For the last ten years or so my research has been on American literature (and culture more generally) and the First World War–although my interest and earliest research began when I worked on my dissertation in the late 80s. Through my own exploration and by incorporating the existing bibliography, I’ve found around 400 volumes of poetry written by Americans either entirely or in significant part about the war. And one of the things that has struck me is the range, or more accurately the variety or ranges, within that body of writing.
For example, let’s look at a poem, “Saturday P.M.,” in the collection Rookie Rhymes. Rookie Rhymes is the poetic outpouring from the Plattsburg officer training camp of 1917, an effort by the U.S. Army to train some of the vast number of officers that would be needed to staff the AEF, conducted in Plattsburgh (yes, it should be spelled with an “h”), New York, about 25 miles south of the Canadian border and on the western shore of Lake Champlain. Even though a lot of the writers found in Rookie Rhymes were products of the Ivy League and represented a narrow selection of the American population, a variety of sensibilities are on display in the poems. The sensibility in “Saturday P.M.” is definitely comic. It’s a poem about the dreaded inoculations administered to trainees–Rookies.
The poem’s third section–all of the poem’s five section have the same basic form, an eight-line stanza followed by a four-line refrain–looks like this:
Tho' you stood a strict inspection And your dirty gun got by; Tho' you'd grease spots on your breeches, And the Captain winked his eye; Tho' you ate your fill at dinner, And enjoyed a Lucky Strike; There is something at one-thirty That I know you will not like.