In April 1918, Canadian soldier Frank “Toronto” Prewett was buried alive on the Western Front. Managing to claw his way out of the earth, Prewett was reborn but with a lasting trauma that manifested in a curious way. While recuperating alongside Siegfried Sassoon and W.H.R. Rivers at Lennel House, Prewett started to act and identify as an Iroquois man. A gifted poet, his writing attracted the attention of some of the greatest literary figures of the war generation, including Sassoon, Robert Graves, Edmund Blunden, and Virginia Woolf among many others. But while these literary giants have stood the test of time, Prewett’s work has only endured in a handful of anthologies devoted to North American Indigenous poets. His confusing and self-proclaimed postwar identity was only put to rest by a family member’s DNA report indicating he had no indigenous ancestry. In this episode of On War & Society, Professor Joy Porter author of the new book Trauma, Primitivism and the First World War: The Making of Frank Prewett, discusses Pretwett’s life and legacy, cultural appropriation, and the challenges of writing difficult histories.
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