FRIEND OR FOE: HOWARD NEMEROV DUELS DAVID IGNATOW

Where are the WW II poems?

WW II engulfed the world but how many great poems did it produce?

Maybe WW II killed poetry.

After the large-scale horror of WW II, poetry at last seemed trivial.

The Trojan War?

Epic Poems!

The War of the Roses?

Sonnets!

The Holy wars?

Odes!

Napoleonic Wars?

Verses.

War of 1812?

Ballads galore.

Civil War?

Poems, ballads, verses by the score.

WW I?

Poems! O, Poems! Poems whether wounded or sore.

WW II?

Hey, what happened? University Poetry Workshops Subsidized by the GI Bill.

Ballads, verses, where art thou?

Howard Nemerov in the Scarriet March Madness APR 2011 Tournament brings the one  WW II poem to the competition:

IFF

[Identification Friend Or Foe]

Hate Hitler? No, I spared him hardly a thought.
But Corporal Irmin, first, and later on
The O.C. (Flying), Wing Commander Briggs,
And the station C.O. Group Captain Ormery—
Now there were men were objects fit to hate,
Hitler a moustache and a little curl
In the middle of his forehead, whereas those
Bastards were bastards in your daily life,
With power in their pleasure, smile or frown.

Not to forget my navigator Bert,
Who shyly explained to me that the Jews
Were ruining England and Hitler might be wrong
But he had the right idea…We were a crew,
And went on so, the one pair left alive
Of a dozen tha chose each other flipping coins
At the OTU, but spoke no civil word
Thereafter, beyond the words that had to do
With the drill for going out and getting back.

One night, with a dozen squadrons coming home
To Manston, the tower gave us orbit and height
To wait our turn in their lofty waiting-room,
And on every circuit, when we crossed the Thames,
Our gunners in the estuary below
Loosed off a couple of dozen rounds on spec,
Defending the Commonwealth as detailed to do,
Their lazy lights so slow, then whipping past.
All the above were friends. And then the foe.

–Howard Nemerov

David Ignatow’s poem is about a different kind of war:

Each Day

Cynthia Matz, with my finger in your cunt
and you sliding back and forth on it,
protesting at the late hour and tiredness
and me with kidneys straining to capacity
with piss I had no chance to release
all night, we got up from the park bench
and walked you home. I left you
at the door, you said something
dispiriting about taking a chance
and settling on me. I had left Janette
to chase after you running out
of the ice cream parlor where the three
of us had sat—I had felt so sorry
and so guilty to have had you find me
with her in the street. You and I
had gone to shows together,
you needed me to talk to and I was glad.
The talk always was about him
Whom you still loved and he had jilted
you for someone else. I’m sorry, Cynthia,
that it had to end this way between us too.
I did not return the next day,
after leaving you at the door.
I did not return the following day either.
I went with Janette in whom I felt nothing
standing in the way, while with you
it would have been each day
to listen to your sadness
at having been betrayed by him.
I was not to be trusted either.
I too wanted love pure and simple.

–David Ignatow

MARLA MUSE: The Ignatow poem began with such promise (boy did it ever!) but ended with a whimper.

The Nemerov poem is packed with life few have lived. Not that this ever makes a poem good by itself—but it doesn’t hurt.

MARLA MUSE: So the WW II poem wins?

Easily.  Nemerov over Ignatow, 91-80.

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21 Comments

  1. Poem support said,

    April 1, 2011 at 9:04 am

    IFF

    1.

    Hate Hitler? No, I spared him hardly a thought.
    But Corporal Irmin, first, and later on
    The O.C. (Flying), Wing Commander Briggs,
    And the station C.O. Group Captain Ormery—
    Now there were men were objects fit to hate,
    Hitler a moustache and a little curl
    In the middle of his forehead, whereas those
    Bastards were bastards in your daily life,
    With power in their pleasure, smile or frown.

    2.

