Saturday, January 31, 2015

Puptent Poets, 1945


Recently, I picked up a literary treasure in a used bookstore: Puptent Poets, published by Stars and Stripes Mediterranean in Italy in 1945. This refers to the US Army's Stars and Stripes newspaper, Mediterranean edition, during and right after WWII.

Puptent Poets, a 1945 anthology compiled by Corporal Charles A. Hogan and Corporal John Welsh III, contains poems by American soldiers on various military themes in WWII. Very interesting stuff. If you know of my work on poetry by Vietnam vets, you'll know why I say that. But these poems are of general interest as well, I believe. These poets are our parents and grandparents, after all. Yes, there are poems by women soldiers included.


Here is a poem from the anthology that speaks of the difference between peacetime and wartime, especially the huge moral questions involved.

I Hunt Today

In bygone days, I used to hunt
The swiftly flying duck
And stalk through woods of birch and pine
To bag an eight-point buck.
I used to seek to flush the quail
That plump and wary fowl
And oft at night my roaring gun
Would end the coyote's howl.
I've faced the charge of wounded moose,
I've felt the jaguar's claws,
I've faced the tiger's snarling growl,
The lion's hungry roars,
I've looked into the jaws of death,
And never had to pray,
But God, please give me courage,
I'm hunting "man" today.

                    — Sgt. A. Schneider

The poem begins with details we might expect of an American hunter: duck, deer, quail, even the (probably) less familiar coyote or moose. But then the speaker refers to hunting jaguar, tiger, lion. Perhaps as you read you began to wonder about truth, and so on. I think Sergeant Schneider is moving the poem's purview here to a more global perspective, and this makes even more powerful the speaker's apprehension that now he is hunting humans. People.

I'm gonna stop talking here so I don't over-analyze this and ruin Schneider's effect and message. This is an honest poem that speaks to each soldier's humanity and, by extension, our own. What happens to a person, to you — emotionally, spiritually, existentially, essentially — when you hunt another person, hunt and kill?

Over the next days, I'll bring you more poems from Puptent Poets. And also some of the illustrations by Sergeant Stanley Meltzoff. The book was edited by Lieutenant Ed Hill.

The book's colophon mentions other names: Major Robert Neville (commander of Stars and Stripes, Mediterranean edition); Major Robert J. Christenson (executive officer); the aforementioned Lieutenant Ed Hill (editor of the newspaper also, evidently); Lieutenant William F. Tout (fiscal officer); and Sergeants Irving Levinson and Fred Unwin (composition and makeup).

I include all of these names — poets, compilers, and newspaper staff — not only to honor their work in/on the book but also to get their names into cyberspace so they can be found by friends, family, and others. Many many thanks for your service in WWII, puptent poets and crew.

Incidentally, I've made no corrections. And will make none as I show you more poems. As an editor (in my professional judgment, I mean), I would have placed a period after the "lion's hungry roars" instead of a comma. But how I've presented the poem above is how it appears in the book. Perhaps that comma was Schneider's and the Stars and Stripes staff left it a comma out of respect for the poet. Good for them.

As an editor, I would have put in a period at that point because of symmetry. "I Hunt Today" is made up of four-line chunks with the second and fourth lines rhyming, what's called alternating rhyme. There's a period at the end of each alternating quatrain except the third one (which ends with "lion's hungry roars"). Presumably, Sergeant Schneider would have wanted parallel punctuation at the end of all the quatrains. However, there is also evidence to the contrary: the elliptical phrase "That plump and wary fowl" is not set off by commas as it usually would, so perhaps Schneider was not as careful with his commas as he probably was with his Garand M1 rifle. Sorry, Sergeant. However, his use of the ballad stanza is quite good. (Tetrameter line, trimeter with rhyme, tetrameter, then trimeter again with rhyme.) Whoa. Over-analyzing again. Stopping.

Let me add one more "lit crit" comment, though. I'm sure some readers will label this poem doggerel verse because of its exact rhymes. To me that smacks of literary elitism. This poem appeared originally in the Stars and Stripes newspaper to be read and enjoyed by fellow soldiers. I don't know if Sergeant Schneider had literary aspirations or not, but for me it doesn't matter. What is important is that this poem spoke convincingly and deeply to readers, whoever they are. Otherwise, it wouldn't be in Puptent Poets. To me, the poem's passionate connection to readers, even if there were only one person moved by it, is enough.


Won't you comment, please, friends? To make a comment, look for a blue link below that says Post a comment and click it once. If you don't see that, look in the red line that starts Posted by Vince, then find the word comments and click it once.

Ingat, everyone.  



Added on 3 February 2015: The next post about the Puptent Poets anthology can be read here.

2 comments:

Heather Feuerhelm said...

I appreciate the poem and your analysis, Vince. It's been a long time since we've been in touch. I wonder if any poems in your book will touch on the distance of family and friends...

Thanks for keeping me interested and aware.

Vince Gotera said...

Heather, thank you. Let's keep in touch better. Are you on facebook? Yes, the poems in this book from WWII do "touch on the distance of family and friends." You should pick up a copy!

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