For Canadians, the First World War was a dynamic period of literary activity. Almost every poet wrote about the war, critics made bold predictions about the legacy of the period’s poetry, and booksellers were told it was their duty to stock shelves with war poetry. Readers bought thousands of volumes of poetry. Twenty years later, by the time Canada went to war again, no one remembered any of it.
Battle Lines traces the rise and disappearance of Canadian First World War poetry, and offers a striking and comprehensive account of its varied and vexing poetic gestures. As eagerly as Canadians took to the streets to express their support for the war, poets turned to their notebooks, and shared their interpretations of the global conflict, repeating and reshaping popular notions of, among others, national obligation, gendered responsibility, aesthetic power, and deathly presence.
The book focuses on the poetic interpretations of the Canadian soldier. He emerges as a contentious poetic subject, a figure of battle romance, and an emblem of modernist fragmentation and fractiousness. Centring the work of five exemplary Canadian war poets (Helena Coleman, John McCrae, Robert Service, Frank Prewett, and W.W.E. Ross), the book reveals their latent faith in collective action as well as conflicting recognition of modernist subjectivities. Battle Lines identifies the Great War as a long-overlooked period of poetic ferment, experimentation, reluctance, and challenge.