This anthology is one in a series published by the American Poets Project, an effort intended to produce a first-time "compact national library of poets" (back cover). The volume under review here consists of 120 poems by 62 poets, where 42 are veterans, the others...
This anthology is one in a series published by the American Poets Project, an effort intended to produce a first-time "compact national library of poets" (back cover). The volume under review here consists of 120 poems by 62 poets, where 42 are veterans, the others non-veterans, thus making it similar in concept to kindred anthologies such as Jan Barry''s ''Peace is Our Profession: Poems and Passages of War Protest'' (1981). As such, it includes works by conscientious objectors and other war-resisters such as Robinson Jeffers and William Stafford. All the contributors are a credible collection of Objectivists, Imagists, "followers of the formal school of Southern verse and dense rhetoric..." (xxxii). The editor is Harvey Shapiro, an Ivy League-educated poet, and veteran of thirty-five combat missions as a B-17 tail gunner. He sets a solemn tone for the volume, stating that although the Allies were victorious, "the sight of dead bodies is scattered among these poems the way bodies were washed up on the shores of invasion beaches..." (xix). Moreover, his purpose for this anthology is "to demonstrate that the American poets of this war produced a body of work that has not yet been recognized for its clean and powerful eloquence" (xx).
Shapiro gathers some of the best poetry of the war. Included are those infrequently published but no less majestically poignant air war poems by John Ciardi, James Dickey, Richard Eberhart, Richard Hugo (though his opus magnum, ''Mission to Linz'', does not appear here), Randall Jarrell, and Howard Nemerov. Some of the best poems of ground combat are by Louis Simpson, George Oppen, and Anthony Hecht. Several poems are quite moving, such as James Tate''s ''The Lost Pilot'' (218-220), written for his father who was killed in action when Tate was five months old, and Peter Viereck''s ''Vale from Carthage'' (110-111), which Viereck wrote on the occasion of his brother''s death in the European theater. There are sublime elegies like Vladimir Nabokov''s "When he was small, when he would fall" (20), and Richard Eberhart''s ''A Ceremony by the Sea'' (31-34). Many poets achieve a powerful austerity through just a few lines, such as Samuel Menashe does in his 18-syllable, 5-line poem, ''Beachhead'' (214). Yet, the poems here are not solely about combat and its affects, for they also inform the wider ontology of war, verse that emerges into the foreground of military victory to ask the unanswered questions of race and class. Compelling examples are Witter Bynner''s ''Defeat'', and Gwendolyn Brook''s ''Negro Hero'' (1, 115).
For enthusiasts of poetry and studies of how war relates to literature and the arts, Shapiro''s book proves an exemplary and diverse collection, and a perfect companion to Leon Stokesbury''s ''Articles of War: A Collection of American Poetry About World War II'' (1990). It includes an Introduction by Shapiro, and a very helpful biographical notes section. There has always been a debate over how poetry can close the aesthetic space between the poetry reader''s expectations and the poet''s ability to meet them. This work accomplishes that closure quite effectively despite the decades that have passed since the end of the Second World War.