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The poets’ Great War: violence, revolution and modernism The First World War changed the map of Europe forever. Empires collapsed, new countries were born, revolutions shocked and inspired the world. This tumult, sometimes referred to as ‘the literary war’, saw an extraordinary outpouring of writing. The conflict opened up a vista of possibilities and tragedies for poetic The poets’ Great War: violence, revolution and modernism The First World War changed the map of Europe forever. Empires collapsed, new countries were born, revolutions shocked and inspired the world. This tumult, sometimes referred to as ‘the literary war’, saw an extraordinary outpouring of writing. The conflict opened up a vista of possibilities and tragedies for poetic exploration, and at the same time poetry was a tool for manipulating the sentiments of the combatant peoples. In Germany alone during the first few months there were over a million poems of propaganda published. We think of war poets as pacifistic protestors, but that view has been created retrospectively. The verse of the time, particularly in the early years of the conflict—in Fernando Pessoa or Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, for example—could find in the violence and technology of modern warfare an awful and exhilarating epiphany. In this cultural history of the First World War, the conflict is seen from the point of view of poets and writers from all over Europe, including Rupert Brooke, Anna Akhmatova, Guillaume Apollinaire, Gabriele D’Annunzio, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Rainer Maria Rilke and Siegfried Sassoon. Everything to Nothing is the award-winning panoramic history of how nationalism and internationalism defined both the war itself and its aftermath—revolutionary movements, wars for independence, civil wars, the treaty of Versailles. It reveals how poets played a vital role in defining the stakes, ambitions and disappointments of postwar Europe.


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The poets’ Great War: violence, revolution and modernism The First World War changed the map of Europe forever. Empires collapsed, new countries were born, revolutions shocked and inspired the world. This tumult, sometimes referred to as ‘the literary war’, saw an extraordinary outpouring of writing. The conflict opened up a vista of possibilities and tragedies for poetic The poets’ Great War: violence, revolution and modernism The First World War changed the map of Europe forever. Empires collapsed, new countries were born, revolutions shocked and inspired the world. This tumult, sometimes referred to as ‘the literary war’, saw an extraordinary outpouring of writing. The conflict opened up a vista of possibilities and tragedies for poetic exploration, and at the same time poetry was a tool for manipulating the sentiments of the combatant peoples. In Germany alone during the first few months there were over a million poems of propaganda published. We think of war poets as pacifistic protestors, but that view has been created retrospectively. The verse of the time, particularly in the early years of the conflict—in Fernando Pessoa or Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, for example—could find in the violence and technology of modern warfare an awful and exhilarating epiphany. In this cultural history of the First World War, the conflict is seen from the point of view of poets and writers from all over Europe, including Rupert Brooke, Anna Akhmatova, Guillaume Apollinaire, Gabriele D’Annunzio, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Rainer Maria Rilke and Siegfried Sassoon. Everything to Nothing is the award-winning panoramic history of how nationalism and internationalism defined both the war itself and its aftermath—revolutionary movements, wars for independence, civil wars, the treaty of Versailles. It reveals how poets played a vital role in defining the stakes, ambitions and disappointments of postwar Europe.

47 review for Everything to Nothing: The Poetry of the Great War, Revolution and the Transformation of Europe

