short version of the schedule, with links to the Detail Pages for each week. At left you'll find links to all other pages for the site.
  • Guidelines page includes requirements and recommendations for written assignments.
  • Bibliography includes a selection of the sources I use in preparing the course.

  • Links on the Schedule (below) take you to the Detail Pages, which lay out each week's reading & projected topics for discussion. Please read these pages carefully and completely, as they may include quotes and short readings, headed in orange, external links, and other miscellany. Think of this mild confusion as replacing a shower of miscellaneous handouts in the classroom.

  • Links on the Detail Pages will take you to external sources.

  • "Optional Reading" always appears last, after any quotes or short readings. Be sure to check it out, as it may relate to one of your particular interests.

  • To reduce confusion as the semester progresses, I will use the Updates page to post changes to the weekly detail, course requirements, or schedule. Please check this page frequently. Ignorance is no defense.

Book List

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%

Short paper on a topic of your choice, re: Modernist or Postmodernist poetry responding to war. 20%

6. Final project. (30%) Choose from:
  • Anthology of poems responding to the Vietnam War, with critical introduction, plus a short paper on a topic of your choice re: poetry responding to the Vietnam War (parallels your first set of assignments on soldier poets).
  • A longer anthology (about 20 poems) with 2500 word critical introduction, defined by a topic of your choice.
  • A longer paper on a topic of your choice.
I'll say this early and often so there is no mistake: your papers and critical introductions 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 applying discourse theory to Susan Howe's World War II poetry without particular reference to poetic form or strategy.

  • Attendance is expected at the full length of all class meetings. If illness or emergency requires you to be absent, please let me know ahead of class time. If you choose to miss class for another reason, turn in your work ahead of time and arrange to find out from a classmate what you missed. Absences will adversely affect your participation grade.
  • No late work accepted. Exceptions may be made, at my discretion, in cases of severe illness or genuine emergency. Documentation may be required. Business trips, vacations, birthday parties, computer problems, general disorganization, etc., are not emergencies. You are strongly urged to complete your work before the last possible moment. Missed presentations may not be made up.

  • If your first paper receives less than a B, you may revise it. No other revisions will be considered.

  • You are always welcome to make an appointment for a conference or chat. Without an appointment -- well, I'm almost always glad to see you, but dropping in during office hours won't guarantee I'll be able to talk with you, as I may have a prior commitment.

A note on plagiarism


Weeks 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