Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Donald Revell's Arcady has a New England/Old Testament/Puritan feel, in spite of its pagan title, the profusion of poems named for pre-Socratic philosophers, and the poet's residence in Las Vegas. I've often felt that way about Revell. The poems are short; you can read the whole book in under an hour. It's born of three major influences: the unexpected death of Revell's sister, the paintings of Nicolas Poussin, and the writings of Thoreau. The book's emotional power builds as it goes, but the most exciting writing happens in the first section where Revell seems to emerge blinking into a shatteringly bright light that surrounds his spare, slightly deformed poems. The strange brute persistence of life through death figures in "What Can Stop This":
What can stop this

I found a pleasure
I found an easy faith
One is senseless
One never shakes

What can stop this

It makes no difference anymore
What I choose

Or if I choose to walk to St Augustine
To the sea beach driving
A green orange over the sand
With a stick singing

The sympathy of friends is pleasant VIOLINS
But it makes no difference anymore TROMBONES
What Revell's version of Arcady has to do with mine I'm not sure about. Certainly these poems are not representations of the life of enriched subjectivity—the self in these poems, like the language, is vibrating like a struck string at the point of breaking. There's a radical, involuntary openness in the writing to match the Nevada desert. Arcadia as clearing, with only broken words to be the altar:
More Than a Bud but Pale

More than a bud but pale
More than ambition
A flower forges ahead
To death and after
Ards blindly
Into the we
Llspring of the Godhead
O one I can glori
E nowh

Blue monarchs have agonized in a strange tree
Every day more and more freedom

The suffix "-ly" features prominently in this book. An action modified but it also causes nouns to breed: "Imagi / Cally / Lightli / Ly" ("Light Lily Lily Light Light Lily Light"). The last poem, a kind of sonnet (there are many in the book) has a public chill on it; it's probably a post-9/11 poem (the book was published in 2002):
Virgil Watched Them

Virgil watched them
Crossing the river away from him
The fathers without their children
Only a little while

Was he smiling
At Death the Golden Age

Falling backwards
In the Chinese restaurant
The tiniest fireman
I could see that he was smiling

Plenty of children in Arcady without fathers
Our friends long before sundown
The Virgil of the Eclogues supplanted by the Virgil who wrote of Aeneas carrying his father on his back through Troy as it burned. History comes crashing in once again.
Andrew Zawacki thinks chiasmically, or at least doubly—the thing that's there or not there and the thing that interrogates the first thing—in his new book, Anabranch. This is from one of the long poems or sequences that compose the book, "Albedo":

Until the dark begins to lift

Hastened from door to door

Doctor she said
it's so nice to see you

This is how I loved awoke
eyes (as in) I closed my

Tattoo (pause on the stair)

Rowing a boat in another's room
faltering under the trees

What part of night was theirs
& why

Island after island

If only edges

To share for a while

Unmoored corner my archer
my open

Pause if you will on the stair

Until the dark to lift
Monday, November 23

(5:23 PM) The waters in a surge brought out a bountiful harvest. None had the strength to climb out.
For the rest of the evening I will post little excerpts from books newly arrived here at The Bookery. Here are some instant classics (well, they're actually from 1972) from "The November Exercises" in David Antin's Talking:
Sunday, November 1


(11:29 PM): Yung Kian went rambling to the East borne along by a gentle breeze and ran into Hung Mung, who was likewise rambling around slapping himself on the ass and hopping around like a great bird. "What are you up to, Venerable One?" Yung Kiang asked. Hung Mung went on hopping up and down and slapping his ass. "Digging the scene. Digging the scene."


Saturday, November 7

(10:32 PM): He said "The fish come out and play among the waters. That is the enjoyment of fish." The other said "You aren't a fish. How do you know what constitutes the enjoyment of fish?" He said "You aren't me. How do you now I don't know what constitutes the enjoyment of fish." "I am not you and I don't know you very well. But I know you are not a fish and therefore you can't know what constitutes the enjoyment of fish."


Thursday, November 12

(11:17 PM): A thing is called by its name through the constant application of its name to it. How is this so? It's so because it's so. How is it not so It's not so because it's not so. Everything has an inherent character and a proper capability. There is nothing which doesn't have these. A stalk of corn, an I-beam, a deformed man and Marilyn Monroe. Things great andinsecure, crafty and strange. Frank O'Hara said that nobody could be his friend who wasn't Marilyn Monroe's friend. Was Marilyn Monroe Frank O'Hara's friend?

For my 500th post (huzzay! alarums and excursions!) I thought I'd try to put The Pisan Cantos to bed for now. I've been dwelling on the recurring Latin phrase "aram neumus vult": "the grove needs an altar." Pound's resolutely pagan vision of pastoral in these Cantos (made most explicit by the long lynx passage ending Canto 79) requires the grove or garden to be made sacred, to be a place that invites the gods to return to it. The desire for an altar makes me think of Heidegger's temple as his figure for the artwork that organizes the nature (or "earth") around it, that which "worlds." Here are some excerpts from the passage on the temple in his essay, "The Origin of the Work of Art":
A building, a Greek temple, portrays nothing. It simply stands there in the middle of the rock-cleft valley. The building encloses the figure of the god, and in this concealment lets it standout into the holy precinct through the open portico. By means of the temple, the god is present in the temple. This presence of the god is in itself the extension and delimitation of the precinct as holy precinct....

Standing there, the building rests on the rocky ground. This resting of the work draws up out of the rock the mystery of that rock's clumsy yet spontaneous support.... The temple's firm towering makes visible the invisible space of air. The steadfastness of the work contrasts with the surge of the surf, and its own repose brings out the raging of the sea. Tree and grass, eagle and bull, snake and cricket first enter into their distinctive shapes and thus come to appear as what they are. The Greeks early called this emerging and rising in itself and in all things Phusis. It clears and illuminates, also, that on which and in which man bases his dwelling. We call this ground the earth. What this word says it not to be associated with the idea of a mass of matter deposited somewhere, or with the merely astronomical idea of a planet. Earth is that whence the arising brings back and shelters everything that arises without violation. In the things that arise, earth is present as the sheltering agent.

The temple-work, standing there, opens up a world and at the same time sets this world back again on earth, which itself only thus emerges as native ground. (Poetry, Language, Thought 41-42)
Now this isn't pastoral—this is a whole aesthetic theory, even a theology. When Pound talks about the grove needing an altar, he's talking about the work of the poet (really the work of the artist, which encompasses the work of the statesman—in Pound's case, unfortunately, that's Mussolini), which is to found a vision of the world. But the how of that founding is significant: Heidegger preaches a worlding that "arises without violation," and he elsewhere opposes this to the spirit of modern technology, which suppresses the qualities of things (the Being of beings) and converts them into resources for exploitation. Heidegger treats technology as an autonomous force, "unconditional production" (PLT 115), the spirit of techne run rampant; his critique is not based on an understanding of capitalism or commodity reification, which is one of his most serious flaws as a critic of modernity (it makes him vulnerable to charges of irrationality and humbug, charges whose seriousness is exacerbated by his Nazism). But in a way, my understanding of modernist pastoral is beginning to depend on the failure, the aporia in the critiques of Pound and Heidegger. Failing to come directly to grips with the beast of capital—failing even to make an accurate picture of it—Pound and Heidegger create potent fantasies of nature as the only source capable of renewing recognizably human values. The poet-thinker goes into nature (into the cage, into the clearing), the source of value both economic (Pound's Monte dei Paschi bank) and cultural (the "worlding" "thinking" that Heidegger equates with "poetry"). Both Pound and Heidegger fetishize thingness, use-value (though Heidegger may be more extreme: Gelassenheit or letting the thing be may mean refraining even from using it, let alone exchanging it). Without a working critique of capitalism (and perhaps, without a collective consciousness--I'll have to think more on that), Heidegger's pastoral gestures toward renewal are dead-ends into the merely personal. After the war and his "turn," Heidegger's Thinker (which he aligns with the terse figure of the Black Forest farmer) is a solitary figure, detached from der Volk (as Adorno detaches himself, violently, from mass culture), letting things be. He does open the path toward environmentalism, though. At his best, Heidegger opens the possibility for mythic, mimetic thought (thought which shelters Being, the thought of letting-be) to check the ravages of instrumental rationality. But he was never a dialectical thinker, and at his worst he simply superimposes myth over the rational. If we would all just go back to speaking ancient Greek, he seems to say, everything would be all right.

