Cover image for America : a history in verse
America : a history in verse
Sanders, Ed.
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volumes ; 23 cm
v. 1. 1900-1939

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PS3569.A49 A8 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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With Hymn to the Rebel Cafe (1994), Chekhov (1995) and 1968: A History in Verse (1997), Ed Sanders has developed a remarkable mode of "compacted history" (as one critic called it). Angry, wistful, defiant and extremely funny re-inventions of historical and biographical worlds, these works offer a highly original mix of chronicle, anecdote, document, reportage, paean and polemic.

In the present volume, Sanders embarks on his most ambitious project to date: an epic, neo-Herodotean finding-out-for-oneself of salient moments and movements in the public/private history of the American twentieth century. Bold, sweeping, data-retentive, rhapsodic, hilarious, heart-rendering, thought-provoking, Sanders' History adds a brilliant new poetic patch to "the story of America...a million stranded fabric / woven by billions of hands & minds".

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

America's 20th century written as an Olsonian open-field epic poem makes for Sanders's most ambitious work to date, spilling forth its first four decades with shudders of investigative glee. Casually dismantling the position of historian as objective authority, Sanders takes the reader year by year through America's tumultuous passage into industrialization, focusing on the efforts of the country's spirited, fragmented left-wing to bring forth measures of democratic equality and justice in the face of ever-present labor abuses. Sanders, who has spent years working on a journalistic method of poetry-as-history (Chekhov; 1968: A History in Verse), here manages effortless precision and tonal confidence, all the while maintaining a radical perspective: "April 21/ air ace Manfred von Richthofen/ was shot down/ June/ `Share or die' the Bolsheviks shouted/ as they ordered the nationalization of industry/ and shudders zoomed through the board rooms of Wall Street/ Tremble, o Greed heads, tremble" ("1918"). The snappy, episodic structure of the book makes it highly accessible without sacrificing detail or smarts, and Sanders's irreverent humor manages to lend credibility to his defiantly liberal historic framing: "The Progressives supported suffrage/ while wince-minded Wilson/ would not come out for it!/ feeling it was an issue for the states!/ --Racism and women's rights/ not visited at all by/ the whitebread campaign o' '12." Sanders's plainspoken poetry will no doubt dismay the right-leaning, as well as lefties who equate radicalism with formal difficulty. But in its exactness, spirited stand-taking and expansive vision, his verse history proves a remarkable achievement. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This free-wheeling commentary (more accurately prose poetry than "verse") provides an innovative reassessment of events in early 20th-century U.S. and world history up to 1939. Sanders (1968: A History in Verse) records important (and sometimes unimportant) events chronologically in entries that have great impact but little continuity. The inclusion of incidents and people is dictated by a radical left-wing perspective marked by an abrasive criticism of capitalism ("reactionary slime-grovels of monopoly capital"). With empathy for the underdog and dislike of the "right-wing majority," Sanders offers extraneous lists of births, deaths, and other disparate information. Some episodes (the murder of the tsar, the Lindbergh baby kidnapping) have a panoramic quality, but after a while, the mock-poetic structure and slangy style ("fliggle-giggling & heeze-harfing") become too much. Although Sanders's critique is too inflexible to illuminate the underlying meanings of complicated events (or literature), this lively newsreel almanac pays renewed attention to often overlooked activists in modern America's "drift of history."DFrank Allen, Northampton Community Coll., Tannersville, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One The century began          with the war against Spain and the grabbing of the Philippines                           in '98 & '99 for the issues & secret whispers of destiny                                 there arrayed remained with the nation            the next one hundred years. The gore of th' Civil War was thirty-five years in the past & some in America      were shoving for markets and might The navy in particular was eager to get more ships         surge through sea lanes                      patrol more harbors William McKinley was president since '96 and his forty-year-old          assistant secretary of the navy                                 one Teddy Roosevelt had already published a four-volume                    Winning of the West Roosevelt had the high metabolism of a hamster                     and part of him always                     tried to shove the nation to battle In '97 he confided to a pal:          "I should welcome almost any war          for I think this country needs one." (It was a clear synecdoche of Roosevelt's