W. D. Ehrhart Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

In addition to winning critical acclaim with his poetry, W. D. Ehrhart has distinguished himself in the fields of memoir and personal commentary. He has published four volumes on his experiences during and after the Vietnam War as well as an investigative account and oral history of how the war affected the members of his boot camp platoon. He has published hundreds of personal essays and short opinion pieces on various topics in newspapers and magazines, many of which appear in his 1991 collection In the Shadow of Vietnam: Essays, 1977-1991.

Ehrhart has also made his mark as an editor and critic. He has edited two anthologies of Vietnam War poetry and has coedited an additional anthology of Vietnam War poetry and an anthology of Korean War literature.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

While he has never enjoyed great commercial success, W. D. Ehrhart has been widely credited with establishing the American experience in Vietnam as a subject for poetry and, as Donald Ringnalda has written, is generally considered the “poet laureate of the [Vietnam] war.” He has especially been in demand as a speaker and lecturer at academic conferences and universities. He served as a visiting professor of war and social consequences at the William Joiner Center, University of Massachusetts at Boston (1990), as writer-in-residence with the National Writers’ Voice Project of the Young Men’s Christian Association in Detroit (1996), and as a guest-in-residence at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana (1998). In 2001, he held a research fellowship with the American Studies Department, University of Wales, Swansea, United Kingdom. He has received a grant from the Mary Rinehart Foundation (1980), fellowships in prose and in poetry from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (1981, 1988), the President’s Medal from Veterans for Peace, and a Pew Fellowship in the Arts for Poetry (1993). He was also featured in episode 5, “America Takes Charge,” of the Public Broadcasting Service’s series Vietnam: A Television History and was invited to edit a special issue of the journal War, Literature, and the Arts (Fall/Winter, 1997).


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Beidler, Philip D. Re-writing America: Vietnam Authors in Their Generation. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1991. Argues that Ehrhart is best understood within the cultural context of his generation and sees his work as an attempt to reinstate the values and ideals the country failed to live up to in Vietnam.

Gotera, Vince F. Radical Visions: Poetry by Vietnam Veterans. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1994. Remains the best overall introduction to Ehrhart’s themes and technique. Gotera establishes Ehrhart as a serious artist and acknowledges his influence as a critic and editor.

Metres, Philip. Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront Since 1941. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2007. Discusses antiwar poetry in general, with chapters on the Vietnam War that provide perspective on Ehrhart’s writing. Ehrhart recalls audience response to his reading of “A Relative Thing.”

Ringnalda, Donald. Fighting and Writing the Vietnam War. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1994. Argues that Ehrhart is one of a number of Vietnam-veteran writers whose disregard of literary convention reflects the unconventional nature of the war itself and forms a fitting strategy for challenging residual conventional wisdom.

Rottman, Larry, and Basil T. Paquet, eds. Winning Hearts and Minds: War Poems by Vietnam Veterans. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1972. Ehrhart debuted in this anthology. One of his most striking Vietnam poems, “Hunting,” first appeared here.

Ryan, Maureen. The Other Side of Grief: The Home Front and the Aftermath in American Narratives of the Vietnam War. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2008. Examines Vietnam war literature primarily from its depictions of life in the United States during and after the war. Contains some references to Ehrhart.

Smith, Lorrie. “Against a Coming Extinction: W. D. Ehrhart and the Evolving Canon of Vietnam Veterans’ Poetry.” War, Literature, and the Arts 8, no. 2 (1996): 1-30. A lucid and insightful survey of Ehrhart’s career and of his influence within the field.

Tal, Kali. Worlds of Hurt: Reading the Literatures of Trauma. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Places Ehrhart squarely within the “literature of trauma” school. Tal sees Ehrhart as bearing an intensely personal witness to his traumatic experience and as resisting any and all attempts at appropriating or generalizing upon his experience.