But Pound, Roman in many senses, floundering alone in his tent, a disintegrating mass of texts, seems at least to understand what he's missing: he reaches desperately for the bonds of affection. Thus his evocation of the lynx/Dorothy in 79 and this statement near the beginning at 80 (previously falsely attributed to Adams): "Amo ergo sum, and in just that proportion." Canto 80 adventures through Pound's past, stopping at more restaurants (including, significantly, a cafe in London that was turned into a bank), briefly eulogizing "poor old Benito"—but the tone has changed. He is uncertain now, softer, searching, exploring the boundaries of a tautology voiced by Alexandre Dumas:
The young Dumas weeps because the young Dumas
has tears
     Death's seeds move in the year
                                   semina motuum
          falling back into the trough of the sea
          the moon's arse been chewed off by this time
semina motuum
     "With us there is no deceit"
                  said the moon nymph immacolata
                  Give back my cloak, hagoromo.
                  had I the clouds of heaven
                      as the natuile borne ashore
                  in their holocaust
                      as wistaria floating shoreward
with the sea gone the colour of copper
     and emerald dark in the offing
Hagoromo is a Noh play about an Ariel-like nymph who loses her magical cloak and does a dance signifying the phases of the moon to get it back; some commentators have seen Noh as a model for the Cantos, a solution to the problem of writing a long Imagist poem. The problem is addressed from another direction late in the Canto, with the repetition of a phrase attributed to Aubrey Beardsley: "Beauty is difficult, Yeats." This difficulty is not merely aesthetic; rather, it is the difficulty of bringing the aesthetic into the political. The connection to Yeats harks back to much earlier in the Canto, where Yeats' membership in the Irish Senate is recalled:
the problem after any revolution is what to do with
your gunmen
as old Billyum found out in Oireland
         in the Senate, Bedad! or before then
         Your gunmen thread on moi dreams
         O woman shapely as a swan,
Your gunmen tread on my dreams
Whoi didn't he (Padraic Colum)
         keep on writing poetry at that voltage
"Whenever you get hold of one of their banknotes
(i.e. an Ulster note) burn it"
                  said one of the senators
                  planning the conquest of Ulster
This he said in the Oirish Senate
         showing a fine grasp of...
                  of possibly nothing,
If a man don't occasionally sit in a senate
         how can he pierce the darrk mind of a
Now, it could be that Pound has legitimate reasons (within his kooky system) for denigrating the unnamed senator's (neither Yeats nor Colum [another poet] but certainly associated with them) proposal, but I'm tempted to read the breakdown signified by those ellipses as Pound's loss of confidence in his own critique. This gets turned around by a kind of protest: why wasn't he, Pound, a senator? Why don't poets have real power? But perhaps when poets do, they end up attacking money (like Pound himself), unable to free themselves from fetishization, from nominalization. Yeats the "smiling public man" is a warning to Pound: beauty is difficult and the more so in government. There may be in fact no place in government for the beautiful. Pastoral provides a flight out of government and history into beauty—but Pound is alone there with the shades: "[Only shadows enter my tent / as men pass between me and the sunset,]".

So I see I've completely failed to dispose of the Pisans entirely. Next time I'l make another push, at least through the "what lovest well" canto—the emotional climax of this decad. I'm curious as to how this beginning of a withdrawal from meddling in political affairs will be reconciled with the "advice to princes" that the bulk of the remaining Cantos are said to consist of. Perhaps it will be a floating antimony. Or perhap Pound's renunciation will be incomplete.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Thanks to wood s lot for alerting me to this Alan Sondheim review of last year's Spineless Books production, Mike McGuire's palindromic Drawn Inward. Which is an amazing little book, as you'll see from Sondheim's quotes; I think he's right to find a "classical" quality in their mixture of foregrounded rigor and playfulness.

Been reading Fredy Perlman's anarchist de-construction of world history—all of it—titled Against His-story, Against Leviathan!. You can read an excerpt here. It has the deliberate naivety of a children's book, and its narrative of the evolution of state power as an undead "worm" or Leviathan (a la Hobbes) persuades by accumulation. It was instructive to pick up a copy of Bruce Catton's Grant Takes Command—one of several handsome editions of Civil War histories owned by my father—after reading Perlman; Catton practices the same kind of personification that Perlman does when he ascribes thoughts and feelings to such Leviathanic entities as Washington, the Army of the Potomac, and Mississippi. The Civil War was suddenly revealed as one Leviathan eating another, suggesting this logic: if the South had slavery, the North had the South. That this reading effaces the immediate moral devastation of slavery shows that a history like Perlman's cannot replace existing empirical histories, but is an effective dialectical negation of them. I suspect the same effect is created by the people's histories of Howard Zinn, whom I've never read. But I'm gonna.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Cognitive dissonance this weekend in New York: first the terribly sad memorial service and a small wake afterward, then seeing an absolutely gobsmacking documentary about Imelda Marcos with Nada and Gary. I now feel I know more about recent Phillipine history than Imelda herself does. Unbelievably, the movie ends with her two children being elected to public office. Gary and Nada are tremendous fun to hang with and I hope I can entice them back up to Ithaca in the near future.

So now I'm back in Ithaca and I've finished reading The Pisan Cantos but not quite done meditating on them. I will probably do a preliminary summing up in the next day or so and then move on to Rock-Drill (hopefully resuming my previous pace of a decad every day or two). Tonight at the Bookery I'm delighting in a new book from Coffee House, Civil Disobediences: Poetics and Politics in Action. It's like a third volume of that series Talking Poetics from Naropa Institute, but tuned up for our 21st century concerns. (Which are as yet perennial: what is today's "handover of sovereignty" to the Iraqis but yet another in a long series of abuses of language? How many permanent military bases are we building there?) There's a rich brew of stuff in the anthology (priced to move at $18!): contributors include Anne Waldman, Ted Berrigan, Robin Blaser, Alice Notley, Cole Swensen, Joanne Kyger, Eileen Myles, kari edwards, Lorenzo Thomas, Barbara Guest, Beverly Dahlen, and Ammiel Alcalay. It screams to be used as the primary text for a future seminar or workshop. One thing it brings home for me, even in the subtitle, is how inseparable poetics and politics have become (indeed always were, as Waldman slyly shows by envisioning Plato traveling through airport security on his way to an MLA conference). Poetics encompasses thinking about poetry, which always raises the question, What is poetry for? That's politics. An epic may be a poem including history, but a poet who includes his or her own history is a political poet. Which leads me to this extremely useful passage I found in Robin Blaser's talk: "For me, the central figure in my working definition of postmodernism is that it is nothing more than and certainly nothing less than the correction of modernism . . . politically, socially. Particularly politically and socially. That would of course include sexism, racisms, and so forth." That doesn't quite solve the question as to how and why the most politically progressive poets have latched on to the poetic practices of political reactionaries, but it does seem basically and elegantly true.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

