Dave Wood's Book Report, April 30, 2008
Spain's relationship with Germany in the 1930s and 1940s has captured the imagination of countless writers and artists, from George Orwell to Ernest Hemingway to Pablo Picasso.
There's something about the Spanish Civil War that pitted German Stukas and tanks against outfits like America's Abraham Lincoln Brigade and literary critics like Christopher Caudwell manning a machine gun that's irresistible. Even the tedious James Michener weighed in later with "Iberia," which, unfortunately, bore little resemblance to anything I saw in Spain 35 years ago.
Spain and Germany have changed much since then, but I still remember Spain where we went on our honeymoon in 1970. Franco still held sway, old peasants followed huge grain combines, gleaning in their wake, the Civil Guard strutted down the Boulevard Jose Antonio in their ridiculous patent leather.
The situation has prompted more than artistic efforts. Historians are also attracted. Hugh Thomas's "The Spanish Civil War" is as good a book on the subject that I have seen. Now there's a book about the war's aftermath by a University of Wisconsin historian, Stanley G. Payne. It's "Spain, Germany and World War II" (Yale University Press, no price). Here's a book that goes into detail Franco's relationship with Hitler, tells fascinating stories about Spain's Blue Division which was sent to Russia and fought against daunting odds. It's a book full of surprises and insight.
A myriad of poets worked in other areas as well. Banker, Doctor, Insurance Executive. Poet Warren Woessler is a biotechnology patent attorney (whew!) in Minneapolis, but you'd never know it reading his poetry. He's out with his fifteenth book, "Clear All the Rest of the Way: New and Selected Poems, 1987-2007" (The Backwaters Press, $16 paper). He writes about all manner of things -- working for DuPont, birds and in the following elegiac poem, urban sprawl in the North Star State.
Just an unpaved sandy track
out through a soybean field,
ringed with ambitious suburbs
with names like Camelot Estates
and Edinborough Heights.
But the one intact hedgerow
could hide eight species of sparrows.
All winter, the lost beans fed larks,
longspurs and snow buntings.
This year I come back and it's gone,
obliterated, scraped down
to black mud. Paved roads
let me drive past boxy houses and bulldozers
that look like they're working on the moon.
The sign says it's the Maitland Addition
to Brooklyn Park: 93 lots
and new models, that someone
is building my future today.
The next sign on Hampshire Avenue
says Dead End, and they mean it.
I walk in to the last scraps of brush,
scare up a few juncos,
tree and song sparrows.
The farmer got paid by the acre,
the developer's cashed out for sure.
No one has relocation plans for weeds,
for trees, for birds as plain as these.
I watch each one with care.
There's a month left to build
this year, before snow. I know
I'll never see them here again.
Dave Wood is a past vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.