Saturday, May 24, 2008

Five best works of war poetry

Pulitzer Prize nominee James Anderson Winn is a Boston University professor of English and author of The Poetry of War.

For the Wall Street Journal, he named a five best list of works of war poetry. One title on his list:
John Brown's Body
by Steven Vincent Benét
Doubleday, Doran, 1928

Although sprawling and uneven, this 15,000-line narrative poem on the Civil War has moments of lyric beauty and effective irony. In my favorite passage, a teenage sentry remembers ancient poems while guarding the tent of Robert E. Lee: "The aide-de-camp knew certain lines of Greek / And other such unnecessary things / As birds and music, that are good for peace / But are not deemed so serviceable for war." Through the ironic use of the word "deemed," the speaker labels the belief that poetry is unnecessary for war as received opinion, not his own. With his "inquisitive mind" and his "falling for romance," the sentry is a fantasy version of the short-sighted poet, who repeatedly tried to enlist during World War I and once almost succeeded by memorizing the eye chart. It took just three days for the Army to detect his handicap and send him home.
See which book topped Winn's list.

--Marshal Zeringue