The Pisan Cantos break open in 79. Pound begins in a reflective mood, with the rage that keeps erupting throughout The Cantos more or less at bay; it's also weirdly coded racially. At the top of the first page: "Moon, cloud, tower, a patch of the battistero / all of a whiteness"; at the bottom, "I like a certain number of shades in my landscape / as per / 'doan' tell no one I made you tht table". The "shades" are being made to refer not just to the usual classical dead people but to Pound's fellow prisoners, nearly all black men. For between these two lines, in the middle of the page:
present Mr G. Scott whistling Lili Marlene
               with positively less musical talent
               than that of any other man of colour
                   whom I have ever encountered
but with bonhomie and good humour
And on the next page: "whereas the sight of a good nigger is cheering / the bad'uns wont look you straight". This would be disheartening if Pound weren't already so firmly established as an anti-Semite and racist. At least he evinces some compassion, even affection and gratitude for these men (that "table" made for Pound by one of the inmates to "get you offa the groun" becoms a minor leitmotif in these Cantos). And the endurance of affection grows into the major theme of the Pisan Cantos as they draw toward their conclusion, building toward the famous lines in Canto 81: "What thou lovest well remains, / the rest is dross." What's extraordinary about Canto 79 is the introduction of the figure of the lynx at line 136, which dominates the Canto until its conclusion. A figure for his wife Dorothy (Sieburth's note refers to "the private feline mythology" they shared; where can I learn more about that? it sounds positively Yeatsian), the lynx is also an animal I associate strongly with pastoral. Aside from being sacred to Dionysus and associated with Pan, who was said to wear a lynx-skin, there's the line "The lynx stood awestruck" from Virgil's Eighth Eclogue, in which the lynx is one of the animals mesmerized by the song of the shepherds. Somewhere I read that the lynx is not native to either the "real" Arcadia (in Greece) or to Theocritus' Sicily; to introduce a lynx into a pastoral poem is a kind of emblem of the poem's fictionality. A difficulty I must resolve is the relationship between my notion of pastoral and Pound's pagan mythos; is his paganism merely literary, or does he actually believe it? He goes on at such length about the lynx that I think it might be the latter. After introducing the lynx, and then detouring to a memory of Henry James comes another inscription of Pound's remorse, ambivalent as usual—but beautiful, too:
         The moon has a swollen cheek
and when the morning sun lit up the shelves and battalions
of the West, cloud over cloud
                 Old Ez folded his blankets
Neither Eos nor Hesperus has suffered wrong at my hands

             O Lynx, wake Silenus and Casey
             shake the castagnettes of the bassarids,
the mountain forest is full of light
      the tree-comb red-gilded
Perfect merging of realities, there, that "Silenus and Casey": Silenus is a companion to Dionysus while Casey was a corporal at the DTC. The "Old Ez" parallels the original ending to the Pisan Cantos, the end of Canto 83: "Oh let an old man rest." It's a plea for mercy, prefacing his insistence that he has harmed neither dawn nor evening ("Eos nor Hesperus"). This could be read as a claim for his overall harmlessness: he has damaged nothing permanent. But of course to claim these two entities as not having "suffered wrong at my hands" implies that other entities—and people—have.

There's more to say about the lynx/Dorothy and the absolutely pastoral interlude with her that Pound evokes, but right now I have to catch a train from New Jersey (where I'm staying with my dad) into New York for that memorial service. So it's Pound the mournful, not Pound the deranged warrior or Pound the lover who's uppermost in my mind.

Friday, June 25, 2004

I'm totally tickled by this paragraph that Christian Bök has written about Fourier Series.

More Pound by and by.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

There will be no report on the Toscano/Elrick reading from me this Saturday because I have to go into New York for a funeral (the son of a dear friend has died). And last week a student at the massage school where Emily works was killed in a car crash. Meantime the sun is shining and the dog chases a woodchuck through the fence, comes back scratched and smiling. Strange days.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

The poet as a nexus or node of voices, texts, sound bites, images: Pound was scrubbed raw in the cage at Pisa and discovered naked textuality where his self used to be. Canto 78:
Cassandra, your eyes are like tigers,
    with no word written in them
You also have I carried to nowhere
    to an ill house and there is
                   no end to the journey.
The unheeded word goes unwritten. The personal is stained by the textual and political both; remembering Lorendo di Medici "who left lyrics inoltre / that men sing to this day" slides ineluctably into nostalgia for the republic that never really was at Salo, "to dream the Republic"—from this to memories of visiting his daughter, to a Scottish translation of the Aeneid, another tale of a city founded: "and belt the citye quahr of nobil fame / the lateyn peopil taken has their name / bringing his gods into Latium". It amazes me how much of the previous Cantos keeps surfacing and resurfacing in the Pisans: attacks on usury and increasingly plaintive prescriptions for a new tax and monetary system; signature lines from Cavalcanti (E fa di clarita l'aer tremare, "and make the air tremble with clarity"); bits of Confucious ("definition can not be shut down under a box lid," from Pound's translation of The Unwobbling Pivot); restaurant names (oh, how hungry he must have been!). Mixed in with apologia for Mussolini "hang'd dead by the heels before his thought in proposito / came into action efficiently" yet ending with
But this is qualified by the lines above it, "In the spring and autumn / In 'The Spring and Autumn'"—that seems to suggest there are no righteous wars in those seasons. I will have to go to Pound's translation of Mencius to see if that's the loophole he's left for himself. Where is Pound the subject in all this? In his memories of his daughter, of dead friends? They are words now: the daughter, "'Gruss Gott, 'Der Herr!' 'Tatile ist gekommen!'; the friends, "Gaudier/s word not blacked out / nor old Hulme's, nor Wyndham's," or WCW grousing "'how the hell can we get any architetcture / when we order our columns by the gross?'" It's the repetition of key phrases and characters that suggest there's some planet to justify their orbit, but the surface of ths planet we never see. And I continue to be struck by Pound's influence in this regard. I'm reading Rodrigo Toscano's hugely entertaining Platform in preparation for his reading here Saturday. His text is a whirlpool of vocabularies from political theory, industrial catalogs, academese, pop culture, onomatopoetic nonsense, and high literature (in what seems an uncharacteristic move he informs us at the end of one poem that its quotations are taken from Milton, Ovid, and Donne). "A Beginner's Guide to Day Trading" reminds me of some of what I read in Laurie Elrick's book: a fluid and rapid attack on the illusion of subjective action offered by this seemingly direct engagement with capital. It works by overwhelming the reader with the global context that the day trader's computer screen reduces to manageable codes:
I don' care
what I said!
the client state
to the clientele


of the world
liberal schliberal


chuh' chuh'
the pace is strange
chuh' chuh'
jus' tryin' da' find a


of course not
not forgot
what it's wrought
who could
with shas
exacerbate hamas
re-tally yr. stock's loss
The political, pointy teeth of the economic maw, leaps out to bite the reader on the ass. Fragments of text assert the uncomfortable nowness of history; as Radiohead says, "This is really happening." Pound is always grasping after the past tense or prescribing for a future; as I mentioned before, the most immediate records of his suffering and remorse tend to be deferred into foreign languages. Toscano's poetry includes history in a paradoxical way: self-consciousness about the mediated (textual) nature of history and the politcal NOW attempts to render history im-mediate. His most successful strategy in this regard (one in keeping with Atelos' stated mission comes in poems which directly address the situation of poetics: he calls these "Satires" (some titles: "On a Literary Journal," "A Brief Retrospective of Chump De Ville's Poetic Oeuvre over the Last Decade," [note Chump's initials: "But CV, knowing where the goods are, goes there"]; "My target Audience, As It Is an Issue..."). When Pound foregrounds his situation as a literary one, he does so through allusion, name-dropping, or the repetition of his famous edicts for Modernism. Toscano has his likely reader's number, calls it out, and answers it himself: these poems are about the impossible situation of a poetry that wants to be praxis. From "My Target Audience":
is much like fresh gum stuck on yr. pant leg
from under a lounge booth
upon just arriving—
wearing new pants—
you can't afford

         to be party to, or declaim, or resist—


(brought up from under the dry critical cellar, encasing now
ethically sour wines, to be drunk by demoralized re-moralizing

           and thse, paired with

I won't quote the whole poem; it's on the long side. In some ways these poems remind me of Gary's great How To Proceed in the Arts, and Toscano has his own "Lester Bangs of poetry" moments:
   ...are they to be packed with paleo-moral ice to freeze—off? or
   cut out, and later ideo-pragmatically patched over? or
   pulled clear off   now

throw your pants out!