serial aggression: that is, confusing his own                 impulsivity to violence                              with the nation's) Whatever he was   he set a good part of the tone                        of the first 20 years. The nation was already attuned to conquering. On the Great Plains               'tween '60 & '10 the Indian villages were decimated by the U.S. Army          so that the railroads,                               then the farmers         could grab the best of the land The Indians were beaten now &                     the continent solely seized-- Go West could now be Go to the World So many had come to America                         from so many lands dissenters, rebellious sons,                       stomped-down daughters                                  yearning for yes that maybe it was time to assemble                             beneath the [flag] to sail forth more or less unified to the seas of their progenitors The USA was filled with debate Some wanted imperialist expansion Others opposed foreign colonies while some just wanted Open Borders                                 in other nations so as to grab up resources                and sell stuff back & forth                               in a trade-batty frenzy what Howard Zinn calls the "peaceful development of free trade"                     --a gourd of words with razors inside for some in power just cannot live                            without a little war to tinge the trade Didn't everybody do it? Look at the unseemly invasions of Africa                by the seething nations of Europe                or the graceless droolings of the same                        to section ancient China                        as if she were a quarter of beef It was a spectacle                to make a nouveau riche nation                                  tremble with envy: England, France, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands shoving their way                through the streets                             of pliant nations A War in Cuba Cuba was discovered by Columbus on his first voyage Velazquez conquered the isle in 1511 & the Spanish had owned it ever since In '95 a rebellion began           against a cruel & ruthless, multi-century                             Spanish colonial system                             and a hated network                             of "Friars" that                                    treated the Cubans like dirt. Some in the US thought that the Cuban revolt against Spain                      had Holy Freedom aspects of 1776 but other empire-empirical types such as the young Winston Churchill wanted Spain to keep control He'd written an article in the New Republic that since 2/5 of the Cuban insurgents were black the result, shudder shudder,                could be "another black republic" --referring of course to Cuba joining Haiti the first nation run by blacks in the New World. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans       from the rural areas       were forced into concentration camps by a general named Valeriano Weyler.               The Hearst & Pulitzer papers                      began to shriek at the                               Spaniards in Cuba as evil A new, more liberal regime in Spain came to power in '97 It promised autonomy to the Island                (with Spain still having the ultimate say) The American consul general in Havana, Fitzhugh Lee,                               a promoter of intervention urged sending the battleship Maine to Havana         to lurk in the harbor                    as a banner of national power or to aid in the safety of Americans            in case of chaos                   if the rebels should toss out the Spanish Meanwhile America had things to sell "War is a bloody good biz" said th' steel magnates of Pa.        (ships & cannons) said the lumber kings        (big forests in Cuba to grab) th' gunmakers        (rifles, cannons, stabbing devices) and Massachusetts cloth        (uniforms, bandages!) Why not stomp the mean-souled men of Spain out of Cuba?" So, when on February 15, '98 the Maine blew up and sank                                             with 268 dead the US public was inflamed and assumed Spain had done it There were two competing reports: one from Spain that said the cause was an             internal flaw in the Maine            (unstable gunpowder stored next to coal bunkers) but the US told its people the attack                      was a subsurface mine. Terror has its silence & so the case is open                   a hundred years later                               over who did what (In 1976 US Admiral Hyman Rickover published a study     that the ship had most likely been sunk                          from a fire in a coal bunker that caused five tons of powder nearby to explode taking out the forward third of the ship) Yellow Journalism They say it was a war brought on in part                           by Yellow Journalism-- You know how the NY City television stations                              focus on slaughter & murd? That's how the newspapers focused                           at century's turn America has such excitable people maybe it's in the genes        of those who'd strayed here                          from so many worried lands Yellow J works like an               amphetamine of aggression to rile up the masses        REMEMBER THE MAINE, TO HELL WITH SPAIN!                              