Posts Tagged ‘national poetry month blog tour’

The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry (Second Edition, 1997) edited by the late British poet Jon Silkin features poems from numerous poets who served on the front lines, some of whom were prophetic in predicting their own deaths in battle, giving a haunting quality to the verses.  There are poems translated from German, French, Italian, Russian, and Hebrew, and in the introduction, Silkin said he selected these based on the English versions.  He adds that the second edition was revised to include poems by women.  Silkin states that he chose the poems for the anthology based on what he deemed good, noting that “the reader will be correct in thinking that the more poems there are by a poet, the more highly I think of him (translated works excepted).” (page 74)

Before I discuss the poems, I want to say a few things about the introduction, which at 77 pages was the longest I’d come across in an anthology.  I admit to skimming and skipping because it was (sorry to say) boring, too heavily focused on the work of Wilfred Owen, and featured too much discussion of meter and form.  I did study meter and form in college, but these days I read poetry to simply enjoy the language and imagery and not think about how many beats there are per line.  Still, I can appreciate that Silkin included a wide range of poetic styles.  Moreover, since I took a course on the English Romantic Poets, I thought it was interesting how he made comparisons between the works of Wordsworth and Coleridge and the poetry of The Great War.

Looking at the list of poets included in the anthology, it’s obvious that Silkin is a fan of Edward Thomas, Edmund Blunden, Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, and Isaac Rosenberg because of the number of their poems he included.  He also features the work of Thomas Hardy, Robert Graves, Rudyard Kipling, E.E. Cummings, D.H. Lawrence, Carl Sandburg, and Edna St. Vincent Millay, to name a handful.

There are so many poems in The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry that it’s impossible to mention them all, but there are some common themes throughout the collection.  Religion and patriotism come to mind right away.  These poems also touch upon a soldier’s disillusionment and the sadness and the anger that rise to the surface when they begin to question why they are fighting.

I have been young, and now am not too old;
And I have seen the righteous forsaken,
His health, his honour and his quality taken.
This is not what we were formerly told. (from Edmund Blunden’s “Report on Experience,” page 113)

Common Form

If any question why we died,
Tell them, because our fathers lied. (from Rudyard Kipling’s “Epitaphs of the War (1914-18),” page 136)

And after witnessing the effects of a gas attack:

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, —
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori. (from Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce Et Decorum Est,” page 193)

In “Lament,” F.S. Flint writes about young men going off to war, but there is no excitement, no being gung-ho about going off to serve one’s country and fight the enemy.

The young men of the world
Are condemned to death.
They have been called up to die
For the crimes of their fathers. (page 147)

The shift from excitement at the beginning of the war to despair and anguish after they have seen fighting is best summed up in Siegfried Sassoon’s “Glory of Women,” which takes a harsh look at the patriotism on the home front.

You love us when we’re heroes, home on leave,
Or wounded in a mentionable place.
You worship decorations; you believe
That chivalry redeems the war’s disgrace. (page 132)

But even the women soon feel the impact of the fighting and understand the senseless loss. May Wedderburn Cannan’s “Lamplight” is so sad in that war took away their hopes and dreams along with the men they loved.

We planned a great Empire together, you and I,
Bound only by the sea;
Now in the quiet of a chill Winter’s night
Your voice comes hushed to me
Full of forgotten memories: you and I
Dreamed great dreams of our futures in those days, (page 151)

Of course, no anthology of war poetry would be complete without a description of the horrors of the trenches and the lasting impact of all that the soldiers saw and did.

‘Well, as to that, the nastiest job I’ve had
Was last year on this very front
Taking the discs at night from men
Who’d hung for six months on the wire
Just over there.
The worst of all was
They fell to pieces at a touch.
Thank God we couldn’t see their faces;
They had gas helmets on…’ (from Richard Aldington’s “Trench Idyll,” page 143)

One of my favorite poems in this collection, Edgell Rickword’s “Winter Warfare,” personifies winter and the freeze that covered the trenches.

Colonel Cold strode up the Line
(tabs of rime and spurs of ice);
stiffened all that met his glare:
horses, men, and lice. (page 139)

As in all wars, the mental and physical state of the veterans is an important consideration. The men did heroic things in battle, were courageous under fire, but war takes a toll and breaks these heroes down, and some cannot show how broken they are on the inside.

