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Thursday, September 2, 2010

This Week in Literary History: War, What is it Good For?

This week marks the beginning of September and for those of us in Arizona, this means roughly one more month of extreme heat before things start to cool down a bit (hopefully). It also marks the 81st anniversary of the invasion of Poland a.k.a. the start of World War II. W.H. Auden wrote one of his most famous poems about this day, promptly titled, "September 1, 1939." While it was one of his most successful poems, Auden pretty much despised it. He allowed few reprints, the last being in 1964 along with four other poems and accompanied by the note, "Mr. W. H. Auden considers these five poems to be trash which he is ashamed to have written."

Six years and one day later, on September 2, 1945 Japan formally surrendered to the U.S., thus officially ending World War II. Here's one of my favorite poems about the war. Gotta love James Tate.

It was in the "heat" (get it?) of the United States' next war that poet Robert Frost took his goodwill tour of the U.S.S.R. at the age of 88, on August 30, 1962. Frost toured the country, giving poetry readings to huge audiences and even meeting with Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev, which was a dream come true for Frost (for whatever reason). Frost didn't live to see the end of the war (he died five months later and that thing went on for like another 40 years), but he was a trailblazer nonetheless.

War, what is it good for? Good poetry! Like Katherine Hollander's poem, "The Great War" which was just published in the latest issue of Pleiades. Katherine ends her poem much in the same way that the U.S. transitioned from World War II to the Cold War: "the dead come in, / dragging their next war behind them." Pick up a copy of Pleiades to check out Katherine's poem as well as new work from writers like Christine Sneed, Nancy Eimers and Sherman Alexie.

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