(into the crowd)
You get the idea. Fighting poetry as a commodity leaves you "Stark motha' nekid / re-vocalizing / hope". Of course the poet never had any clothes; I think Pound in the Pisans is slowly being draw toward full recognition of his nakedness, the grim joke of authorship. Toscano is pomo enough to revel in the nakedness, to demand it, to be outraged by the pants of purchased subjectivity. If his poetry's any indication, we're in for one heck of a show on Saturday. It's Pound punk'd.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Congrats to Matt Shindell for his darkly witty contribution to the new APR.

And I've changed my tagline again. It struck me that nearly all of it was redundant. I would have called it "Adventures in poetry" but that name's taken.
The poem including history also excludes history to reveal itself as a poem. That is, as a poem poeming, transforming its materials into poetry; when those materials include historical documents, the poem becomes literally history-in-the-making, for history is always only recognizable ex post facto as text. History as such, like the sublime that Romantic poetry pursues, registers only as an aporia, an inaccessible Real as invisible and inescapable as air pressure ("atmospheres"). The poetic process ("The wind is part of the process / The rain is part of the process") surrounds and transforms the document and citations, marking them as made, compressing and condensing their qualities as historical documents—their quiddity, the contexts trailing behind them, their authority (centering the poem, decentering the poet). Pound has a couple of lines near the middle of Canto 77: "Ils n'existent pas, leur ambience leur confert / une existence" (They do not exist, their surrounding confer on them an existence). Pound's ambience here becomes the poem itself.

I think it's been established that most Chinese characters are not the "ideograms" that Pound claimed them to be; many are phonetic, for instance. The notion of the ideogram as providing unmediated access to the thing it represents was an attempt, as if by algebra, to realize Williams' "No ideas but in things" at a single stroke. So it's interesting how Canto 77, which has perhaps more ideograms in it than any other (the Confucian Cantos not excepted), and for which Pound even provides a glossary at the end, deploys many ideograms that are neither concrete things nor philosophical concepts (like his favored cheng ming, "right word" or "le mot juste") but particles, possessives, and odd bits of speech: how (is it), not, one's own, and, is, and my favorite, bi gosh. They're like signposts (the right margin of one page is filled with 'em) of what Pound's attempting to do, to concretize the process of the poem's making. If "and" and "is" are ideograms, they're halfway to things—it's the opposite tack to that taken by Gertrude Stein, who materializes conjunctions and simple verbs in their strangeness and quiddity through repetition (and a sly sense of humor alien to Pound's own heavy-handed ironies). There's also some Joycean onomotopoeia: in Canto 77 we get some thunder: "k-lakk.....thuuuuuu / making rain / uuuh". These kinds of materializations of language go hand in hand with Pound's notion of seeing for oneself contained in the word "periplum": "not as the land looks on a map / but as sea bord by men sailing" (Canto 59). Here is an ethical and aesthetic claim of Pound's that still seems valid and useful; though as a cousin to his "Go in fear of abstractions" the bare concept remains subject to abuse (fostering a simple rejection of abstraction, that is, theory. Taken to its edge "periplum" becomes an anti-intellectual bit of shorthand, a refusal of rationality. But here the ideograms and periplum are staked on behalf of personal sovereignty in resistance to others' myths: Pound translates the Chinese characters on a page describing various religious rites, Catholic and pagan, as "not one's own spirit and sacrifice is flattery[,] bi gosh" or "To sacrifice to a spirit not one's own is flattery (sycophancy)."

Materiality of language also comes up more amusingly when Pound muses on the language of his fellow prisoners or "trainees": "the army vocabulary contains almost 48 words / one verb and participle one substantive [Greek "hyle," matter or in this case, shit] / one adjectiev and one phrase sexless that is / used as a sort of pronoun / from a watchman's club to a vamp or fair lady." Words are shit: I'll bet someone's done a Freudian thesis on that coupled to Pound's crazy ideas about money, which like words also represents without (Pound sez) having any intrinisc value of its own.

Oh, and I forgot to mention a truly strange detail from Canto 74: Pound mentions the hanging of a prisoner named Till "for murder and rape with trimmings"; he's referred to again as "St. Louis Till" in 77. Sieburth's note informs us that Louis Till was none other than the father of Emmett Till, whose murder in 1955 galvanized the Civil Rights movement. How bizarre are the eddies of history.

Monday, June 21, 2004

Well into the Pisan Cantos now. (Can't help but hear Helium's high-pitched, delighted "Peeeesans!") It's easy to get fed up with the apologia for Mussolini in the first Canto, 74, not to mention this truly vile bit—remember, it's 1945:
from their seats the blond bastards, and cast 'em.
    the yidd is a stimulant, and the goyim are cattle
in gt/ proportion and go to saleable slaughter
with the maximum of docilitv.
Okay, that last word is a delicious pun (was Pound aware of television? It was around, but the culture of television that makes "docilitv" work as a pun really wasn't). And Pound may not have known about the death camps yet. But it's almost enough to make me want to throw the book across the room and say the hell with Pound. How strange, though, to be here at the Bookery and pick up Laurie Elrick's book sKincerity, which wears its progressive and feminist politics on its sleeve (its skin), and recognize the verse form (page as field + citation) that Pound more or less invented. From "Serial Errant":

Towns used to sue to keep prisons out
          (This won't hurt a bit now, just a little . . .)


          "We need
          J-O-B-S jobs . . .

          and a CURE (citizens united
          for the rehabilitation of

          to keep our uh . . . heh heh . . .
          hotels full."

(Crack / Down but
market's a
Who knows how much Pound, if any, Elrick's read (actually she's reading in Ithaca this Saturday at 4 PM at the Lost Dog Cafe with Rodrigo Toscano, so maybe I'll ask her). But I think she offers as good an example as any as to how pervasive Pound's techniques have become in the service of writers with progressive or radically leftist agendas. Really I suppose it's the "including history" part that works so strongly, and the diminuition of the authority of the "I" that happens when you import others' texts. Of course in Pound the diminuition of authority can start to seem like an evasion of responsibility. Many of the statements that might be construed as expressions of regret or remorse are masked by being rendered in Greek, Latin, French, Italian, or what have you. The Greek word "Dakruon" meaning "weeping" or "of tears" appears three times in one line in Canto 76—but who is weeping, and for what cause? Immediately following this comes the cryptic "L. P. gli onesti" which Sieburth glosses as "L[aval]. P[etain]. the honest [or honorable ones]." You don't have to know very much about WWII to know that "honor" is not the first epithet anyone but a die-hard Fascist sympathizer could ascribe to Marshal Petain. (There's just the glimmer of the possibility of irony here, as in Marc Antony's "honourable men," but I doubt it.) Immediately following, however:
                              J'ai eu pitie des autres
probablement pas assez, and at moments that suited my own convenience
                         Le paradis n'est pas artificiel,
                                   l'enfer non plus.
Paradise is not artificial, nor is hell. What are we to make of this repurposed Baudelaire, coming as it does after praise for Fascist collaborators and Pound's muttered admission to his own failures of compassion? Paradise is not to be made by man (and this brings us to the problem of who is addressed by the famous repeated line, "Pull down thy vanity," which I'll get to later this week)? Paradise is real, and the hell of Pisa is real? Are paradise and hell being asserted as transcendencies beyond human action and influence, or they immanent to human experience, part of our nature? I have no answers as of yet. But he owns his remorse with the "Je," while elsewhere expressions of grief stand half-mute and isolated: "lisciate con lagrime / politis lachrymis [Grk. WEEPING]".