was a rhyme of the time. "Surely the people is grass," the prophet Isaiah sang ("because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it") whereas the mine owner says                     "the Masses are Asses" & Yellow J knows that hoi polloi [GREEK TEXT OMITTED]             can be coaxed                      pretty quickly                              to torches and pitchforks. It was the era that showed                 how the sharp serifs of journalism                                          make nations bleed On February 18 William Randolph Hearst's     New York American     published an extra edition with the headline WHOLE COUNTRY THRILLS                          WITH THE WAR FEVER YET THE                      PRESIDENT SAYS `IT WAS AN ACCIDENT'     Yellow J was perceived                  as riling public hatred           against McKinley                    for not declaring war till the Republicans were worried the Democrats would use it                    to pound the drums of the masses The Antique Empire of Spain Meanwhile 7,000 miles away in the Philippines                      insurgents there were also fighting Spain led by a guerrilla leader named Emilio Aguinaldo. On his own the       Assistant Secretary of the Navy told Captain George Dewey commander of the Eastern fleet in Hong Kong that if war were declared       he was to steam to Manila              to tear down the Spanish fleet. Meanwhile a Senator from Vermont                    named Redfield Proctor had visited Cuba           & issued a report on conditions He said more than 400,000 were still in concentration camps with much starvation The skulls of evil were stretching single file from the camps of Cuba          all the way to the          paste-up rooms of the Hearst & Pulitzer papers The Senator gave a speech            on March 17 A war was needed, he said, to protect American property & prevent them dang              leftist rebels                      from taking over! April 11       McKinley sent a message to Congress asking for war: He said the USA was "a Christian, peace-loving people"                      but that "In the name of humanity, in the name of civilization, in behalf of endangered American interests which give us the right and duty              to speak and to act, the war in Cuba must stop" April 19       US Congress recognized Cuban independence       and called on the Spanish to leave (the US tended to snub                    the Cuban rebels               never treated them as equals                                 or talked to them at all) April 20       Congress in a joint resolution gave McKinley                                            "the power to intervene"         The Senate added the Teller Amendment to the resolution: "That the United States hereby disclaims any disposition to exercise sovereignty, jurisdiction, or control over said island, except for the pacification thereof, and asserts its determination when that is accomplished to leave the government and control of the island to its people." Teller was a Senator from Colorado His Amendment to the            intervention resolution was a good tactic to calm American liberals            and anti-imperialists Songs are sometimes the prolegomenon to bloodshed as in the House of Representatives         the night they voted                 the war-smitten shout-sang "Dixie" and                                     the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" The Anti-Imperialist League The year of the Spanish War               the Anti-Imperialist League was formed --a peculiar American mix of intellectuals, trade unionists, writers, prominent biz types (including Andrew Carnegie)       scholars such as Charles Eliot Norton of Harvard,                 plus "antilabor aristocrats" and thousands of liberals who shook their head in disgust at the                       maim-minded shoving for markets,                                 & the mangled borders of nations The novelist William Dean Howells, for instance opposed the war             spoke out                   became pres of th'                   Anti-Imperialist League He called himself a socialist as he aged        instead of toryizing (the more usual path). Just as Hardy returned to verse in his old age in Howells it brought out his radical vision. The cold, genius eye of Mark Twain too                           took in the                              restless moans                                     of the Border Bashers the laughable groveling for money                & the religion-spouting murderous fists                                               of mercantile misery-- Though at first he supported              the stomping of Spain from Cuba Twain later became a vice president                              of the A-I League * * * On 4-22 T. Roosevelt resigned as Secretary of the Navy,                     to lead a volunteer cavalry called the "Rough Riders" He ordered himself a Lieutenant-Colonel's uniform from Brooks Brothers the color