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Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Home Front since 1941 (Contemp North American Poetry) Hardcover – May 1, 2007
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I was attracted to this book by the title, as a person who enjoys reading poetry. I wanted to learn more about poetry in America, particularly war poetry since we are in the middle (or is the end?) of a war in Iraq, yet this book was more than I was counting on. There wasn't a lot of poetry inside it. Metres traces the history of war poetry and cites the works of poets from Robert Lowell and William Stafford to June Jordan and online group Poets Against the War, but you don't get to experience the poems as poems because they are excerpted and then scrutinized.
If you want to learn about the limits of current lyric and autobiographical in the contemporary peace movement, this may be a book you want to read, but, personally, I have trouble even getting that sentence out. It brings back memories of being a graduate student, reading on Saturday nights in my pajamas and eating frozen dinners, and that's a place I'd rather not go back to.
Behind the Lines is a book of literary criticism, meaning it discusses certain poems in depth and helps the reader understand them. Like the last reviewer, I didn't realize this at first. We both must have thought Behind the Lines was an anthology of war poetry from the title. Fortunately, there's no disappointment because not only does the author list every war (or "war resistance") poetry anthology that came out over nearly the last century but, he also dives much deeper into war resistance poems than any anthology would be able to. It was academic, but only in ways that I feel are really important, like in the way the author tried to never show bias towards one side of an argument or another and instead just let the reader think for herself. It did have some words I didn't know in it, but not enough to make it hard to read (and I like learning new words anyways). As far as literary criticism goes, this is one of the most readable books I've ever bought (it was one of the few literary criticism books I was actually able to finish!).
Obviously, the best thing about this book is the poetry and the in depth explanations that help a reader understand it. However, a really cool thing I didn't expect was how many historical facts I learned from this book. Not your typical classroom stuff--we're talking about things the history books may very well hide on purpose. Until I read this book, I had no idea that there were any people that protested World War II, let alone the large amount it turns out to be. Also, I learned from this book that the image I had in my head of Vietnam veterans coming home and being spat upon is actually incorrect and there, believe it or not, are no actual accounts of any Vietnam vets being spat on. This blew me away. Whether it was about the poet Robert Lowell rejecting an invitation to the White House or a bunch of veterans throwing their metals of honor over the fences at congress in protest, this book taught me about poetry and gave me history lessons I probably couldn't have gotten anywhere else.
Behind the Lines was not only my favorite book that I read this year, but I also ended up liking it more than a lot of the poetry I read. Do yourself a favor and check it out.