    Not to forget my navigator Bert,
    Who shyly explained to me that the Jews
    Were ruining England and Hitler might be wrong
    But he had the right idea…. We were a crew,
    And went on so, the one pair left alive
    Of a dozen that chose each other flipping coins
    At the OTU, but spoke no civil word
    Thereafter, beyond the words that had to do
    With the drill for going out and getting back.

    3.

    One night, with a dozen squadrons coming home
    To Manston, the tower gave us orbit and height
    To wait our turn in their lofty waiting-room,
    And on every circuit, when we crossed the Thames,
    Our gunners in the estuary below
    Loosed off a couple of dozen rounds on spec,
    Defending the Commonwealth as detailed to do,
    Their lazy lights so slow, then whipping past.
    All the above were friends. And then the foe.

    Howard Nemerov

    • Poem excerpt support said,

      April 1, 2011 at 9:08 am

      “For every shell Krupp fired/General Motors sent back four.”

      — from “A Bower of Roses” by Louis Simpson

      • Nooch & Link Support said,

        April 1, 2011 at 9:18 am

        One of the best books
        Of WW2 poetry—
        Is Lincoln Kirstein’s
        Rhymes of a PFC.

    • Poem support said,

      April 1, 2011 at 12:03 pm

      The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

      From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
      And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
      Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
      I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
      When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

      Randall Jarrell

      • Poem/Link support said,

        April 1, 2011 at 12:22 pm

        Your Attention Please

        The Polar DEW has just warned that
        A nuclear rocket strike of
        At least one thousand megatons
        Has been launched by the enemy
        Directly at our major cities.
        This announcement will take
        Two and a quarter minutes to make,
        You therefore have a further
        Eight and a quarter minutes
        To comply with the shelter
        Requirements published in the Civil
        Defence Code – section Atomic Attack.
        A specially shortened Mass
        Will be broadcast at the end
        Of this announcement –
        Protestant and Jewish services
        Will begin simultaneously –
        Select your wavelength immediately
        According to instructions
        In the Defence Code. Do not
        Take well-loved pets (including birds)
        Into your shelter – they will consume
        Fresh air. Leave the old and bed-
        Ridden, you can do nothing for them.
        Remember to press the sealing
        Switch when everyone is in
        The shelter. Set the radiation
        Aerial, turn on the Geiger barometer.
        Turn off your television now.
        Turn off your radio immediately
        The services end. At the same time
        Secure explosion plugs in the ears
        Of each member of your family. Take
        Down your plasma flasks. Give your children
        The pills marked one and two
        In the C D green container, then put
        Them to bed. Do not break
        The inside airlock seals until
        The radiation All Clear shows
        (Watch for the cuckoo in your
        Perspex panel), or your District
        Touring Doctor rings your bell.
        If before this your air becomes
        Exhausted or if any of your family
        Is critically injured, administer
        The capsules marked ‘Valley Forge’
        (Red pocket in No 1 Survival Kit)
        For painless death. (Catholics
        Will have been instructed by their priests
        What to do in this eventuality.)
        This announcement is ending. Our President
        Has already given orders for
        Massive retaliation – it will be
        Decisive. Some of us may die.
        Remember, statistically
        It is not likely to be you.
        All flags are flying fully dressed
        On Government buildings – the sun is shining.
        Death is the least we have to fear.
        We are all in the hands of God,
        Whatever happens happens by His will.
        Now go quickly to your shelters.