In Canto 76 there's a grudging revision of the disrespectful synagogue scene in Canto 12 that I complained about a few weeks ago. Pound's paganism strains to make a democratic turn when he retrieves the phrase "each on in the name of his god" from the Hebrew bible (Micah 4:5) so as to open a channel for Jews to participate in his kind of religiosity, which is a polytheism of texts opposed to monotheist beliefs:
So that in the synagogue in Gibraltar
     the sense of humour seemed to prevail
     during the preliminary parts of the whatever
but they respected at least the scrolls of the law
          from it, by it, redemption
A little lower down he admits "there is no need for the Xtns to pretend that / they wrote Leviticus." Not my favorite piece of the Torah, but here Pound shows a glimmer of respect for Jewish texts and textual practices. His hatred of the Talmud seems deeply perverse, given the Talmudic explosion of interpretations and constellary texts that The Cantos both invites and is. But that blindness is probably typical of a) Pound's probably psychosis and b) the tendency of anti-Semites to use Jews as a repository for disclaimed parts of their own ego: their perceived weakness, effeminacy, uncleanness, what have you. This is I believe the basic argument of Robert Casillo's book The Geneology of Demons, which should probably be required reading for any would-be Poundian. This doesn't reduce Pound's culpability, or my absolute contempt for his beliefs. But I feel strangely sympathetic toward him too. He was so lost, and he put so much faith in books, to the point of believing his literary company would save not only himself from loneliness but the entire world from the inhumanities of capitalism. (And I think Pound's progressive impulses are genuine when they manifest as a critique of capitalism and not simply as the reactionary rejection of modernity—that perhaps is how he could call himself a "leftist Fascist.") That's the kind of idealism I recognize, somewhat uncomfortably, within myself, and within many of the writers I admire.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

I would like to thank Janet for the gift of Strindberg + helium. Oh, the humanity! I may have to purchase a T-shirt.

Friday, June 18, 2004

More or less refreshed. I'm going to table the fiction idea for the time being—lord knows I've got enough on my plate. Like the Pisan Cantos, which I'll probably start reading at the Bookery this evening. Curious that Ron has brought up those Cantos today in the context of The Godfather, because I've been thinking myself how my experience of getting into Pound reminds me of my interest (and the interest of lots of other people) in the great HBO dramas (chiefly The Sopranos and Deadwood—have you seen Deadwood? It's something to see) and even the comedies (Curb Your Enthusiasm). These are marvelously written shows featuring characters who range from the flawed to the utterly despicable, yet the quality of the writing and acting makes you sympathize with them. (Six Feet Under is more conventional but still impressive in the way it gets you to care about people who in life you'd find deeply annoying.) Reading Pound is like that: he's mad, bad, dangerous to know, often pathetic, often infuriating. You read those radio speeches or the second Salo Canto or any of the Fascist apologia/homage in The Cantos, even the Pisans, especially at their beginning ("Thus Ben[ito Mussolini] and Clara a Milano / by the heels at Milano / That maggots shd/ eat the dead bullock") and their end (according to Richard Sieburth, Canto 84 is an angry postscript triggered by the death of his friend the translator John Penrose Angold while serving in the R.A.F.), and you just want to kick him in the teeth. But of course he's already been kicked in the teeth. Pound's sufferings in Pisa were real and acute (though not of course comparable to what Jews were suffering and had suffered): kept in an iron cage exposed to extreme heat and rain (there's a photo of the cages on the cover of the new edition and they're starkly terrifying, evocative these days of Camp X-Ray at Guantanomo Bay), not permitted to speak to anyone except the R.C. chaplin, and completely ignorant of his fate (would he be shot? would he simply be left there?). And the poetry does, as Ron says, rise to great heights of beauty. Is there genuine contrition in the Pisan Cantos? That's one of the things I'll be on the look-out for. I don't expect to forgive Pound, but reading him, listening to him—isn't that more than forgiveness? It's a kind of acceptance. On the other hand, I've learned to care about the angst of Tony Soprano, and I've been moved by the stifled aspirations of Christopher. But that doesn't mean I don't want to see the bastards pay for their crimes, especially the murder of Adriana. I'm a little surprised that Ron didn't address the moral complexity a comparison of the Pisan Cantos to The Godfather implies. A well-meaning, talented, patriotic young man becomes a ruthless, paranoid, morally blindered thug—that's the arc of the Godfather films. That he offers us spectacular entertainment doesn't mean we should forget his crimes.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Experiencing Pound fatigue. Took the day off. Played some Morrowind. Spaced out.
As happens once in a blue moon, I had the kind of dream from which I awaken eager to write. In this case I found myself writing something that looked an awful lot like prose fiction—characters, a setting, the works. I wonder if I should continue with it. I have a theory that poetry is more fun to write than it is to read, whereas fiction is the opposite. Which doesn't mean there isn't pleasure in reading poetry, it's just that I find that pleasure to be most intense when I feel that I am in some way participating in the writing—when the text requires me to bring my full intelligence and experience (literary and otherwise) to it. Likewise, fiction is pleasurable, but if I find myself distracted by the mechanics of it, or if I myself am attempting to manipulate those mechanics, I get incredibly bored very quickly. Moving characters around, constructing backstories for them, exposition, dialogue, pretty much everything that falls under the concept of "craft" I find dull, dull, dull. (I realize here that I'm basically re-articulating Bathes' thesis about "writerly" versus "readerly" texts, the text of pleasure and the text of jouissance. The difference may be that I'm speaking from inside the experience of writing, not speaking as a critic.) The fiction I admire either makes its craft invisible (a classic token of mastery) or leaves as much of it as possible out: this is the territory of lyrical fiction or fiction motorized by a (non-discursively presented) argument rather than a plot. Carole Maso and W.G. Sebald are good examples of the former; Renee Gladman is a good example of the latter. Many if not most fiction writers, I suspect, would argue that making craft invisible is more difficult and thus more worthwhile, but there tend to be a heap of unexamined assumptions under that: principallyy assumptions about the normativity of representation and narrative as telos. I worry about normative representation because of what it leaves out; the telos of narrative is even more questionable because it's basically theological, proceeding along the Rosenzweigian lines of creation, revelation, and redemption. I wholly support and celebrate creation, which affirms life and the earth. I believe in revelation but only as the product of serious thought and critique, as opposed to something proceeding from faith or handed down from a supposedly transcendent source. Redemption is the most problematic (and most popular) element of narrative—it's the happy ending we're all addicted to, even when we know better. The trouble with redemption is, how to separate it from affirmation? Which ties it back into the problem of representation, of reproducing the world as it is. I can't and won't write Molly Bloom's Yes no matter how badly I want to hear it unless I feel it to be true, to be possible—it can't just be a trapdoor out of history. Beckett represents the major alternative, the fiction of negativity and repetition--though I do hear the faintest echo of redemption even in his formulation "I can't go on, I'll go on." So if I do attempt a prose narrative, I have to negotiate these questions. Really it's simply a question of not becoming bored with my own story, the way I never do with a poem. How to write fiction as if it were poetry—not a poetic product, but the poetic process? That's the only way I could find it worthwhile.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