Where are they now, on state-doles, or showing shop-patterns
Or walking to town sore in borrowed tatterns
Or begged. Some civic routine one never learns.
The heart burns — but has to keep out of face how heart burns. (from Ivor Gurney’s “Strange Hells,” page 119)

Although there is diversity among the poetic styles and the poets’ experiences, each of the poems in The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry lead to the same conclusion:  that war is hell.  It makes me wonder how many of these poets were poets before, and how many used poetry as a way to deal with the loss, anger, and haunting memories tied to the war.  Some of the poems made me feel like I was staring into the poet’s soul.  I am in awe of men and women who can put such awful tragedies into words, and I believe that war poetry is among the most powerful and vivid, bringing to life the internal and external struggles in a way that non-fiction and prose cannot.

Hosted by Savvy Verse & Wit

Book 2 for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Challenge

Book 6 for the WWI Reading Challenge

Disclosure: I won The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry in a giveaway on Savvy Verse & Wit ages ago. It’s about time I read it! I am an Amazon associate.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Above all, the poets that touch down every year or two in the Library of Congress are the gatekeepers of the American idiom.  …  Some poets believe that original use of language can shape the public imagination and thereby influence public values and policy; to some, the greatest expression of liberty is the ability to stand to the side and observe, dream, remember, and testify.

(from The Poets Laureate Anthology, introduction by Elizabeth Hun Schmidt, pages xlix-l)

The Poets Laureate Anthology, edited by Elizabeth Hun Schmidt with a foreword by Billy Collins, is the perfect collection for poetry lovers, as well as those dipping their toes into the genre.  The book features a handful of poems from each of the 43 U.S. Poets Laureate who have held the position from 1937 to 2010, starting with the most recent poet laureate and working backward.  There is a photo and a short bio of each poet laureate, along with a quote from them.  As Billy Collins (poet laureate from 2001-2003) says in the foreword, the book can be read at one’s leisure and out of order.

One of the most interesting parts of The Poets Laureate Anthology is the foreword by Billy Collins, who talks about how various poets laureate used the position to raise public awareness of poetry or kept out of the public eye, given that they are under no obligation to write poems.  The introduction by Elizabeth Hun Schmidt is equally informative, explaining the history of the position and how the Librarian of Congress — not the President — appoints the poet laureate.  She goes on to say that each poet laureate has made the job his/her own, with their personalities a major factor in how they approach the job.

Schmidt points out that the anthology contains different voices and styles, calling it “a celebration of freedom of speech in motion” (page xlix).  With so many poets and poems to choose from, there is something for everyone in this anthology.  I recognized many of the poets and poems in the book, including Billy Collins, Robert Pinsky, Robert Penn Warren, Gwendolyn Brooks, Maxine Kumin, William Stafford, Robert Frost, and Elizabeth Bishop.  I was delighted to revisit the poetry of Ted Kooser, having recently reviewed his Pulitzer Prize-winning collection Delights & Shadows.  I learned some interesting tidbits about some of the poets, including Louise Glück, who refused to do interviews or public appearances as poet laureate in an effort to “control her words” (page 86).

The Poets Laureate Anthology really is a poetry collection for everyone.  Many people avoid reading poetry because they think it doesn’t speak to them or is too hard to understand, but Ted Kooser, for instance, writes poetry for the average person.  At over 700 pages, the anthology is comprehensive enough that I am confident anyone could peruse the book and find at least one poem that would change their views about poetry.  After all, as Schmidt says in the introduction, “…the only official job in the arts in the United States is for a poet” (page xlv).

Disclosure: I received a copy of The Poets Laureate Anthology from Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity, LLC, for review purposes. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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The Girl (age 9) is happy to be part of her Auntie Serena’s National Poetry Month Blog Tour.  Here are her thoughts on her favorite poet, Shel Silverstein.


Shel Silverstein (1930-1999) was a cartoonist and poet known for his children’s books, like The Giving Tree, A Light in the Attic, and Where the Sidewalk Ends.  I love his poems because they are hilarious and fun to read out loud.  Here are my favorites:


There’s too many kids in this tub.
There’s too many elbows to scrub.
I just washed a behind
That I’m sure wasn’t mine,
There’s too many kids in this tub.  (from A Light in the Attic, page 86)


I’ll tell you the story of Jimmy Jet–
And you know what I tell you is true.
He loved to watch his TV set
Almost as much as you.

He watched all day, he watched all night
Till he grew pale and lean,
From “The Early Show” to “The Late Late Show”
And all the shows between.

He watched till his eyes were frozen wide,
And his bottom grew into his chair.
And his chin turned into a tuning dial,
And antennae grew out of his hair.

And his brains turned into TV tubes,
And his face to a TV screen.
And two knobs saying “VERT.” and “HORIZ.”
Grew where his ears had been.