        Peter Porter

        http://www.ppu.org.uk/learn/poetry/poetry_ww2_1.html

  2. Poem support said,

    April 1, 2011 at 9:07 am

    Each Day

    Cynthia Matz, with my finger in your cunt
    and you sliding back and forth on it,
    protesting at the late hour and tiredness
    and me with kidneys straining to capacity
    with piss I had no chance to release
    all night, we got up from the park bench
    and walked you home. I left you
    at the door, you said something
    dispiriting about taking a chance
    and settling on me. I had left Janette
    to chase after you running out
    of the ice cream parlor where the three
    of us had sat—I had felt so sorry
    and so guilty to have had you find me
    with her in the street. You and I
    had gone to shows together,
    you needed me to talk to and I was glad.
    The talk always was about him
    Whom you still loved and he had jilted
    you for someone else. I’m sorry, Cynthia,
    that it had to end this way between us too.
    I did not return the next day,
    after leaving you at the door.
    I did not return the following day either.
    I went with Janette in whom I felt nothing
    standing in the way, while with you
    it would have been each day
    to listen to your sadness
    at having been betrayed by him.
    I was not to be trusted either.
    I too wanted love pure and simple.

    David Ignatow

  3. thomasbrady said,

    April 1, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    I know there are plenty of WW II poems that have been published. Auden, James Dickey, my friend Antonio Giarraputo, whose WW II poem has been featured on Scarriet, but WW I poetry seems to get a great deal more attention.

  4. Bill Carpenter said,

    April 1, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    Nicholas Haggers makes up, in sheer volume, for the relative dearth you discuss with his 41,000-line “epic poem” on the closing years of World War II titled Overlord.

  5. thomasbrady said,

    April 1, 2011 at 6:52 pm

    Thanks, Bill.

    This is from Hagger’s website:

    “Conceived in 1969, and discussed with Ezra Pound in 1970, Overlord, the first major poetic epic in the English language since Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) has had the same gestation period as Milton’s poem: some 25 years. It is in 12 books totalling 41,000 lines of blank verse. It is set in Europe in the last year of the Second World War. It narrates the conflict between Eisenhower and Hitler in terms that echo Homer’s Iliad, and the fall of Berlin is a latter-day fall of Troy. Just as the gods help the Greeks and the Trojans in the Iliad, Christ helps Eisenhower and Satan helps Hitler.”

    Pound!! Yikes. Hagger’s site also says Hagger counted the poet Edmund Blunden as a friend; Blunden was WW I vet and was Paul Engle’s insturctor when Engle was a Rhodes Scholar.

    You can’t swing a cat without hitting the Pound/New Critics clique.

    Also interesting how he’s published so much, but you can’t find one line of his poetry on his website—unless I’m missing something…

    Tom

  6. Bill Carpenter said,

    April 2, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    Readily available on abebooks.com. I only have a first impression at this point which is not worth sharing.

    I’ll also call to your attention William Carter’s The Gates of Janus (1919), a passionate chronicle of WWI in vigorous but dated heroic couplets. It is of more normal epic dimensions, 200+ pages.

    • thomasbrady said,

      April 2, 2011 at 5:00 pm

      Thanks, Bill, I see that Hagger’s books are available for sale, but I can’t find one of his lines posted on the internet.

      William Carter’s ‘Gates of Janus’ can be found, and he is a solid couplet writer, and he wrote his epic while the war was going on.

      Poe was probably correct about long poems, though…they will never be popular again. Also Carter believes the Brits were the good guys in WW I, as if there’s a good side in that war…just more anglo-tripe…

      Tom

      • noochinator said,

        April 2, 2011 at 7:41 pm

        Hmm, anglo-tripe’s harsh,
        And implies a poet’s preening—
        But perhaps said poet’s trying
        To give his experience meaning:

        From In Parenthesis by David Jones:

        On addressing commissioned officers—it was his
        favorite theme. John Ball stood patiently, waiting for the
        eloquence to spread itself. The tedious flow continued, then
        broke off very suddenly. He looked straight at Sergeant Snell
        enquiringly—whose eyes changed quietly, who ducked in
        under the low entry. John Ball would have followed, but
        stood fixed and alone in the little yard—his senses highly
        alert, his body incapable of movement or response. The
        exact disposition of small things—the precise shapes of
        trees, the tilt of a bucket, the movement of a straw, the
        disappearing right foot of Sergeant Snell—all minute
        noises, separate and distinct, in a stillness charged through
        with some approaching violence—registered not by the ear
        nor any single faculty—an on-rushing pervasion, saturating
        all existence; with exactitude, logarithmic, dial-timed,
        millesimal—of calculated velocity, some mean chemist’s
        contrivance, a stinking physicist’s destroying toy.