The Adams cantos are oddly balanced by the Confucian ones that precede them: a "Decad" each means that one admittedly very important man's life is made the equivalent in significance to 3,000 years of Chinese history. An inevitably Orientalist Chinese history at that, given that Pound's source was written by an 18th century Frenchman. But the 18th century, the Age of Enlightenment, is key to Pound. Immersed in post-Romantic habits of thought as I am, I'm often surprised by my own affection for the Enlightenment attitude as refracted through a can-do faith in rationality and (in English) its Latinate prose style. Clearly the pairing of Confucius and Adams is meant to imply a kind of continuity: the intensely scholarly Adams (who read Thucydides in Greek but was even fonder of Cicero) is part of another dynasty that sought to create a new order on one end and lamented industrial capitalism's overwhelming of that order on the other (I am thinking of the Henry Adams of The Education and Brooks Adams, author of The Law of Civilization and Decay). This evening at the Bookery I'm leafing through the new David McCullough biography of Adams and enjoying the excerpts from his diary, presented in the context of his life and in considerably less abbreviated form than they are in The Cantos. There's something about the forthrightness with which these nonetheless complex sentence structures yield up a person's character that endears the era to me; this at least partly explains my affection for the Patrick O'Brian novels, which so effectively emulate this style in the characters' conversation and correspondence. In addition to seeing him as a kind of reincarnation of Kung, Pound seems to have been drawn to Adams for his agrarianism (though I don't happen to identify Adams with that as strongly as I do his friend and rival Jefferson—incidentally, I did love learning that they went on a tour of the English countryside together in the 1780s), his reluctance to be involved in European wars (Pound emphasizes a passage from a letter speaking against this kind of intervention with a thick black line in the margin), and his opposition to Hamilton's federalism and desire for a central bank (making him a kind of proto-usurer in Pound's eyes).

I don't have the book in front of me so I can't give you any quotes; maybe tomorrow morning, just to give the feel, which is mostly surprisingly rational given that he wrote them in the late 30s and was already making his radio broadcasts. Speaking of which, I got a delightful yet disturbing package from Ben Friedlander in the mail this afternoon—it was a little like receiving a copy of the videocassette from The Ring). There was a CD with a picture of Pound giving the Fascist salute in Naples on it, transcripts of two broadcasts, and (just in time!) a tiny (maybe an inch and a half tall) little copy of the Salo or Italian Cantos translated into English, the most outspokenly Fascist of the bunch (Pound never translated the second one, which celebrates the martyrdom of a raped Italian girl who leads a troop of Canadian soldiers into a minefield—in the voice of Guido Cavalcanti, natch), along with a summary of Ben's attempts to get the tapes of Pound's radio broadcasts in some kind of order. There he is: Pound at his absolute ugliest. I will take some time to consider the Salo Cantos tomorrow before I launch into the Pisan Cantos, the most celebrated and controversial book of the bunch.
To go to the hot spot first: I do not claim that choosing to live on not much money in any way alters my fundamental class position. I was brought up an upper-middle class white Jewish boy in the Jersey suburbs and nothing will erase that, nor do I want to erase it. I have accrued tremendous advantages over most people in the same tax bracket thanks to that background; my position is a privileged one. And furthermore I do not live in anything even vaguely resembling real poverty, and I do plan to make a middle class living as a professor someday, though I don't ever expect to be rich. But I do think choosing to be a poet in this society means stepping, willingly or not, outside of normative systems of value that say how much you earn is how much you're worth. There are working-class poets for whom poetry, when practiced in academia, does represent upward mobility, but only a very intelligent moron would choose poetry as their ladder out of the ghetto. Saying "I am poor doing this!" may or may not be very attractive, but it's just the marker of privilege, not the privilege itself, which is a very rare one: to spend most of one's time reading and writing. Yet privilege is bad, isn't it? Would we even use words like "perk" or "privilege" if we thought they had been earned in some way? Privilege is one of the things that Gary seems to mean by "the given." His position seems Levinasian: you are called upon by the Other to yield up your privileges, your givens, whatever they may be. The poet who publishes a book is expected to act in humility because he simply occupies a position that might well have been occupied by someone else. This raises the Unreliable Other Variable or UOV factor well above the others; anyone can Work Hard (provided they've been given the tools to do the work; that's where class comes back into it) and scads of people have Talent. Maybe we need to do a better job of defining the UOV, because without that we aren't likely to come up with anything resembling an image of justice. Which seems to be the main thing on Gary's mind. How to increase participation to the maximum, indeed to an infinite (the only just) degree? How to end privilege by extending it to all? I need better tools than I've got right now to wrassle that question into a limited and therefore answerable form—that is, to confine the question to poets, readers, and the academy without worrying about the extension of the more fundamental privileges Gary brought up: a decent home, good work, plenty to eat.

As for confusing the "act of writing" (being a writer) with "writing," well, I think that sort of conversation is almost always a shorthand, sometimes a necessary shorthand, for things that can only be really well communicated by writing. I would take it further and say that most things worth talking about can only be casually discussed in reified, noun form. You can talk about being a rock climber, but rock climbing is another story. So you toss around the names of famous rock climbers and peaks they've scaled; maybe you talk about the gear they endorse; you talk trash about other rock climbers who haven't climbed as high. This kind of thing is annoying, sure, but I'm not convinced it injures the experience of actual climbing. And only sometimes can questions of personality or a writer's social position be divorced from the writing they do without injury to that writing; without blinding yourself to the context in which it was produced and in which you receive it, which is a part of the content (Gehalt) of the writing I tend to find most interesting. I want as much web of the world as a given poem, book, or node can draw along with itself. To adapt Heidegger's language, I'm mostly interested now in poetry of the world. A lot of what gets called School of Quietude poetry is poetry of the earth: poetry that attempts to make contact with a pre- or a-human experience of nature. Some of this poetry is magnificent and beautiful; some of it merely a diversion. But it's not where I'm at right now. If I'm drawn to pastoral—another way of referring to the poetry of the earth—it's because it's always a state of exception from the world. And it always returns you to the world, more or less prepared for historical work than when you departed. It's that "more" or "less" that most concerns me right now, with Pound, the modernists, and the poetry of the present—including, of course, my own.
Gary has posted a long and impassioned response to my post below in which I bemoaned the reading habits of fellow MFAs. I don't really feel the need to defend what I said, but I do want to clarify something: when I complained about the usual suspects read by these folks, I was not objecting to their not having read New American and Language poetry, etc., because I myself was mostly unaware of that writing. I was dismayed, rather, by how few of them seem to have read or be interested in the canon with a capital C: the metaphysical poets, the Romantics, Browning and the Victorians, even much of Stevens or Eliot. You know, the Tradition. Do you NEED to read that stuff to write good and interesting poetry? Of course not. But it makes it a lot easier to have a good and interesting conversation about poetry, and that's a big part of what I went to grad school for.

How much or how little that education had to do with my relative success as a poet is probably not determinable. I mostly agree with Gary's Hard Work + Talent x Unreliable Other Variable equation, though he's left out the Willingness-To-Go-Into-Debt-And-Forego-A-Living-Wage-For-Years-And-Years factor. And there are social networks, which do not at first take the form of publishing coteries and people who help to circulate one's work, but in grad school took the simple form of other mostly young people committed to writing and therefore reinforcing one's own commitment to writing—an environment that decreases somewhat the obvious insanity of the writing life. So I was very lucky indeed to end up at Montana with that particular group of writers. (I realize one of the names I left out that I really shouldn't have was that of Nicole Cordrey—a fiction writer, but very much a participant in the little social bubble we built to shield us somewhat from the crushing indifference of the rest of the world.)