  1. 5 out of 5

    David Sogge

    Given its full title, this book stakes out a big tent. In it, readers might expect to witness highwire acts of cultural criticism and synthesis. Expectations are further heightened where an understanding of Europe’s literary culture, “more specifically a poetic one” in the first violent and tumultuous decades of the 20th century, is at stake. The writer claims that this is “a first attempt” to tell the story of that ‘war culture’ comparatively, across borders, beyond the conventional ‘national p Given its full title, this book stakes out a big tent. In it, readers might expect to witness highwire acts of cultural criticism and synthesis. Expectations are further heightened where an understanding of Europe’s literary culture, “more specifically a poetic one” in the first violent and tumultuous decades of the 20th century, is at stake. The writer claims that this is “a first attempt” to tell the story of that ‘war culture’ comparatively, across borders, beyond the conventional ‘national paradigm’. With the bar set so high and wide, it was perhaps inevitable that the book delivers less than expected. But first some positive points. The book does provide a chronicle involving selected persons who identified themselves with avantgarde cultural movements and political insurgencies in some Western and Eastern European countries. It cites fragments of their published verses. At the same time, it offers a running account, often with great detail, of geopolitics and political personages, war strategies, battle tactics and of the terrible charnel house of war. Thumbnail profiles of writers and poets create something like a wax museum of characters, many of whom I’d never heard of. Some of them appear within a frame of a movements, whose volatile enthusiasms are set against backgrounds of war and political upheaval, notably in Russia and in Ireland. The chapter on Dada exposes that cultural vanguard movement as anti-war, but also as something “distinctly violent”. The writer offers plenty of insights into Belgian and Dutch poets in this period. His prose is clear, jargon-free and dotted with mordant humour. Yet the book doesn't live up to what was promised. There’s little to support claims that it transcends national cultural frontiers. I could find nothing about literary translations, about popular song and songwriters (who might also be counted as poets?) or about the distribution of books and magazines across borders. Such things would seem rather important for telling a convincing story about pan-European forces. Indeed it doesn't offer much about communication among European writers, although several paragraphs dwell on how military commanders managed language and cultural differences among their multi-ethnic troops. Encounters among literary figures are barely discussed. In short, the narrative is almost entirely about national cultures; a storyline transcending national boundaries is hard to detect, the author's claims to the contrary. The focus is on “poetry” yet most chapters pay attention to prose as well. But the reader is not told why some writers – Ford Maddox Ford, for example – get a lot of attention while other influential wordsmiths such as Robert Graves and Wilfred Owen get very little. Or for that matter why other major literary figures who saw action in the Great War such as Ernst Junger (Storm of Steel), Jaroslav Husek (Good Soldier Svejk) and Louis Fernand Celine (Journey to the End of Night) get no attention whatever. One last quibble: the book’s two indices confine themselves to two categories only: persons and places. A reader hoping to look up specific movements, episodes or carriers of culture such as magazines or popular songs, must plough through the text unassisted. While its footnotes show enormous scholarly breadth and depth, the book misses opportunities to serve scholarship by others.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    A fascinating book on a different way to look at World War 1

  3. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    Disclosure: I received this book free from Goodreads Giveaways. Also, WOW. This book is so detailed and dense (and super fascinating) that it took quite some time to read. It's a point of view I've not encountered before, a Continental view of the Great War poets, through the poetry of mostly Continentals with some Russians and Brits thrown in. It became apparent early on that I'm no so clear in my mind of the different factions: Modernists vs the Futurists vs the Dadaists vs all the other groups Disclosure: I received this book free from Goodreads Giveaways. Also, WOW. This book is so detailed and dense (and super fascinating) that it took quite some time to read. It's a point of view I've not encountered before, a Continental view of the Great War poets, through the poetry of mostly Continentals with some Russians and Brits thrown in. It became apparent early on that I'm no so clear in my mind of the different factions: Modernists vs the Futurists vs the Dadaists vs all the other groups, especially when you mix in writers representing art movements plus Fascist, Communist, or Nationalist ideals. I'm very intrigued by the idea that literature, and specifically poetry, used to have such an impact on society and politics. Or, at least that's part of the thesis. This particular perspective offers a not only yet another depiction of the utter unscalable waste of life at the slavering maw of the war machine, but also a vision more intimate, a laser-like poignant loss of budding literary talent.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Margaret

  5. 4 out of 5

    J

  6. 4 out of 5

    John Mcgroarty

  7. 5 out of 5

    Brian Haynes

  8. 4 out of 5

    J Haydel

  9. 4 out of 5

    David

  10. 5 out of 5

    Maya

  11. 4 out of 5

    Myrthel

  12. 4 out of 5

    Marion

  13. 5 out of 5

    Nacho Gonzalez

  14. 4 out of 5

    Marcel

  15. 4 out of 5

    Cathérine

  16. 5 out of 5

    Robyn

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mike

  18. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas

  19. 4 out of 5

    Botyp

  20. 4 out of 5

    Martin

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jürgen Smit

  22. 5 out of 5

    Vos

  23. 4 out of 5

    Guido van Hengel

  24. 5 out of 5

    Oliver

  25. 4 out of 5

    Dionysosvaud

  26. 5 out of 5

    R.A.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Andrei Vylinski

  28. 5 out of 5

    Book Club of One

  29. 4 out of 5

    Koenraad De meulder

  30. 5 out of 5

    Guy Verbruggen

  31. 5 out of 5

    Gunther Martens

  32. 5 out of 5

    Hans

  33. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey

  34. 4 out of 5

    Mackie

  35. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Vermeeren

  36. 4 out of 5

    Rakesh Muthyala

  37. 4 out of 5

    Aim0o

  38. 5 out of 5

    Steven Chang

  39. 5 out of 5

    Ilse

  40. 5 out of 5

    Angelia

  41. 4 out of 5

    Bart

  42. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

  43. 4 out of 5

    Chloe

  44. 5 out of 5

    Guido van Hengel

  45. 4 out of 5

    Wizze

  46. 4 out of 5

    ErrBookErrDay

  47. 5 out of 5

    Alicia

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