Recommended for ages 16+
As World War I dragged on, an artistic movement arose from the trenches. The Trench Poets, as they came to be called, were a group of soldiers who wrote about the horrors around them, as a way to cope with what they saw around them. The Trench Poets ultimately became a significant literary movement – but as all things pass, it appears that the memory of the Poets has dulled a bit. No longer. Contemporary comic book and graphic artists have given new life to these poems by giving readers an illustrated retelling. Artists, including Kathryn and Stuart Immonen – two of my favorites – are here, as are Anders Nilsen, Eddie Campbell, Kevin Huizenga, George Pratt, and many more.
There are 20 poems in comic form here, and they present a brutal, beautiful look at World War I through a soldider’s eyes. There’s no glorification of war here; no rousing cries of “Let’s get ‘im, boys!” and no grandstanding. These poets rejected the glorification of war and looked inward at the psychological damage these men knew they were taking home. The stark black and white art adds to the powerful punch delivered by this work.
I consider myself a pretty well-read person. Perhaps it’s because I’m not as up on poetry as I should be, but I’d never heard of the Trench Poets until I got a copy of Above the Dreamless Dead in my hands, and was blown away by what I read. This is a book that should be in every high school library; English and History teachers could put together one heck of a unit with this book. This stands with Maus and Persepolis, as graphic novel interpretations of history that demand to be read to understand, truly understand, a moment in time through the eyes of a person living it.
Some of the Trench Poets didn’t make it home from the War. Their stories are told briefly at the end of the book. I may not have known anything about the Trench Poets when I picked this book up, but I intend to find out more now. And really, that’s one of the best things one can say about a book.