American War Poetry: An Anthology

Lorrie Goldensohn, Editor Columbia University Press $35 (413p) ISBN 978-0-231-13310-4
Riches abound in this stylistically varied anthology. Arranged by war, the book begins with the Colonial period and proceeds through Whitman admiring Civil War soldiers crossing a river to end with Brian Turner, who published his first book in 2005, beckoning a bullet in contemporary Iraq. Many voices, by turns elegiac, outraged, rhetorical and ecstatic are represented, including Sitting Bull's pithy and mournful final song, Charles Simic's haunted memories of learning chess in 1944 and Walter Macdonald's disconcerting comparison between trucking pigs and flying soldiers to Vietnam. The difficulty, as with any anthology, is in the criteria for inclusion and exclusion. Goldensohn acknowledges her need to include some poems whose historical merits outweigh their literary ones. And one interesting omission-interesting because perhaps it doesn't exist-is any pro-war poetry from the second half of the 20th century. But to be able to compare across time, flipping back and forth, for instance, between Marianne Moore's response to WWII (""There never was a war that was / not inward; I must / fight till I have conquered in myself what / causes war"") and Galway Kinnell's time-stopping rendering of the fall of the Twin Towers (""each light, / each life, put out, lies down within us"") is to approach the heart of American, or maybe any, war poetry.
Reviewed on: 04/03/2006
Release date: 04/01/2006
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