Am thrilled skinny to welcome Josh Lanyon as my guest here today, with some thoughts about the poetry of war.
The magpies in Picardy
Are more than I can tell.
They flicker down the dusty roads
And cast a magic spell
On the men who march through Picardy,
Through Picardy to hell.
“Magpies in Picardy” by T. P. Cameron Wilson
World War I inspired and produced a body of literary work, particularly poetry, unlike that of any other conflict. Why poets and poetry are perceived as the art form that best represents that “flower of youth” cut down during the ferocious struggle between 1914 – 1918, I don’t know, but it was true even in their own day. Maybe it’s because poetry is such a civilized and cerebral pursuit a and The Great War was the conflict that shattered for all time the notion of war as a gallant and chivalrous adventure.
There is a misconception that all the poets were English and of the upper class. But perhaps the single best known poem of the war, “In Flanders Fields” was by a Canadian, and the poets themselves came from a variety of religious and economic backgrounds. Nor were all the poems anti-war, although these are the poems we are probably the most familiar with these days.
I’ve tried twice to write about World War I poets. The first attempt, a post-war mystery novel, is still incomplete. Partly because every time I begin the research, I get too depressed to continue. The second try resulted in a novella called Out of the Blue. When the story begins, the main character, ace pilot Bat Bryant, is grieving for his lover, a Canadian war poet.
There is no period of history that fascinates me more — or that breaks my heart as much. The War to End all Wars had it all: heroism, nobility, pageantry — horror, stupidity, waste. Those terrible four years offer a goldmine of material — if you can find the fortitude to pan for it.
Out of the Blue
France, November 1916
Grieving over the death of his lover, British flying ace Bat Bryant accidentally kills the man threatening him with exposure. Unfortunately there’s a witness: the big, rough American they call “Cowboy” and Cowboy has his own price for silence.