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American poetry of the First World War is best known through a very small number of poems by the modernists Ezra Pound and E. E. Cummings. But the war provided the occasion for a huge amount of poetry. This poetry was written in a variety of forms and expressed a wide range of opinions about the war. Open and closed forms, dialect and formal verse provided media through which the war was imagined for and explained to the reading public. Just as the range of forms is wide, so too is the range of poets: early modernists (Carl Sandburg, Vachel Lindsay) and established popular writers (Everard Jack Appleton, Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews) as well as obscure amateurs (Lindley Grant Long, Walter E. Seward). And while American poetry did not produce a Wilfred Owen or Siegfried Sassoon, it did produce a number of solder-poets such as Alan Seeger, Byron H. Comstock, and John Allan Wyeth whose work ranges as widely in kind and outlook as does the broader corpus.
Divided into five sections, the introduction surveys American involvement in the First World War and provides a guide to the collection itself. The first section, “War Guilt, Disillusionment, and Beyond,” charts broadly the way the war was seen during wartime and in the postwar era up to the present. Section two, “Why the First World War Was Fought and the United States Joined,” examines briefly why the war occurred and why the United States, distant from the center of the conflict, became involved. One important aspect contributing to that involvement—the debate among American intellectuals that came largely to embrace the Allies--is the subject of section three, “The Great War and the Intellectuals.” Section four, “How the United States Built an Army, Won the War, and Lost the Peace,” considers how the US fought the war, its role in the outcome, and the ultimate defeat of Wilson’s vision of a US-led postwar world order. The final section, “How to Read This Book,” highlights its three overall aims: canvassing the diverse forms of war literature and culture; analyzing the many settings and perspectives that occasioned responses to the war, and describing the depth and durability of the war’s impact.
In the years of and around the First World War, American poets, fiction writers, and dramatists came to the forefront of the international movement we call Modernism. At the same time a vast amount of non- and anti-Modernist culture was produced, mostly supporting, but also critical of, the US war effort. A History of American Literature and Culture of the First World War explores this fraught cultural moment, teasing out the multiple and intricate relationships between an insurgent Modernism, a still-powerful traditional culture, and a variety of cultural and social forces that interacted with and influenced them. Including genre studies, focused analyses of important wartime movements and groups, and broad historical assessments of the significance of the war as prosecuted by the United States on the world stage, this book presents original essays defining the state of scholarship on the American culture of the First World War.