8.30.2008

Hart Crane aspired to be "Pindar of our machine age". Praise-poems like "For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen" and "The Bridge" have, in that sense, a Pindaric elan vital.

8.29.2008

I wrote a few days ago about seeing Forth of July as a sort of counterpoint to Pound's Cantos. Forth of July is actually an enormous bubble of rhyme-joy... full of oddities... one of which is a minor thread raveling together Scythia, Sarmatia, King Arthur, Mandelstam...

& as I was looking around while composing those comments to Stephen Burt's piece, I came upon this Wikipedia entry.

The "Scythian" theme is real in Petersburg poetry. Blok has a famous poem , "The Scythians", on the advent of the Revolution.

Ossetia, and the Ossetian language, descend from ancient Scythia, which Herodotus called "the land of the Gerrhi" (see modern day Gori, in Georgia, focus of recent headlines).

Mandelstam set himself "like flint" against Stalin. The priest-kings are still battling for the golden bough in the sacred wood. One of his poems identifies poetry with the free, full-throated song of horsemen bringing children to their wedding. His Stalin epigram, on the other hand, mocks the "barrel-chested Ossete". Here's a passage from July, the 3rd bk of Forth of July :

 He spoke awhile   and was quiet awhile
and I heard a Scythian golden horde
thundering in the distance drone
of trumpets pounding hoofs the tinkling


of tiny earrings rustling gowns robes
awash with pendants jingling so far
so small now in the infinite raft
of grassland horsemen, sober


bringing the children to their wedding
with clear-eyed innocent song
full-chested doubleyoudoubleyou gone
by invisible now up into the air like dew


toward a mound of earth in Gerrhus
in the land of Gerrhi where clovers grow
quatrefoil one urn one lucky seven worked
from soil beside great rivers & one Suger-bee
Had some things to say about Mandelstam yesterday, in the comments thread to Stephen Burt's article on Pindar & the Olympics.

Was wondering how to write a Pindaric ode about the 29th Games, when I ran into Stephen's essay...

8.27.2008

...not that I've come to think that the established literary magazines & presses actually confer artistic value, or always recognize it. Far from it. The new & the outside will always shake things up. It's that I want my poetry to be read, and maybe I see a little more clearly the difference between artistic and practical aspects. And what some independent editors & publishers are trying to do - & some of them are doing a fine job, to put it mildly.

I'll still need to play left field, I think, if I can. You can't write poetry by writing like everybody else.

(Speaking of which, there were a couple of absolutely hilarious young poets there. & some fine, talented more-serious poets, too.)
One of the things I think I see more clearly now is that my pained sense of being the marginalized "neglected artist" is not necessary... I mean it's mainly the consequence of simply not understanding the nature of the literary scene out there.

Sometimes being really obtuse ends up advantageous anyway... it would be nice if that proves to be the case...

There are truly neglected artists, for sure... & very interesting cases of discovery & re-discovery of same... but it's far too early for me to think that I'm one of them.

Another reason, I think, for that neglect or seeming-neglect has been the fact I've been married to the long poem projects for a heck of a long time - but that is starting to change too.
Over the weekend I attended my very first ever "craft-oriented" poetry conference, up in western Mass. The Colrain Poetry Conference, focused on complete manuscripts and the editorial process. Very, very, extremely worthwhile. You won't hear any more snarky comments from me about all that. (I mean, I don't think so. You never know with me.) I could say a lot more. My entire perspective on the "scene" - & on what I think I'm doing - has shifted & changed.

A few years ago, Joan Houlihan fell rather abruptly from the "regular/mainstream" poetry world into the "internet" poetry scene(s). & because she did that (& because of a few positive comments I made at the time on some of her controversial web writings), I think I may be about to fall in the other direction, into that "regular" scene (of print journals, regular presses, etc).

One of the resources mentioned was Jeffery Bahr's database on poetry publications & submissions, which I had never looked at. Seems very useful indeed.

8.22.2008

One quality that shows clearly in Pound, and that you don't see much of in the extra-large milkshake of today's scene - he was, sometimes literally, hungry. This hunger sharpens (though not necessarily clears) his vision, and his cantankerousness. The motor of history is poverty... injustice, resentment... hunger. He went for insidious, crackpot solutions - but he was also attentive to the violence, the crisis, the scar-lines of the social complex. & so he ended up staggering - stupidly, absurdly - into the arms of Mussolini & the war itself.

The question of how society achieves justice - if it's possible at all - is the political question. The 20th-century authoritarian regimes dismissed the merely human-scale problems of human rights, equality, human imperfection, the conflict of interests, on behalf of fraudulent mass "solutions". But much of our literary culture either takes the forms of government and liberal democracy for granted, or assumes a cynical attitude of academic scepticism & dogmatic ideological righteousness. Neither attitude makes for an atmosphere conducive to a flourishing "civic" poetry (others - "activist" poets - will disagree with this). On the other hand, maybe this atmosphere is also latent with opportunity for some new kind of civic (poetic) speech.