One thing I can't sufficiently address is the "something" that was given to Richard (and by implication me) "not given to others and that something which many may deserve is only available to a few, not because of talent but because of resources." I take this something to be publication? Publication of a book? What exactly is the nature of the limited "resources"? Surely they include not just the limited number of venues to publish in (and we are talking about print publication, right, the sort validated by hiring committees?) but the limited number of readers for poetry? Some people complain there are too many books, but I don't agree; I'd be very happy if everyone could publish every book they wrote. Print on demand might eventually make this possible. Of course then the bar that one has to leap over to get a job would have to be moved; maybe it would be the number of reviews or even the number of sales that would determine a poet's "legitimacy." Which doesn't get academic poets out of the market—how could we be unless academia as a whole somehow exited the market, whereas current trends show it being drawn deeper and deeper in?—but certainly provides new options for those who don't pursue academic careers because of the WTGIDAFALWFYAY factor. At any rate, I feel here there's some obscure connection between the prize of publication and the willingness or lack thereof to read what's new, what's out there. I mean, most of the poets I value are obviously profoundly engaged by (always more than one) tradition of writing as well as, necessarily, the accurate and idiosyncratic perceptions of their world. There may be naive artists, but a naive poet is hard to imagine—Ronald Johnson comes to mind as a great bricoleur in the tradition of Le Facteur Cheval, the Watts Towers guy, etc., but his materials included huge chunks of various poetics and traditions: Blake, Pound, Olson, etc. These are the materials. I think any artist worth attention tends to be interested in materials: painters love paint, etc. That many talented and attention-worthy painters, writers, etc., do not receive attention is a proverb. But not engaging with their materials is a surer recipe for obscurity.

Read the John Adams cantos this morning and will perhaps have something to say about them later on.

Ulysses is for sissies

That's the unofficial motto of my Finnegans Wake reading group. In that spirit:
The fall (bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!) of a once wallstrait oldparr is related early in bed and later on life down through all christian minstrelsy. The great fall of the offwall entailed at such short notice the pftjschute of Finnegan, erse solid man, that the humptyhillhead of humself prumptly sends an unquiring one well to the west in quest of his tumptytumtoes: and their upturnpikepointandplace is at the knock out of the park where oranges have been laid to rust upon the green since devlinsfirst loved livvy.
Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencod's roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to hispalate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.

Happy Bloomsday, everyone! And to hell with the commercialism—though I doubt Joyce would have been surprised.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

I'm going to weigh in on Tony's conversion narrative meme. For me the road to Damascus was the road to Stanford—in preparation for California I decided to familiarize myself with California poetry, which as far as I could tell meant this newfangled Language stuff. So I immersed myself in Hejinian and Davidson and Palmer and whatever else I could find, only to discover that the spirit of Yvor Winters yet presides over the Stegner poetry workshop. The cognitive dissonance I experienced simply by being both at Stanford and in the midst of the Bay Area poetry scene was severe. No doubt my frustration at the conservative aesthetics dominant at Stanford pushed me even farther to the left than I might otherwise have been inclined to go. But really the awakening came much earlier; although I arrived at Montana sympathetic to the New Formalists (or I would have been had I known who they were), I was made restless by another form of cognitive dissonance. This was brought about by the contrast between the deep and wide-ranging reading habits fostered in my literature classes and the smugly self-limited attitudes I found in some (though by no means all) of my fellow creative writing students. My experience was very similar to that described in an article in the newest Bookforum (not yet available on the web); I don't remember the guy's name but it was a very well-written response to this rather predictable lamentation by Sven Birkerts. Anyway, he writes that he found himself pushed from the MFA to the PhD side of the spectrum by the absence of intellectual curiosity that he found in his fellow students. I won't go that far—the cohort I was with at Montana proved to be a remarkably talented group, whose members exhibited restless intelligences and appetites (some names: Sarah Gridley, Richard Greenfield, Nils Michals, Catherine Meng, Deborah Wardlaw Pattillo). But I was appalled by the number of students who'd read almost nothing beyond the most usual 20th century suspects (Ginsberg, Lowell, Plath, Sexton, Berryman) and seemed blandly cheerful about the fact. There didn't seem to be any compelling reason for an MFA student to read. But because I was drawn to literary study—because I took a course which forced me to read Derrida and Foucault for the first time (I had gotten my BA in English from Vassar without so much as cracking a book of theory), and because I loved that experience of disorientation rather than resenting it, I think the seeds were planted for my eventual conversion. Reading theory built up my appetite for negative capability, for openness; I began to be drawn to practices of indeterminacy. (Not that all "avant" or "advanced" poetry proceeds by indeterminacy; I'm becoming increasingly interested in writing whose difficulty stems rather from the sheer complexity of the processual, currently exemplified for me by the writing of Jennifer Moxley and Chris Stroffolino. But that's another post.)

Which doesn't mean I want to abandon everything in the house that grew too small for me. I still love Berryman and Lowell, and Richard Hugo too. I still write sonnets, of a sort. But I really did have the experience that attracts phrases like "my eyes were opened" and "it was a whole new world." What interests me most about this experience from the perspective of Tony's discussion was how this took the form not of self-discovery, strictly speaking, but rather of my birth into a more collective sense of poetry and being a poet. On the road to Stanford my most romantic notions of the poet as individual seer and genius began to die, and I began to embrace poetry as a form of cultural and intellectual labor that I could not and did not want to practice in isolation. Which doesn't mean I've given up all the aspirations and pretenses of authorship; I still sign my name to the things I write, and attempt to recuperate in the ego what I've spent in real and economic terms. But I'm not convinced that's all there is. That's maybe the third stage in the narrative: moving beyond the delighted discovery of "weird" writing and recognizing the obligations (and, perhaps, rewards?) of a socially engaged poetic practice. Or at least trying to imagine what such a thing might look like.
Ohhhh! Kick boxing, not kike boxing. I think that's what they're looking for. A query from Google France solves the mystery. (Though there's the barest chance they could be looking for information about my grandmother's cousin the great Barney Ross.)

Just read an essay by Ian F.A. Bell in The Cambridge Companion to Ezra Pound arguing that textuality in general and laws in particular in Cantos 52-71 are Pound's safeguard against tyranny—in other words, a government of laws, not men. Perhaps the Adams cantos will make this clear to me, but Pound still seems to me to put far too much faith in the wisdom and charisma of individuals—the most wobbly (not Wobbly) possible of "Unwobbling Pivot[s]" (Canto 70). He does show his American stripes by attacking any authority/hierarchy based upon blood and birth, at least; what attracts him to the Confucian mode of government is that it's a meritocracy of mandarins. Bell's essay is most useful to me in his discussion of Pound's desire to pursue and represent unalienated labor and the thing in its use-value. A fantasy outside of systematic, Marxian analysis—as Doug Mao puts it, "the 'value' of whic Pound speaks seems, in the end, something like a rating of usefulness set by tacit consensus, whereas in Capital use-value is effectively removed to the realm of an undiscussable Real almost as soon as it appears" (Solid Objects 179). So in my reading, pastoral becomes an image of this dimension of the Real (always necessarily distorted—an image produced by the aporia of Being, the sense of "something missing," at the center of everyday experience under capitalism) in which things have their use-value restored to them. This works very well with the images in the Eclogues of shepherds making songs and gifts and bartering them; the economic becomes a superstructure of the cultural base in Arcadia. Pound's exaltation of Siena's Monte dei Paschi bank, "BANK of the grassland" (Canto 43) is determined by its aspiration to render exchanges immediate, which is to say, to repress exchange-value. That this repressed must return—that Siena's modern equivalent, the dated currency of Woergl (Cantos 41 and 74; also see Pound's essay "Civiization, Money and History) cannot long endure, only goes to show how a fantasy of the local and immediate can't go very far under modern capitalism. The value of the image remains: Bell quotes someone I'm probably going to have to read, E.P. Thompson: "We shall not ever return to a pre-capitalist human nature, yet a reminder of its alternative needs, expectations and codes may renew our sense of our nature's range of possibilities."

