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Columbo, John Robert and Michael Richardson.

Toronto, Doubleday, c1985. 210pp, cloth, $19.95, ISBN 0-385-25002-9. CIP

Grades 10 and up
Reviewed by Vivienne Denton

Volume 14 Number 4
1986 July

I am not a military buff, and I at first viewed this volume of poetry with scepticism, despite the compilers' track record for interesting anthologies and collections. I was at a loss to think of what poetry might be used to fill such a relatively substantial volume. In fact, the book is of most interest because it documents an aspect of Canada's cultural history. This is a history, in verse and song, of Canada in time of war.

The collection is divided into seventeen sections, each covering a different war in which Canadians were involved. Each section has its own introduction to the war and times, providing historical background to the poems. The anthology begins with poetry and war songs celebrating Indian battles, moves through the seventeenth and eighteenth-century battles between the English and the French, the American invasion, the War of 1812, the 1837 and Riel rebellions, and so forth. However, the most substantial sections are those devoted to the first and second world wars. The collection ends with coverage of the Korean war, and the peace and protest movements of the 60s and 70s.

The editors have included works of recognized poetic merit alongside interesting contemporary verse and lively doggerel. The selection has been collected from anthologies of poetry, regimental songbooks, and contemporary sources, such as magazines and unpublished manuscripts. In the compilers' words, the collection includes "some of the songs Canadian soldiers have sung," "some of the verses Canadian soldiers have recited," and "compositions written by other Canadians distant from the fields of battle, about the dedication and daring of Canadian soldiers." Much narrative verse was omitted because it is too lengthy, and most readers will note with relief that "the editors found little room for songs, poems or verses that made use of martial occasions for meditations on piety or patriotism."

As the works are arranged according to the historical era they describe, one finds contemporaneous works juxtaposed with poems often written much later. In the First World War section, for example, poems by Alden Nowlan and Raymond Souster, born after the war, are placed alongside works by Robert Service, John McCrae, and Wilfred Campbell, and one also finds songs and verse from regimental song books and other contemporary sources. Because of this mix, dates of composition appended to the poems might have been useful, and I would like to know more about some of the poets.

This lively anthology is of most interest for its documentation of Canada's cultural history. The verse collected is a mixture of poetry by well-known poets and lesser writers, as well as the works of unknown versifiers, and some lively traditional songs. There is great variety; heroic verse such as "Brock" by Charles Sangster, popular songs like "K-K-K-Katy," stirring epitaphs by Rudyard Kipling from Canadian cenotaphs, and the wry musings of present-day poets on their country's past.

Vivienne Denton, Toronto, Ont.
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