Notes Toward & So On (11)
A book of criticism on the mid-20th century American poets by Adam Kirsch - titled The Wounded Surgeon - got a rave review in the NY Times yesterday. (The photo of Kirsch - with the little TS Eliot glasses & tie & hair mussed just so... amazing, like some kind of hologrammic projection or clone of the quintessential 50s English prof. Send it to Jim Behrle for processing.)
(Dude, whazzup with your author photo?)
According to the review, Kirsch's thesis is that under the intimidating shadow of the previous generation, the mid-century poets (Lowell, Berryman, Bishop, et al.) were forced to branch into a less monumental, more personal, inward (if that's the right word) practice - but that, nevertheless, the stringencies of the Moderns maintained influence benign.
I'm going to see if the library has this...
Thinking this morning about Pound, though. As critic & schoolmarm-stickler, he certainly had tremendous influence. Yet did he practice what he preached?
Pound is somebody whose mad flight manifests, in all its maniacal fibrillation, a certain freedom, profundity & ranginess, which is not exactly an applicable paradigm or learnable rubric of modernist/New Critical technique. These attributes are cultivated, perhaps, by an insatiable appetite for knowledge - combined with a faith in poetry as the medium of a unified sensibility : an integral consciousness, integrity. (This in no way justifies the stupid, harsh & mean aspects of Pound, though his obvious nuttiness somewhat mitigates our judgement.)
A unified sensibility delves into the world, reality, & finds ways to characterize it - which is why the works can be studied repeatedly, always offering new perspectives. The faith in poetry's value, as a means of expression, results in a long struggle. I guess this was the motive for the production of long poems, even after the displacement of epic by fiction. (On the other hand, an integral sensibility is also the means by which poets discover their own distinctive style - whatever length or form it takes.)
Pound was that kind of resilient, stubborn, independent soul, that solitary eccentric (monomaniacal, actually) thinker. There are better, purer, examples of the artist - the ones who succeed in the struggle to unify & transmute sensibility into poetry. It's the flagrant eccentrics, like Pound & Blake, whose extremity illustrates a more general rule.
In fact this may be the main lesson - "soul freedom", utter (vocational) commitment, the link between integrity (of sensibility) & art - which Lowell & Berryman, anyway, took from Pound, rather than anything to do with the monumentality & objectivity of the art work.