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Have You Ever Tried to Write a War Poem? by Faleeha Hassan

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Have You Ever Tried to Write a War Poem?
by Faleeha Hassan

Faleeha Hassan arrived in the U.S. in 2012. She was forced to flee her country, not because of her political alliance, but because she wrote poetry about love, family, womanhood, and war. Militants found her poetry too subversive and soon she found herself on a public death list

When WWrite asked Faleeha Hassan to write for this blog on WWI and was writing, she submitted the essay, “Have You Ever Tried to Write a War Poem?” Writing a poem about war is the same in every war, she seems to say. Weapons, geography, and scope may change, she intimates, but poets who have lived through war share a unique characteristic when it comes to the writing process. Not only do they feel the overwhelming, unexpected presence of the memories, even if the events that shaped them happened many years prior; like WWI nurse Mary Borden, British soldier, Robert Graves, and Ernest Hemingway, they also feel the enormous gap that war digs between the combat and civilian experience.

Faleeha 2Faleeha Hassan. Image courtesy of Faleeha Hassan.

Have You Ever Tried to Write a War Poem?

Some people believe that writing poetry requires training and planning. That if you go to school and attend poetry-writing classes or get experience by attending workshops, then you will get the ability you need to write poetry.

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Never Too Old to Write: Claude Choules' Published WWI Memoir at Age 109

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Never Too Old to Write: Claude Choules' Published WWI Memoir at Age 109
The Last of the Last: The Final Survivor of the First World War

ChoulesBookCoverChoules' book cover

Before his death at the age of 110 in May 2011, Claude Choules was the last man alive who had served in both WWI and WWII. Claude learned life's lessons during a rural childhood in England and later in the Royal Navy as a boy sailor, before graduating to become an explosives expert in the Australian navy. In his 80s, Claude took creative writing classes and began working on his memoirs with the help of his daughters. The Last of the Last is a riveting account of his life that vividly mirrors how the last century unfolded. Choules had the insight of an ordinary man thrust to the forefront of international conflict. He was opposed to the glorification of war, but his charming anecdotes honor a generation called upon to serve not once but twice. His engaging, wryly humorous excerpt autobiography reflects the amiable nature of a truly unique man. It was published when Choules was 109 years old. The following is an excerpt, detailing his experience of joining the Navy in 1915 when he was just 14 years old:

Chapter Two

I Join the Navy

I joined the Mercury, a three-masted sailing ship in April 1915, a day after my 14th birthday. My number was 1392. She was anchored at the mouth of the Hamble River, which empties into Southampton Water. We boys used to see the great Atlantic liners such as the Mauretania (holder of the Atlantic Blue Riband for 26 years). Aquatania, Lusitania, Laurentic, the original Majestic and scores of wonderful ships travelling through Southhampton Water. We could only imagine the luxury in cruising in liners like that, for life in the Atlantic Blue Riband was tough.

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War Isn't the Only Hell: Telling the Truth about African American and Lost Generation Experiences

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War Isn’t the Only Hell: 100 Years Later, Time To Tell the Truth about the African American and Lost Generation Experiences
by Keith Gandal

GandalWarIsnttheOnlyHellCover

Our sense of American Great War writing--and thus of the American experience--is limited and misguided. It may seem surprising, but, unlike every other combatant nation, our lasting WWI literature was written entirely by noncombatants. Hemingway was a Red Cross ambulance driver, as was Dos Passos, who later served in the army, but in the Services of Supply; Faulkner trained with the Canadian Royal Air Force but never made it over to Europe; Fitzgerald made junior officer in the American training camps, but his poor performance guaranteed that he was never shipped to France. (By comparison, to take just the example of Britain, canonized authors Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and Robert Graves were all combat soldiers.) Moreover, we don’t know what it meant to be an American noncombatant male then, a status that shaped the unique writing of the Lost-Generation in ways many of us don’t fully understand.

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WWI Soldiers From the French Colonies: "They took part in the history of France"

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WWI Soldiers From the French Colonies: "They took part in the history of France"
A Webdocumentary Gives Voice to the Forgotten on the French Riviera

by Stéphanie Trouillard

 

TrouillardMentonImage from webdocumentary, 14-18: A name for the Tirailleurs at Menton. Image courtesy of France 24.

 

Tirailleur is a French military term coined during the Napoleonic era that referred to rifleman known in English as "skirmishers:" light infantry stationed to act as a vanguard, flank guard, or rearguard, screening a tactical position or a larger body of friendly troops from enemy advances.  They are supposed to get into skirmishes, or light fighting, to harass the enemy and lower morale. The French Army recruited men from colonies like Senegal or Algeria to play this role in numerous wars, including the Crimean War and the French Intervention in Mexico.

While their title indicates they played a minor role, these soldiers were often the enemy's first fatal targets. During the First World War, several thousand Senegalese, Malagasy and Indochinese tirailleurs, who served on the Western Front and in Gallipoli, stayed in palaces and hotels in the town of Menton, on the Côte d'Azur, which were transformed into military hospitals. Many died there as a result of the wounds and diseases contracted on the various fronts. 

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In a Lonely Forest: Josef Rust Found

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In a Lonely Forest: Josef Rust Found
Connie Ruzich Uncovers Lyricist for Ernst Brockman's "Soon, All Too Soon"

RancourtGerman graves in the SommeRancourt German Cemetery

In August of 2017, the World War One Centennial Commission blog shared Patricia Hammond’s story of a haunting First World War song and the search that led to the identification of the forgotten composer’s body and his reburial. Hammond wrote further about her personal experience for WWrite this winter. Hammond is a British musician who has performed and recorded  songs of the Great War with Matt Redman, such as “Pack Up Your Troubles,” “Over There,” and “Roses of Picardy.”*  Wanting to include German songs on a CD they were preparing, they purchased from a German antiquarian a 1917 collection of forgotten tunes, Weltkrieglieder(World War Songs),  and were immediately struck by the beauty of one tune: “Bald, allzubalde” (“Soon, all too soon”).  The sheet music provided the information that the melody had been written on April 20, 1916 by Ernst Brockmann, who was killed at the battle of Verdun just weeks later, on June 7, 1916. 

RUSTFrom Josef Rust's Photo Album

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Robert Frost, WWI Poet

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Robert Frost: A poet for whom life and war were trials by existence

By Jim Dubinsky

FrostpictureRobert Frost in 1943. (Eric Schaal/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images). Courtesy https://www.loa.org/writers/271-robert-frost

When scholars write of war poets, few consider Robert Frost. Certainly, if the definition of a war poet is one who has experienced the turmoil and vicissitudes of combat, Frost does not qualify. However, if one is willing to consider poets who offer insight into connections between war and the human condition, then Frost surely fits the bill.*

Reading Frost’s poems, essays, letters, and gaining insight from a range of biographical perspectives has led me to understand a key component of his personal philosophy: Robert Frost believed in the inevitability of violence. For him, violence and war were natural.  He often made statements reflecting this belief. In his private letters to his friend Louis Untermeyer, he argued that  “Life is like battle” (285) and “War is the natural state of man” (373).  

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