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Dismantling Glory
Dismantling Glory
Lorrie Goldensohn
Columbia University Press, 2006
336 pp., $34.00

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American War Poetry: An Anthology
American War Poetry: An Anthology

Columbia University Press, 2006
448 pp., $65.00

Buy Now

Peggy Rosenthal


Singing of War

Why there's a course on war poetry at West Point.

The cadets want to get as much information as they can. They grab people who come back and ask them a lot of questions: 'What is it like to lead in combat? What is combat like? What are the techniques that I can learn here that I can apply when I get into those kinds of circumstances?' Soldiers always want to know what combat is like. And poetry provides us a great vehicle to teach the cadets as much as anyone can what that combat is like."

So speaks General William Lennox in his interview for the recent documentary film Voices in Wartime (at www.voicesinwartime.org). General Lennox is Superintendent of West Point Military Academy; with a doctorate in literature and a dissertation on American war poetry, he teaches a course on war poetry at West Point. The "information" that he finds poetry uniquely offering to cadets is basically experiential. "For those who are in combat, it's very hard for them to articulate what they experience. They go through a whole series of emotions: joy, elation, horror, fear. What genre allows you to portray that better than poetry? I don't know. I think poetry can capture all of those emotions at one point at one time and transfer them. That's why I think poetry is so important."

I expect that General Lennox will find Lorrie Goldensohn's new anthology, American War Poetry, invaluable for his students. Following America's wars chronologically, the volume includes poems from all our wars starting with colonial times and ending with a contemporary section called "El Salvador, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf." A separate section covers "The Indian Wars, 1620-1911." So the reader looking for a taste of military experience will find, for instance, Randall Jarrell's "Losses," which General Lennox in fact quotes in his interview for its expression of war's dehumanizing impact on soldiers:

We read our mail and counted up our missions— In bombers named for girls, we burned The cities we had learned about in school— Till ...

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