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Dead on the 4th of July: Poet Alan Seeger

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Dead on the 4th of July: Poet Alan Seeger

DOBKINSeegerAlan Seeger, courtesy of blueridgejournal.com

Siegfried Sassoon. Wilfred Owen. Isaac Rosenberg. Over the years, the well-crafted words of these poets have shaped our vision of WWI's most terrible casualties: suffocation by mustard gas, death and disease in the trenches, disfiguration, shell shock. This "poet's war" was undoubtedly one of the worst the world had ever seen and, more than any other conflict in history, we have relied on poets to help us understand its horrors. 

According to Adin Dobkin, little-known American WWI writer, Alan Seeger, offers another layer of understanding. In his article that appeared in The New York Times Magazine last week, "The Soldier Poet Who Went to His Grave With a Romantic Vision of WWI," Dobkin not only acquaints us with this poet, who also happens to be folksinger Pete Seeger's uncle; he also introduces a notion we don't normally associate with the more famous WWI poetry: war as sentimental. 

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The Roots of Contemporary War Literature in James Joyce’s Ulysses

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The Roots of Contemporary War Literature in James Joyce’s Ulysses
By Peter Molin

"History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake." - from James Joyce, Ulysses, Episode 2

MolinJoyceHemmingwayWriters on WWI, Ford Madox Ford, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and art collector, John Quinn, in Paris. Image courtesy of DiscoverFrance.net

At the country's largest gathering of writers in 2014, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference (AWP), Peter Molin sat down with fellow veterans and war writers to talk about James Joyce's epic work, Ulysses, and WWI. Here's a peek into that conversation about one of literature's most celebrated, most enigmatic works, first published in 1918:

At AWP14, I had lunch with a hail-fellow-well-met merry band of war writers.  At the far end of the table were Roy Scranton, Benjamin Busch, Phil Klay, and Christine Leche.  At our end were Brian Castner, Mariette KalinowskiColin Halloran,  and Lauren Kay JohnsonKatey Schultz was supposed to be with us, but peeled off enroute to our Seattle waterfront restaurant destination.  About two beers in, I announced that I was reading James Joyce’s Ulysses as part of a nationally-dispersed, Internet-connected reading group.  I was about 99% prepared for that conversational gambit to fall flat.

Boy was I wrong.

Read more: The Roots of Contemporary War Literature in James Joyce’s Ulysses

Hill 145

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Hill 145
By Ruth Edgett
2017 Consequence Magazine "Women Writing War" Prize in Fiction

EDGETTphotoMother Canada Downward GazeCanada Bereft, downward gaze, at the Vimy Ridge Canadian National Memorial in France. Photo by Ruth Edgett.

Canadian writer, Ruth Edgett, won Consequence Magazine's 2017 "Women Writing War" Prize in Fiction for her WWI-inspired short story, "Hill 145." The award was given by American writer, Siobhan Fallon, who wrote the following review:

How is it that our agony has been rendered so gracefully? Asks the narrator in “Hill 145” as he gazes up at a war memorial. And isn’t this both the question, and the answer, to all art about conflict? The experiences of those who have survived war take a violent, ugly thing and try to translate it into something the rest of us can comprehend. Art becomes a way to channel epiphany and empathy into those who are lucky enough to remain unscathed.

“Hill 145” brings us to 1936, to Canadian World War I veterans returning, nineteen years later, to the battleground in France that cost them 3,598 lives. The story is amazingly sophisticated, novelistic in scope and detail, yet intimately probes the guilt of a soldier who outlives all of the friends he swore to protect. On the surface, “Hill 145” paints a rosy picture, with green fields, grazing horses, and poppies in the distance, but the reader, with awful hindsight, knows that in a few short years the evils of the First World War will not only be repeated, but grossly intensified. Ruth Edgett’s “Hill 145” strikes a delicate balance of nostalgia and impending doom, brilliantly illuminating how Vets are “well-practiced at moving between worlds” when reconciling their soldiering pasts and civilian presents. 

Below, is Edgett's masterful story, followed by an author's note that explains "Hill 145's" origins:

Read more: Hill 145

A New Kind of Dream: Freud, Trauma, and WWI

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A New Kind of Dream: Freud, Trauma, and WWI
A Look at War and Artistic Creation Through the Theories of Cathy Caruth and Sigmund Freud

CaruthsurrealismSalvador Dali, "The Persistence of Memory" 1931

Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, the “father of psychoanalysis,” is perhaps best known to the general public for his work on the unconscious, sexuality, the ego, and dreams. He showed us the often-enigmatic ways past traumatic experiences play themselves out in the present.

Freud’s work with WWI combat veterans marked an unprecedented turn in his understanding of dreams and trauma as his focus on the individual transformed into a study of community and the collective unconscious. The war not only had professional but personal implications for him; his two sons, Jean-Martin and Ernst, fought for Austria, a country that, almost 20 years later forced Freud, a Jew, and his family into exile when the Nazis took over. Three of his four sisters died in concentration camps during WWII.

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The Unknowns: The Untold Story of America's Unknown Soldier and WWI's Most Decorated Heroes Who Brought Him Home

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Patrick K. O'Donnell's The Unknowns: The Untold Story of America's Unknown Soldier and WWI's Most Decorated Heroes Who Brought Him Home

ODonnellCover

A visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, or Tomb of the Unknowns, in Arlington National Cemetery is both a solemn and uplifting experience. In front of the unnamed buried soldiers, we take stock of the unrecognized sacrifice of all fallen soldiers, from all of America’s wars and conflicts.  The stately memorial, with its verdant lawn, white columns, and stern-faced guards, imposes a silence that grants space to imagine thousands of voices telling their story of sacrifice. We are humbled, inspired. The guards’ disciplined, rhythmic steps are some of the few sounds to break the crushing quietness. And when the moment comes to play Taps, it is hard to push away the welling emotions invoked by the song.

Read more: The Unknowns: The Untold Story of America's Unknown Soldier and WWI's Most Decorated Heroes Who...

I Never Saw Him Drowning: Great-Uncle Charlie and the Great War

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I Never Saw Him Drowning: Great-Uncle Charlie and the Great War

by Philip Metres

Gulf War GasSoldiers from the 24th Mechanized Infantry Brigade from Fort Stewart, Ga., carry their weapons as they undergo chemical training in eastern Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield in this November 1990 photo. Source AP

*Leaning over my desk in January 1991, news coverage of the Gulf War droning in the background, I read for the first time the opening lines of Wilfred Owen’s“Dulce et Decorum Est”: “Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,/Knock-kneed, coughing like hags,/we cursed through sludge.” I felt transported, imagining the weight these young soldiers bore in the strange hellscapes of the front. I was a junior at Holy Cross College. All semester, my English professor, Mike True, guided our class through “The Nonviolent Tradition in Literature,” while on television, military leaders touted missile-eye images of “smart bombs” and “surgical strikes.” It was terribly surreal to encounter such polar views of war, knowing that each was only a partial picture of what American poet Walt Whitman once called the “Real War,” the one that would never “get in the books.” Yet Owen’s garish images and his fierce rhetorical conclusion confirmed something that I felt deep in my gut— war was an ugly thing, destroying bodies and haunting minds. On the other side of the world, even though the news coverage would not show it, people were dying under our bombs; it would take poets and artists to slip beneath the media’s redactions and censoring to imagine the horror.  

Read more: I Never Saw Him Drowning: Great-Uncle Charlie and the Great War

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