Review: In Flanders Field, 100 Years, Writing on War, Loss, and Remembrance – Amanda Betts

For Canadian children, the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ is typically their first introduction to poetry, Canadian or otherwise.

From its recognizable 15 lines in iambic tetrameter, ‘In Flanders Fields’ is Liuetenant-Colonel and physician John A. McCrae’s response to seeing the death of a friend in World War I.

While I am fairly familiar with the poem, given that I once had to memorize the poem as a Canadian child, I was not familiar with its publication history, significance to Anglo and French Canadians, and resonance to current military service men and women.

As such, when I was pursuing Indigo’s WW1 history section Amanda Betts essay collection, In Flanders Field: 100 Years: Writing on War, Loss, and Remembrance,  immediately caught my attention.

Did I learn a thing or two about a poem that has touched the lives of so many? Keep on reading to find out my thoughts and opinions.

The Book

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A beautifully designed collection of essays on war, loss and remembrance to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the writing of Canada’s most famous poem.
     In early 1915, the death of a young friend on the battlefields of Ypres inspired Canadian soldier, field surgeon and poet John McCrae to write “In Flanders Fields.” Within months of the poem’s December 1915 publication in the British magazine Punchit became part of the collective consciousness in North America and Europe, and its extraordinary power has endured over the decades and across generations. In this anthology, Canada’s finest historians, novelists and poets contemplate the evolving meaning of the poem; the man who wrote it and the World War I setting from which it emerged; its themes of valour, grief and remembrance; and the iconic image of the poppy.
Among the thirteen contributors: Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire (ret’d) writes about the emotional meaning of the poem for war veterans; Tim Cook describes the rich and varied life of McCrae; Frances Itani revisits her time in Flanders, and mines the acts of witnessing and remembering; Kevin Patterson offers a riveting depiction of the adrenaline-fueled work of a WWI field surgeon; Mary Janigan reveals the poem’s surprisingly divisive effect during the 1917 federal election; Ken Dryden tells us how lines from the poem ended up on the wall of the Montreal Canadiens’ dressing room; and Patrick Lane recalls a Remembrance Day from his childhood in a moving reflection on how war shapes us all.
Gorgeously designed in full colour with archival and contemporary images, In Flanders Fields: 100 Years will reflect and illuminate the importance of art in how we process war and loss.

The Review

Very rarely can one say a book, of essays, short stories poems, and photography on a single subject changed your entire perception on that subject, and yet this book did just that for me.

Like I’ve said before when reviewing a collection, certain passages left their marks on me more than others, but with this one, only Margaret Atwood’s fell short for me.

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Being a hockey fan, the one that I keep referring to when recommending this book to family and friends is Ken Dryden’s explanation of why “to you from failing hands we throw the torch be yours to hold it high” is written in the Montreal Canadiens dressing room.

This passage was especially interesting, given the fact that earlier in the book, Mary Janigan explained that following the poem’s publication Anglo-Canadians identified with it more than French Canadians did.

I also found Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire’s accounts of his own service in the Canadian Military, and how the poem related to him, was a strong opener to a very impressive essay collection.

The two photo collections were stunning, and I have to commend Betts, the editor of this collection, for not shying away from putting the horrors of war between the pages of the book.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. 

Purchase Links

Knopf Canada | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indigo

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