And he grew a plug that looked like a tail
So we plugged in little Jim.
And now instead of him watching TV
We all sit around and watch him.  (from Where the Sidewalk Ends, pages 28-29)

And my favorite of them ALL:


Mama said I’d lose my head
If it wasn’t fastened on.
Today I guess it wasn’t
‘Cause while playing with my cousin
It fell off an rolled away
And now it’s gone.

And I can’t look for it
‘Cause my eyes are in it,
And I can’t call to it
‘Cause my mouth is on it
(Couldn’t hear me anyway
‘Cause my ears are on it),
Can’t even think about it
‘Cause my brain is in it.
So I guess I’ll sit down
On this rock
And rest for just a minute… (from Where the Sidewalk Ends, page 25)

I love the pictures just as much as the poems because they go together.  In “The Loser,” instead of sitting on a rock, he’s sitting on his head.  That’s hilarious.  Kids and grown-ups will find Shel Silverstein’s poems “funny-ish cool.”  (I made that up by myself.)

Disclosure: My copies of A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends were gifts.  My mom is an Amazon associate.

© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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When Serena asked me to take part in the National Poetry Month Blog Tour, I knew right away I wanted to talk about Emily Dickinson, who has been my favorite poet for as long as I can remember.  Dickinson lived in Amherst, Massachusetts, a beautiful, upscale town that Serena and I visited once several years ago.  Unfortunately, our visit was during our college days and involved a party — not the Emily Dickinson Museum.  (We’ll get there someday, I hope!)

Emily Dickinson (Dec. 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886) is probably best known for being a recluse, having made a conscious choice to withdraw from the world.  Despite isolating herself, she had several close friendships and continued to read and write letters.  The locals thought she was eccentric, and you all know how I feel about eccentrics!  Dickinson wrote almost 1,800 poems during her 55 years, but only a handful were published while she was alive.

Dickinson’s poems feature short lines and slant rhyme, have a Christian hymn feel to them, and focus on such themes as death, flowers, religion, and love.  One of Dickinson’s biggest influences was the Reverend Charles Wadsworth, a married man with whom she corresponded.  Many believe she loved him and that many of her poems are about him.

When I think about why I love Dickinson’s work, I want to say simply that she speaks to me in a way that no other poet has.  I know that’s not very eloquent, but I’m not really good at analyzing poems.  There are some poems that when I read them, I don’t see the hidden meanings or completely understand the symbolism.  With Dickinson, I might not be able to find the right words to explain what her poems mean to me, but I “get” them.  I feel the longing and the desperation, and during my youth when I was depressed and channeling that depression into my poetry, Dickinson felt like a kindred spirit.  Some of her poems are playful and warm, and they all show an understanding of the world that one wouldn’t expect from someone who never strayed far from home.

Here are a few of my favorite Dickinson poems, taken from The Works of Emily Dickinson as published by The Wordsworth Poetry Library.  (The cover image included in this post is the copy I purchased in August 1995, and I’m surprised it’s still in good condition, considering all the dog-eared pages, post-it notes, and highlighting.)

I have no life but this,
To lead it here;
Nor any death, but lest
Dispelled from there;

Nor tie to earths to come,
Nor action new,
Except through this extent,
The realm of you (page 63)


Love is anterior to life
Posterior to death,
Initial of creation, and
The exponent of breath. (page 61)

Heart, we will forget him!
You and I, tonight!
You may forget the warmth he gave,
I will forget the light.

When you have done, pray tell me,
That I my thoughts may dim;
Haste! lest while you’re lagging,
I may remember him!  (page 74)

And finally, the poem on which I gave an oral presentation in college, which many believe is about her unrequited love for Wadsworth and includes symbols of death and withdrawal:

The soul selects her own society,
Then shuts the door;
On her divine majority
Obtrude no more.

Unmoved, she notes the chariot’s pausing
At her low gate;
Unmoved, an emperor is kneeling
Upon her mat.

I’ve known her from an ample nation
Choose one;
Then close the valves of her attention
Like stone.  (pages 7-8)

No matter how many times I flip through my collection of Dickinson poems, I always find something new, and my understanding and enjoyment of her work grows with each passing year.  Like Dickinson during her lifetime, I myself have written numerous poems that I have not yet shown the world.  I haven’t written a poem in years; I always say the words stopped coming when I got married, had a child, and found myself happy for a change!

How do you feel about Dickinson’s poems?  Do you have a favorite?  Feel free to broaden the discussion and tell me whose poetry you like best and which poems move you the most.

April is National Poetry Month — Follow Savvy Verse & Wit’s National Poetry Month Blog Tour!  Thank you, Serena, for inviting me to participate!

Disclosure: I purchased my copy of The Works of Emily Dickinson.  I am an Amazon associate. Please note that the link brings you to an updated version of the book. It has the same ISBN as my copy.

© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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