Have been reading Divine Comedy in English, Mark Musa translation. The first time I've gone steadily through it - have tried dutifully in the past to read it in Italian (without much success), have read Singleton & Mandelbaum translations, but usually end up slowing down so much I lose the thread. It's going better this time, even though when I picked up this book (Portable Dante) I thought it was the Laurence Binyon version, which I really wanted to read...

Going through it steadily, you see how each part (Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso) really builds in momentum and intensity... you also recognize the slow stretches, the not-so-successful passages... it seems (for me anyway) to humanize the great Maestro - you sense him working out the compositional problems... (though I know I'm missing most of the Italian subtleties).

A little bulb went on as I was somewhere in Paradiso last night... felt I was more aware for a moment of the inventive, image-making, image-shaping activity going on... and it reminded me of two things : first, my initial sudden attraction for a book of Mandelstam poems in translation which I came upon in a bookstore back in '78 or so - and what it was that attracted me : the startling-mysterious images; second, a childhood memory of how strong the attraction was I felt for toys, artworks, small objects, toy soldiers... the visceral delight I took in seeing such things...

So these thoughts were going through my mind, and it made me think of another two things - a couple principles of Acmeism (in the Gumilev & Mandelstam version, respectively) : the emphasis on imaginative clarity, clarity of vision; and secondly the emphasis on the continuity of poetic tradition. And the thought occurred to me that perhaps one could say that both of these principles have some unconscious roots in that childhood fascination with both making (invention) and perceiving adorable objects, toys... thus our good poems are inevitably a response to the self-contained radiance, the toy-like mana, of previous poems, of models... and that poetry participates (with the other arts) in this process of active imaginative invention and shaping of images and meanings, forming models of beauty meant to have some kind of equivalence or relationship with the order & beauty we encounter in nature and experience...

So to get back to my wacky crusade, an "American Acmeism" would recognize that poetry does not always re-invent the wheel by simply transcribing anecdotes of individual experience; rather it's always engaged with these charismatic models (other poems), with the sound of poetry as some kind of organic, synthetic entity in its own right, with its own living aura and tradition... that poems emerge in a context of other words, other sounds, other poets... As that paramount toy-maker Wallace Stevens put it,

The man-hero is not the exceptional monster,
But he that of repetition is most master."

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