Nicholas Manning, over here, asks Anny Ballardini : "how Gould's poetics of historiographies contrasts with the heritage of Olson, or even Pound?"

I probably shouldn't barge in... but here it is anyway, from the horse's mouth.

In relation to the "long history grab-bag poems" of the 20th century, In RI was a latecomer (1994-5). It's closer to Williams' Paterson than to either Pound's Cantos or Olson's Maximus Poems. By that I mean the style is for the most part more discursive & prosy - less elliptical/discontinuous (Pound) or vatic/obscure (Olson) - though the 2nd Book (of the two) starts to take off in that direction, to a limited degree.

The most obvious contrast, I think, between my poem and these others, is that In RI is not an open-ended, improvisational "life poem" (which approach Pound & the others took primarily, I think, from Leaves of Grass). Underneath the seeming divagations of the first part of In RI lies the simple bone-structure of an epic narrative : Roger Williams' exile to Rhode Island, his friendship with the Narragansetts, his founding of a new kind of political entity designed intentionally as a "refuge" from state & religious persecution.

The "subplots" of the first part - the Pequot War, the witch trials, the story of Anne Hutchinson, the Gould genealogies - serve as a contextualizing backdrop, the "ground" of Williams' "figural" epic deeds. In a way, the subplots present the dead-ends, the dangers, the obstacles, the tasks which the hero has to confront.

I could have approached the material with a different kind of style - and in fact I considered doing so. There were other models, such as Crane's Bridge, and, even closer to home, Brotherly Love - Daniel Hoffman's historical sequence on William Penn and the history of the Quakers in Pennsylvania. But In RI was a sort of intentional side-trip. I had already been writing long poems in a kind of overwrought imitation-Crane style (a series called Spring Quartet), and a felt a certain revulsion for that stuff. I needed to do something different. And, for a long time, I'd been reading & thinking about those long poems in the more Poundian mode. (My first effort in this vein, called Memorial Day, was written around 1988. I "published" it back then as a very homemade chapbook. I still like that poem, though I don't think I'll publish it again. Buffalo & Brown libraries have copies.)

More later, maybe.


Nicholas Manning said...

Thanks for this Henry: it helps me better map the landscape of diverging roads and meeting streams. I'm sure I'll have more to say once I've read your book . . . So more, yes, on all fronts.

Henry Gould said...

Thank you, Nicholas.