Saturday, July 27, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 95: Harvey Shapiro, War Stories (#177)

Harvey Shapiro, "War Stories" (1966) from Poets of World War II:

"War Stories" does double-duty, both as a poem and as a reason to explain why the LoA put out Poets of World War II: in the intro, editor Harvey Shapiro explained that he wanted to counter the idea that World War I was singular in its poetic output. (Also, the LoA page notes that this volume was a commercial success, with 18,000 in print, which makes me enormously sad.)

As a poem, "War Stories" is both different from and similar to Edward Fields's war poem from the same volume: there's the same tone through much of the poem, presenting just the facts in straightforward sentences. But rather than step-by-step recounting of just another crazy incident of war, Shapiro jumps around in time, telling about three-four incidents in his life--training, R&R, going on a mission--all revolving in some way about media and the stories we tell.

In the first part, Shapiro talks about his childhood of comic strips and radio serials, Popeye and Buck Rogers fighting for right; and after an interlude of re-use in pornography, they come back as marching songs during his training. So there's childish stories we tell (contrasted with his dad's political beliefs, the fact that he doesn't get Hearst papers except for Sunday's edition, for the comics) and there's the re-use/reality.

In the second part, we again get that theme of story-telling vs. reality: in an Italian bar, a Brit tells Shapiro that the Italians are a conquered people, which sure sounds great and historical but doesn't actually match what Shapiro sees on the ground. So when Shapiro notes "I was part of that sergeant’s fictive world," we should read it both ways: "I was part" but that world is "fictive."

In the final part, Shapiro is on a mission to bomb Germany; and unlike the other sections, where Shapiro pulls together multiple images or stories, this section is purely given over to the repeated experience of the bombing run. Which culminates in the final (and only for this section) mention of media:
How to believe all that happened,
as in a movie, a tv drama, or some other life.
Check out the flatness of that--movie, tv, other life--as if life was just another sort of story we tell. And after all that confusion about history and story, who can say otherwise?

Bonus: What's up with Shapiro's "little friend, little friend" interjection? Is it a reference to Randall Jarrell's 1945 book of poetry of that name?

No comments:

Post a Comment