City Paper is not for tourists
As a generator of poetry good and bad, war has few equals. For sheer output of bardic activity, few wars can equal the central event in modern American history. In The Columbia Book of Civil War Poetry: From Whitman to Walcott (Columbia University, 543 pp., $24.95), editors Richard Marius and Keith Frome organize miles of verse by theme—war’s horrors, partisan exhortations, reportorial observations, heroes (Abraham Lincoln gets his own section), and the aftermath. This handsome edition also includes many vintage photographs not previously assembled in a single volume; a harrowing standout is the image of the Price, Birch & Co. slave pen, located in a three-story Alexandria building. Aiming to summon a sense of the era’s effusiveness, the editors offer a broad range of wartime verse: wretched doggerel, familiar chestnuts, and lesser-known works of great quality. In a crisp introduction, Marius suggests that the war’s bone-deep significance for precursors, participants, and those of us who have come since derives from the downright and purely American peculiarity of the War Between the States—a conclusion more than amply supported by the poetic evidence he and Frome have assembled.