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Title:Poetry and politics on the American homefront, 1914-1918
Author(s):Van Wienen, Mark William
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Nelson, Cary
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Literature, Modern
History, United States
Literature, American
Abstract:Since many American war poems written between 1914 and 1918 not only commented on contemporary events but also represented the aims and ideals of major political groups, they are arguably more central to American culture than the more aesthetically distanced modernist poems which literary critics favor. Genteel poets and editors reflected closely the country's official posture towards the war, as they moved steadily from outrage at the war and professed neutrality to advocacy of American intervention. This shift is apparent in anthologies published by the major Eastern presses, which by 1917 contrasted the righteous Allies with the barbarous Central Powers and, simultaneously, offered ever larger quantities of soldier-poetry that both humanized and idealized the Allied armies.
Yet American war poetry was always more various than these dominant tendencies, so that it consistently provided a forum for alternatives to nationalism and militarism. The Woman's Peace Party used poetry to shape an internationalist and pacifist agenda, and for a time early in 1915 pacifist poetry and songs, especially "I Didn't Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier," were taken to represent an unshakable American neutrality. Even in 1917, U.S. Food Administration programs elicited both poems extolling sacrificial conserving and poems identifying the regimen as part of a wartime economy of death. Also, labor poetry, particularly the songs and verse of the Industrial Workers of the World, portrayed the wars in Europe and on the American homefront as class wars that would either destroy the proletariat or bring it into power.
American poetry of the Great War exhibits the limitations as well as the potencies of poetry as a political discourse. While poetry articulated ideals which could help unite and mobilize large groups, its power was always constrained to an extent by the state. Government censorship largely neutralized the protest of the Woman's Peace Party; criminal prosecutions--which used poetry as evidence--virtually eliminated the Industrial Workers of the World. At the same time, however, printed poems have made available for our consideration some of the political options suppressed during the war, which we now have the opportunity to explore once again.
Issue Date:1992
Rights Information:Copyright 1992 Van Wienen, Mark William
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog:AAI9305723
OCLC Identifier:(UMI)AAI9305723

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