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On War Poems of the United Nations

Joy Davidman
Excerpt from the Editor's Foreword to War Poems of the United Nations

. . . Poems are an integral part of the underground movements in the occupied countries of Europe, but few of them have reached us.  Nevertheless the war has already stimulated poets everywhere so much that an anthology like this one can provide a fair sample of the poetry of the anti-Fascist struggle.

We have included in our definition of the war every conflict that has taken place since Hitler's first rise to power; the ten-year-long fight of China, the tragic battle of Republican Spain against Fascism, and the lonely struggles of German and Austrian anti-Fascists are as much part of the great crisis of our time as what is happening today in Africa.  Thus we have been able to include the magnificent fighting poems of German and Spanish refugees, as well as poetry from many Latin American countries not actually at war.  We have unfortunately been unable, in the time at our disposal, to procure poems from Jugoslavia, Greece, Belgium, and Holland.  Our French section consists almost entirely of poems printed under Vichy, and gains a peculiar interest through the ingenuity with which its authors express anti-Fascist sentiment in veiled language.  The section from the British Empire has been deliberately limited by us in order to exclude certain defeatist and appeaser elements which are fortunately losing their quondam influence on renascent British poetry.

In the section devoted to the United States, we have concentrated on the work of new poets developed by the war, some of whom are actually in the armed forces; although most of the great names of American poetry are also represented.   The Soviet Russian section is unique in being itself a small anthology of the war poems of many different Soviet Republics, including Central Asian peoples whose very names are little known here.

From Joy Davidman, foreword, War Poems of the United Nations, ed. Joy Davidman (New York: Dial Press, 1943) vii-viii.

Oliver Pilat
Excerpt from "Girl Communist"

[From October 31 through November 13, 1949, The New York Post ran a twelve part series entitled "Girl Communist, An Intimate Story of Eight years in the Party" in which Oliver Pilat interviewed Joy Davidman.  Because American Communists were subject to legal sanctions, Pilat thinks that this legal issue "has obscured the real questions facing a democracy," and his interview is an attempt to balance the picture as Davidman discusses her reasons for joining and later leaving the Party as well as the Party's daily operations.   In the following excerpt, Davidman provides a caveat for War Poems of the United Nations by explaining why she ghost wrote some of the poems.  The excerpt combines Pilat's summaries and Davidman's direct quotations.]

Some ethical problems were involved in producing an "Anthology of War Poems of the United Nations."  This opus was almost the final act of the League of American Writers, which died in 1942 of an ideologically broken back through shifting too abruptly from an earlier anti-war position.

 A committee of poets was named to help Joy Davidman, but the committee promptly evaporated, leaving her alone to meet the terms of a formidable Dial Press contract.

 What help she had came largely in the form of letters from women's poetry clubs reading like this: "There are 11 of us.  We are each sending you a copy of a poem for your book."  Invariably the poems were unreadable.

For four months, Joy Davidman collected, selected, translated and edited poems from all over the world.  Refugees did some translating, but she had to do much of it herself.  Unable to locate any decent English war poetry, she was obliged to invent two English poets.

One of the imaginary bards had the mouth-filling name of Megan Coombs-Dawson.  The other was Hayden Weir.  As an authentic touch, Weir was reported to have died heroically in battle.

Joy Davidman asked the Soviet Writers Union for war poems, but its selections did not arrive until a year after the book went to press in 1944, so she was forced to supplement inadequate offerings from the Russian American Institute.

"After the book appeared, I saw a clipping from Russia complaining about my translation of a line by Pasternak," she recalls.  "The funny thing was that I had practically made up that whole poem except for the one line by Pasternak which had been in the middle of his poem and which I put at the end of mine. (sic)

"If anybody says this was dishonest, remember I was translating 20 poems a day at the time.  Where I could find anything decent to translate, I did translate accurately."

She smiles.  "In any event, it can now be told: anything resembling poetry in the Soviet section of that book owes a great deal to Joy Davidman.  I also did a lot for the Poles . . ." (sic)

From Oliver Pilat, "Girl Communist," New York Post 8 Nov. 1949: 9, 14; pt. 8 of a series Girl Communist--An Intimate Story of Eight Years in the Party, begun 31 October 1949.

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