o' blue, and                  no yellow on the collar, please-- perhaps he didn't want the the hue of flee                                   to tinge his glee. Americans of many kinds miners, cowboys, cops, college students et alia multa held up their hands                to join the Rough Rider regiment A Picnic War On the first of May the US Navy under Captain Dewey                    attacked the Spanish ships in Manila harbor                                                    the Philippines His steam ships puffed              back and forth                    sinking and destroying till the Spanish surrendered with only 6 Americans hurt, none seriously               though 381 Spanish troops were "killed and wounded" The yellow press and many Americans swooned in a kind of            wargasm as the troops went ashore                and took Manila August 13 Then Cuba The 9th & 10th Cavalry were              black units known for their kill-skills                                           in the Indian Wars The 9th & 10th were taken to a staging ground in Tampa                                   to get ready for Cuba where even though they were the best of soldiers             stood trapped in the whim webs of dribble-headed crackers as when in Tampa a rumor that drunken white sailors had used a black child                                          for target practice triggered a riot for several days                with 27 blacks and 3 whites hurt. Meanwhile June 10 came & the Americans invaded at Guantánamo Bay                          but their horses never arrived Nor did they arrive by June 24 the first land battle at Las Guásimas in Cuba                                     near the harbor of Santiago. Just about the first ashore        were the Rough Riders                     and the 9th & 10th black cavalry There were scads of reporters                    including Stephen Crane The horseless Rough Riders       sang a ditty              as they charged ashore: Rough, rough, we're the stuff We want to fight, & can't get enough!              Whoopee! It wasn't a Pope-level couplet                 but Pope isn't needed to stir a risk-taking vim. The Spanish soon fled their positions & the Rough Riders & their horseless cavalry reached the hilltop                & the Battle of Las Guásimas                                      shouted shut. Sixteen Americans were dead                 in the first fight of th' picnic war July 2 The Battle of San Juan Hill A few days later the Americans arrived at the rings of guns                          around Santiago itself Late that morn it was very, very warm in the thick-grown jungle        as 5,000 Americans                   began to sharpshoot the Spanish strongpoint on San Juan Hill Rapid-fire Gatling-guns                  were brought to the sharpshoot                  in the afternoon so that the Rough Riders & the black cavalry could stealth-stalk                  through high grass                          clump by clump                                in the Gatling distractions up to the hilltop till, darkness surrounding,                  the Americans won the ground. July 3 Battle of Santiago Bay The Spaniards retreated to Santiago itself and on July 17          24,000 surrendered & on the 24th the Spanish gov't asked for peace                              and the picnic war was over It was something the nation seemed always ready to tolerate-- a war where the deaths were few                            In Cuba just 379                            & the grief therefore contained                            in a huge nation's disparate pockets & most of the more than 274,000 American troops surged home in joy and youthful triumph The Grabbing of Hawaii In the midst of the war in July o' '98         the "issue" of Hawaii came up The Hawaiian Isles       known as the Sandwich Islands                     had been a target of Christian missionaries some of whom had become big time pineapple farmers                                            & in effect ran the Islands One Sanford Dole              (you know, Dole Pineapple)                          was the President of Hawaii at the time Some were anxious that the Germans              who were looking for Pacific islands                          might seize Mr. Dole's hegemony zone. The imperialists        wanted to grab it such as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee which recommended             seizing the Sandwiches posthaste Others wanted America              to stay within her borders                            true to her nonmalignant destiny-- It was a big debate and one that would not really be resolved                                for the next 100 years * * * In late September there was a huge celebration & a parade up 5th Avenue The Rough Riders gave TR the Frederic Remington bronze                                   named The Bronco Buster To his credit he publicly thanked the black troops for their bravery yet the heroes he praised             could not get served                       in the restaurants of the south                                            upon their return while the white troops feasted free of chit Copyright (c) 2000 Edward Sanders. All rights reserved.