Translator’s Note

Sophia Lecker

Max Jacob is sometimes regarded as being on the margins of 20th Century French poetry, not as renowned as his friend Apollinaire or the younger Surrealists, (who were greatly influenced by Jacob) somewhat “whimsical” and often obscure. In this undated poem, never published during his lifetime, Jacob cuts through appearances to cast a clear and sardonic eye at uncomfortable truths. Jacob published prolifically throughout his career until 1940, when as a Jew in Occupied France he was forbidden to do so. From then on until his death in 1944, Jacob continued to write, but for the drawer. I feel pretty certain that Jacob wrote “Wars and America” just after the United States entered the Second World War, probably in early 1942. Rather than expressing gratitude or hopeful anticipation, this short and relatively straightforward poem sees chaos and corruption beneath the optimistic façade of America, a country Jacob never visited — but in some ways seems to have understood all too well.

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