Pound would have found a lot of poetic fodder in the current banking crisis.
Having sort of a small-scale re-encounter with E. Pound & Cantos. Very mixed feelings. EP had big influence on me in early 80s : the scale, the ambition, the attempt to integrate history with a (secret, arcane) history of poetry, with world culture... On the other hand, Montale called him a "barbarian", which was also true... Bacigalupo calls him a "primitive".

The story & para-story (the life, the poem) is stranger than fiction. Much of it just plain mean & hateful : the trajectory of the fanatic ideologue. But then there's his wonderful capacious curiosity & energy... the play with many languages & cultures...

My underlying impulse in writing with him in the background has been to revise, to re-write "historical", "epic" poetry so as to oppose his influence, to "right the ship"... some things in Pound are just a bad cloud over historical memory... & (in this moment of renascent authoritarianism) still dangerous (the amalgam of anti-semitism, fascism, the scorn for democracy, and Confucianism, for example)... there are things in Stubborn Grew, for example, which are a kind of shady parody-mockery of the Cantos, which I admire & dislike in equal measure...

Basically I am disappointed by his haughty arrogance (which he himself acknowledged in glimpses... say in the Pisan Cantos) and his kow-towing to "enlightened" despotism (Mussolini, Hitler, and all those wonderful "rulers")... and secondly - attracted as I am to some of the same philosophical lenses (Dante, some aspects of Neo-Platonism & medieval thought) - I see a very different actuality in the "tale" of world history, & I want to express that alternate view...

Something odd happened during the recent weeks of this re-reading... we have a sort of white & orange cat named Chester; recently we started taking care of a little scrawny feral stray cat, with a sharp face and green eyes, who has become a very affectionate pal to Chester... my wife started calling her "Esmerelda". When we finally caught her & were able to take her to the vet for shots etc., we discovered, lo & behold, Esmerelda was a he... so now Esmerelda is Ezra... (Pound was famously intrigued with the local stray cat population of whatever European city he happened to be wandering through... & the feline element in the Cantos is of course pervasive...). EP was enthralled with Ovid & Metamorphoses... maybe Ezra is Ezra! (But Ezra will never take the place of our beloved Pushkin, who like his namesake died young, & is buried in the backyard...)

Pushkin, that Russian cat

8.18.2008

Have been reading The formed trace : the later poetry of Ezra Pound, by Massimo Bacigalupo (Columbia UP, 1980). An excellent book, I think. Has a good chapter titled "An American tradition", where he talks about the differences in outlook & attitude of the stream flowing from Whitman-Pound-WC Williams, and maybe an older (New England/Puritan? - he doesn't use these terms) stream, represented by Robt Lowell & Berryman, among others. The "erotic vision of nature" and optimism of the former; their affinities with the countercultural movements of the 60s; etc. Funny, he calls this Whitman/Pound/WCW wing the "mainstream" - and is critical of them, though not absolutely (the book is, after all, a measured & careful study of the Cantos & Pound's translations). Mainstream! Holy Silliman categories!

Remarks on how these (& others, including Eliot & Stevens) main modernists knew and cared little about Melville or Dickinson - who represent a more sceptical take on the "oneness" of the universe.

Hart Crane, on the other hand...

8.08.2008


Happy Crazy Eights Day...

The long poem Forth of July comes in 3 volumes. Vols. 1 and 3 each have 4 chapters. Vol. 2 (The Grassblade Light) has 7 chapters - but the center chapter is doubled, making (numerically) 8 chapters.

Each of Grassblade's sections contains 28 poems, each poem having 28 lines (with variations).

The "plot" of Grassblade is a kind of "ghost dance" search (by way of Russia) for the poet's cousin Juliet.

Last fall, the Soviet Russian submarine Julietta 484 sank in Providence harbor during a storm. Just last week it was finally brough back to the surface for repairs.

These are the numbers of our lives.

8.07.2008

Mighty quiet here at ol' HG Poe. Finishing up Chr. Moevs book, Metaphysics of Dante's Comedy. I am so enthused about this book that I contacted the publisher, to ask whether a paperback edition is forthcoming, and lo & behold, it shall be so (middle of next month).

With Moevs in one hand and Critics and Criticism (Chicago School) in the other - 2 vibrant expressions of neo-Aristotelianism (sounds fun, doesn't it?) - we are ready for a new era...

I like to think that my own poetry has been neglected because, goshdarn it, it just has too much order & information for this murky day and age... that readers will take to it later on...

- but I am in a season of 2nd thoughts, & tend to see more faults than virtues in it all... for example, a dreamy, musical, aesthetical detachment from the immediate present times, actual history... which I must try to step out and write about, in a different way...

8.01.2008

Ron Silliman wrote yesterday about a rare o.p. edition of WCW's Spring & All. Here's a scarce book of mine : Cyclobiography. There's a copy in the Brown U. Library; a copy in the SUNY Buffalo Library. That's about it. I don't even have my own copy anymore.

The book includes my first attempt at a poema (Russian term for longish poem) - "Memorial Day". Who knows, maybe my best.

I thought of this today as I was walking to work, after having just read a letter from my father (out in the midwest), and glancing to my left, where there was a raised embankment, so that my eyes were about level with a patch of grass, through which the sun was shining.

Spring & all. Early days in cornfield land.