        He stood alone on the stones, his mess-tin spilled at his
        feet. Out of the vortex, rifling the air it came—bright,
        brass-shod, Pandoran; with all-filling screaming the howling
        crescendo’s up-piling snapt. The universal world,
        breath held, one half-second, a bludgeoned stillness. Then
        the pent violence released a consummation of all burstings
        out; all sudden up-rendings and rivings-through—all
        takings-out of vents—all barrier-breaking—all unmaking.
        Pernitric begetting—the dissolving and splitting of solid
        things. In which unearthing aftermath, John Ball picked up
        his mess-tin and hurried within; ashen, huddled, waited in
        the dismal straw. Behind “E” Battery, fifty yards down the
        road, a great many mangolds, uprooted, pulped, congealed
        with chemical earth, spattered and made slippery the rigid
        boards leading to the emplacement. The sap of vegetables
        slobbered the spotless breech-block of No. 3 gun.

        (IP II, 24)

  7. Nooch & Poem excerpt/Link support said,

    April 2, 2011 at 7:12 pm

    Here’s a bleeding chunk
    And a website link—
    The site’s not very
    User-friendly, I think:

    From Overlord:

    “Tell, Muse, how the four-tiered cosmos became
    The universe which is our home, how first
    Primordial Nothingness, potential Fire
    Was always everywhere, a moving power,
    Empyrean of the infinite Whole,
    Intelligence self-entangled, aware
    As if an ocean were a mind of waves,
    And knew ‘I am’, the Kabbalah’s Ayn Sof,
    Transcendent darkness, latent beauty, God!”
    — Book 1, II. 182-90

    http://www.nicholashagger.co.uk/poet.htm

  8. Bill Carpenter said,

    April 3, 2011 at 10:11 am

    Great excerpt from Jones, Nooch. That is a high point in the book. I’ve just been reading it for the first time. It was hard to slog through the multiple points of view at first, but on a second read it falls into place and the writing is brilliant.

    Tom, I always had a vague belief that WWI was a horrible pointless waste, but reading Ernst Junger’s outstanding Copse 125, I had to think, Yikes, what can you do with invading dedicated militarists but fight them? Thanks for taking a look at Carter and Haggers. Bill

  9. Bill Carpenter said,

    April 3, 2011 at 11:48 am

    On long poems, think of them as theme and variations. If a note is worth hearing once, it’s worth hearing in many varied settings and with different nuances, if the poet can deliver.

    Frank Stanford’s the battlefield where the moon says I love you is one of the greates of all American poems, maybe the greatest. Fred Turner’s Genesis is a wonderful, accomplished epic poem, not a verse history like the Hagger and Carter poems. You could put Stanford and Turner head to head in next year’s March Madness–Clash of the Titans!

  10. Bill Carpenter said,

    April 3, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    Great hunting! Well done! I dare you to tell us those aren’t national champions!

    • thomasbrady said,

      April 4, 2011 at 1:54 am

      Scarriet will make a thorough examination and let you know, Bill!

  11. Poem Support said,

    April 10, 2011 at 11:04 am

    Armistice

    It is finished. The enormous dust-cloud over Europe
    Lifts like a million swallows; and a light,
    Drifting in craters, touches the quiet dead.

    Now, at the bugle’s hour, before the blood
    Cakes in a clean wind on their marble faces,
    Making them monuments; before the sun,

    Hung like a medal on the smoky noon,
    Whitens the bone that feeds the earth; before
    Wheat-ear springs green, again, in the green spring

    And they are bread in the bodies of the young:
    Be strong to remember how the bread died, screaming;
    Gangrene was corn, and monuments went mad.

    Paul Dehn

  12. Ralph said,

    November 12, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    Wow! Just wow!


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