Poetry was part of The Stars and Stripes from its first issue. A regular feature, "The Army's Poets," was inaugurated May 3, 1918. According to a review of the paper's first year, published February 7, 1919, that feature proved to be the most widely read column in the paper:
"Army verse is not particularly a STARS AND STRIPES fad. It is a STARS AND STRIPES necessity. Anyone would think so if he had had to sort 500 poems a week, or something like 18,000, to be conservative, since the paper was established.
This newspaper, in the first 52 weeks of its existence, printed 381 poems, not counting the little carols on the Sporting Page or verse in such inside departments as 'The Listening Post' or 'Star Shells.' Possibly 40 of these were written by members of the editorial staff. The rest (and the best) were contributed. With very few exceptions, possibly ten or a dozen, every bit of verse printed was the work of a soldier."
Search the collection using the term Army poets to access a sampling of poems published in the paper's weekly column. Select several poems that convey the spirit of the A.E.F. One example might be the poem entitled "Off to the Trenches," reputed to have been tacked to the billet door as the doughboys were deployed to the front:
"...the Boches [Germans] big and small, Runty one and Boches tall, Won't keep your boys a-squatting in the ditches very long; For we'll soon be busting through, sir, God help Fritzie when we do, sir — Let's get going Colonel Blank, because we're feeling might strong."
Read several poems and consider the following questions:
- What types of poems were featured in the weekly paper? For example, were the poems humorous? Sentimental? Did they use standard rhyming patterns (e.g., abab, abba)? Were any free verse (poems without rhyme or with nonstandard rhyming patterns)?
- What do you notice about the language used in the poems? Was it formal or informal? Did the poets use metaphors or more literal language?
- What attitudes and feelings were expressed in the poems? How effectively did the poets express their emotions and ideas through their work?
- Why do you believe the poetry column in the paper was so popular?
The Army and Navy Register of April 15, 1919, published a poem by Owen P. White, in which the poet expressed hostility to the formation of the League of Nations. The Stars and Stripes reprinted the poem with a soldier's critique written as a letter to the editor The soldier introduced the poem with the statement, "Being a more or less superficial student of psychology and a profound student of bunkology, I desire to recommend to other students of these closely related subjects the following heroic poem." He concluded:
"Now, as it is the mind of Mr. White that I wish to study and not the meter of the poem, certain additional data is required. Perhaps some one in the A.E.F. can supply it. What is wanted is information as to whether or not Mr. White got his inspiration for the above lines while with a company of Infantry in the Argonne or at Nantes in company with Mademoiselle Vin Blanc."
Read the original poem and the critique. Consider the following questions:
- What were Owen White's arguments against the League of Nations? Was his poem an effective way to make the case against the League?
- What technique did "Curious" use to reflect his opposition to White's poem on the League of Nations?
- How effective was the concluding paragraph in arousing support among the A.E.F. for the League of Nations?
Read "Afterwards", a poem by Lieutenant Grantland Rice. Rice, who had been a sportswriter and editor at several major newspapers prior to the war, was originally assigned as editor of the sports page. He decided that he could better serve the paper as a war correspondent reporting from the front lines. In "Afterwards," he reflected upon the experiences of war from one who witnessed campaigns from the front lines.
- What experiences on the front lines did Rice write about?
- What did Rice predict would happen when the Doughboys were far away — in time and space — from their war experiences?
- How effective was the poem in expressing the experiences of A.E.F. members?
- Compare Rice's poem with some of the other poems written by soldiers. What, if anything, sets Rice's poem apart?
After the war, Rice returned to writing about sports and became one of the nation's best known and most admired sportswriters. He often included poems he had written in his sports columns. Find out more about Rice and his poetry through an Internet search or a visit to the poetry section of the school media center.