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This review is taken from PN Review 200, Volume 37 Number 6, June - July 2011.

QUIET GUILT DIEDERIK OOSTDIJK, Among the Nightmare Fighters: American Poets of World War II (University of South Carolina Press) $49.95

In the introduction to his anthology, Poets of World War II (2003), Harvey Shapiro writes: 'common wisdom has it that the poets of World War I - Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon, Edmund Blunden, Isaac Rosenberg - left us a monument and the poets of World War II did not'. Diederik Oostdijk's Among the Nightmare Fighters offers a detailed and lucid exploration of many of the poets represented in Shapiro's anthology and convincingly questions this consensus. Oostdijk follows the 'middle generation' of poets (which included Randall Jarrell, Robert Lowell, Anthony Hecht, Howard Nemerov, Karl Shapiro and William Stafford) from their polite break with their New Critical mentors and their efforts to move beyond Modernism, through their various experiences of World War II, to their weary responses to the Vietnam War, arguing that, collectively, 'their poetry steadfastly but quietly expresses their general unease about what the war meant about themselves, their country, and humankind'.

While there are some chapters which focus on individual authors (e.g. 'Robert Lowell's Ideological Vacillations' and 'Randall Jarrell's Secondhand Reality'), Oostdijk's approach is to draw connections among these poets, and most sections develop through astute close readings of poems, letters, diary entries and unpublished drafts by a range of writers. He acknowledges that 'the body of poetry of this war is extremely varied', but suggests that these poets share significant concerns. There is an acute awareness of poetic tradition among this generation (most of these men were also literary scholars who taught at ...


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