Henry Bard has second thoughts

The ghost of Edgar Allan Poe troubled my sleep, and I awoke feeling reservations about the gaudy bardic proclamations of previous post.  Perhaps there are two deep currents in 20th and 21st-century poetry : 1) the urge toward engagement, fellowship, judgement, passionate witness; and 2) the urge toward imperturbable detachment, disinterested objectivity, the autonomous perfection of the art work.  You could say Whitman is representative of the first impulse, and Poe of the second.  David Jones across the Atlantic, another great modern exemplar of the long poem, wrote some wonderful essays in defense of the absolute freedom of the artist - as artist - from social/political requirements.  Art has a moral purpose, and forwards human freedom and dignity, simply by fulfilling itself, by working out its own quest toward integral beauty, in free association with the manual arts, applied technology and useful crafts.

It seems clear to me that I have wavered through my writing life between these two poles, between Whitman and Poe.  It's why my favorite American "bard" has always been, not Ezra Pound, but Hart Crane.  Crane's Bridge is a national paean to American culture : yet the poem is so dense and "overdetermined" with pure poetic resonance that it is always more than whatever abstract or paraphrase is applied to it.  The Bridge is multidimensional and recursive, self-referential : you could say the poem radiates the free-standing beauty of an achieved work of art, an "end-in-itself".

Also the serene formulae of the early-modern poetic movement of Russian Acmeism gave me examples of possible integrations of these two poles (call them the aesthetic and the political, or the communal and the individual...).  Gumilev and Mandelstam found a mediation between revolutionary Futurism and reactionary or detached Symbolism : by making poetic works of integral, pure and free art, by following, revising and fulfilling artistic traditions they had inherited, the Acmeists produced an art of and for the people.  "The Word is flesh and bread. It shares the fate of flesh and bread : suffering" (Mandelstam, from the essay "Word and Culture").

Yin & yang, systole, diastole... the poet goes out singing, and comes back again - to work late, & in secret, at the smithy of the integral poem.

This may be another partial explanation for my marginal presence on the contemporary scene.  I've been too busy working at the forge.  My massive unread poems are an effort, in part, to bring the American long-poem enterprise to some kind of artistic, integral fulfillment, on the model of Crane's Bridge and Osip Mandelstam's life-work.  Island Road, Stubborn Grew, Forth of July, Lanthanum, Ravenna Diagram...  It would be somewhat ironic if someday critical reception picks up on the idea that the American national epic has been fulfilled by a contribution from Soviet Russia.  But don't call Putin or Trump : Mandelstam and Gumilev speak from a completely other Russia, the Russia of Pushkin, Chaadev, Tsvetaeva, Akhmatova.  The spiritually-free Russian psyche, so radiant with balletic grace and deep chords of solemn harmony.

Gateway Arch Monument, St. Louis


JforJames said...

Hi Henry,
I enjoyed this post and the previous one. Poet in the world, poet and the world, poet against the world, an uneasy navigation.

My hometown is St. Louis. As child the Arch was probably in the state pictured.

Jim Finnegan

Henry Gould said...

Thanks, Jim! Good to hear from you. I should send you a copy of my book-poem Lanthanum. It was influenced by a strange dream I had one night about the Gateway Arch - which at the time I'd never seen, never given a moment's thought. if you email me your mailing address, I'll do that. henryhgould@gmail.com