The above is probably why Lisa Jarnot finds most poetry blogs "boring," but I'm going to link to her anyway.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Incidentally, this blog passed the 50,000 visitors mark sometime this past weekend. Thanks for stopping by.
They're not unenjoyable to read, but Cantos 52-61 are like a crazy high speed chase through thousands of years of Chinese history. For someone who doesn't know as much as he should about that history, only repeated phrases and tropes (low taxes good, eunuchs and Taoists bad) and names (petty triumph of recognizing the few familiar names, principally names of dynasties and "Ghengiz Khan") provide coherence (the timeline in the margins is also helpful). The Cookson trot isn't much help here, though it does define a few of the pictograms; I'm almost ready to break down and fetch the two volume Terrell guide from the library. But I'm not sure this impressionistic history isn't exactly what I'm supposed to carry from these poems. There are occasional allegories to pick up on; if the good emperors are like Mussolini, the "Tartars" are like Hitler (this is made explicit in Canto 54, where a visit by "the tartar king" is compared with a 1938 submarine demonstration put on for Hitler: "(Pretty manoeuvre but the technicians / watched with their hair standing on end / anno sixteen [of the Fascist regime], Bay of Naples)". None of which does much to rebuild this reader's confidence in Pound's political judgments. His fatal weakness, repeated in all sorts of ways, is his confidence in individual character: again, good men are seen as capable of doing only what are essentially good things, while bad things are blamed on bad guys. It's Ezra Pound, Cowboy Poet; George W. Bush would love this guy. Not only does this wilfully ignore the structural difficulties of any complex society but Pound's poor judgment of character (Il Duce the Good Man) makes him difficult to take seriously. What's left to value? Chiefly the glimmers of Chinese culture, which Pound's love for is obvious, most evident in the fragments of poems he translates. In Canto 56, a little Li Po:
Mt Ta Haku is 300 miles from heaven
          lost in a forest of stars,
Slept on the pine needle carpet
Elsewhere he seems to find a plan for the liberal capitalism he despised; the difference, I suppose, is the active intervention of the wise ruler:
HAN came from the people
How many fathers and husbands are fallen
Make census
Give rice to their families
Give them money for rites
Let rich folk keep their goods by them
Let the poor be provided
I came not against YUEN
          but against grafters and rebels
I rebelled not against KUBLAI, not against Ghengizkhan
          but against lice that ate their descendants.
I'm also interested in one of Pound's primary figures for this decad, "Between KUNG and ELEUSIS": between the pragmatic Confucian principle of order and the Eleusinian mysteries, the Greek religion. Is he trying to describe a middle path between enlightenment and myth? He errs strongly on the "enlightenment" side (given his rejection of Taoism, seen as too passive, too acquiescent to the cycles of nature); his personal history and opinions make the domination present within Kung/enlightenment all too visible. But it does at least suggest that the problems Pound was trying to solve (albeit with hopelessly inadequate intellectual tools) was THE problem that the 20th century raised, and which the Frankfurt School (perhaps with inadequate poetic tools?) also tried to solve: the regime of the subject over the object, and the subject's draining of subjectivity vis-a-vis the commodity, enacted by industrial capitalism. Cookson offers this translation of the untranslated lines from Confucius that appear on the first page of 55: "The humane man uses his wealth as means to distinction; the inhumane becomes a mere harness, an accessory to his takings."
More Pound soon. In the meantime, the new issue of Octopus is up with my little article on Ronald Johnson. There are a number of Johnson features, actually, including an essay by blogland's own Aaron McCullough. Plus poems by Dan Nester, John Latta, Auberginian Mark Yakich, and other folks.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

I grew tired of the "primarily" in my motto, above. Seemed wishy-washy. I like the religious ring of "devoted" because that's basically how I feel. Religion without God or gods, just voices from beyond the self.

It's been a Pound-free weekend for the most part. Yesterday was flawlessly beautiful but I had a hard time enjoying it because of a particularly vicious and continuous allergy attack. Went to Taughannock Park with Emily and the dog and dozed lakeside, reading Greil Marcus' Lipstick Traces in my more lucid moments. Helluva entertaining book. Saw some of Terminator 3 on HBO last night: the Governor catches bullets in his mechanical teeth! It had some of the cheesiness and thus some of the startling pathos of 50s science fiction. When John Connor and Claire Danes (yes, I'm conflating character and actor here) find themselves trapped in the 60s era bomb shelter that will ensure their survival for Terminator 1 (the ruthlessly circular timeline of the first film has been restored here; the more hopeful vision of ultraviolent Terminator 2 died with the Sarah Connor character), there's a genuine sadness there which the perfunctory porn of nuclear explosions that ends the movie only serves to heighten. What humanizes it are not so much the actors but the set: the 1960s technology has a humanist feel entirely missing from the sleek, soulless techcenter where much of the action takes place (the most frightening detail is a tiny TV set with a presidential podium and blue curtains like those in the East Room of the White House, designed to allow the President would address the nonexistent postnuclear nation within a simulation of normalcy). It's like that episdoe of Star Trek: The Next Generation where the actors go onto the set of the original series via the holodeck: its plastic materiality, its analog "setness," simulates human warmth in a way that makes the carpeted corridors of the Enterprise-D seem very cold indeed. I'm part of the last generation to grow up in full consciousness of the nuclear threat; probably a younger person sees the nukes at the end of T3 as just special effects, no more threatening than the aliens in Independence Day. But that sort of thing will always give me the shivers. I remember a 1988 movie called Miracle Mile that I saw late at night on TV one summer when I was twenty or so: it stars Anthony Edwards (and, weirdly, Denise Crosby, who played the butch security chief on the first season of STTNG) and depicts the final hours of Los Angeles before a nuclear holocaust. The tone of the film is weird; it seems like a romantic comedy, and for a long time watching it I was convinced it was about how people might behave if they only THOUGHT a nuclear war was coming. Just as I was getting used to this paradigm, the film makes an abrupt left turn and the missiles start raining down. Anthony Edwards and his love interest crash their helicopter into the La Brea Tar Pits (get it?) and exchanged soulful looks before they become part of the giant mushroom cloud. And that's it. The End. A weirdly honest movie about nuclear war in the way it fools you for a while into thinking that things might be all right, that even the worst might be surivable. And then: nope, the character you identified with along with everyone and everything else is annihilated. It scared the bejesus out of me.

Today it's gray and windy out and rain is on the way. The dog's on my lap and I'm puzzling with InDesign and thinking about a cover (I really like . Hopefully I'll figure it out and Aubergine will be printed soon. If you're a contributor, be sure to e-mail me your physical address so that I can send you a copy, if you haven't already done so.

Friday, June 11, 2004

The more I think about "music" as Pound or Zukofsky use it, the more I realize how little I know about music on the theoretical level. I can hear distinctions; I recognize a Baroque string quarter from one written in the early nineteenth century; I can recognize voices and leitmotifs. But I'm bound to get into trouble talking about music and poetry in anything resembling a technical way. Still, there's something about music and the experience of temporality it provides that makes me think I might yet derive some insight about the Modernist use of "music" within the writing of poetry. This comes to mind because of a long review by Daniel Morris of Giorgio Agamben's latest book in the new Bookforum. The most striking thing about the review are three photos of Agamben as a beautiful young man in Pier Paolo Pasolini's 1964 film The Gospel According to St. Matthew. But there's also a useful discussion of Agamben's position vis-a-vis aesthetics and his desire to find a path out of the dead-end that is art's autonomy, its disconnect from life [parenthetically: when did it become okay to use disinterest to mean uninterest? This article in today's New York Times commits just such an egregious error]. This is from the review:
Agamben finds in Aristotle a radical conception of rhythm that anticipates Benjamin's idea that messianic time itelf explodes the continuum of time. He draws a lovely analogy between music and art. A musical piece, though it is somehow in time, allows us nonetheless to perceive rhythm as "something that escapes the incessant flight of instants and appears almost as the presence of an atemporal dimension in time. In the same way, when we are before a work of art or a landscape bathed in the light of its own presence, we perceive a stop in time, as though we were suddenly thrown into a more original time. There is a stop, an interruption in the incessant flow of instants that, coming from the future, sinks into the past, and this interruption, this stop, is precisely what gives and reveals the particular status, the mode of presence proper to the work of art or the landscape we have before our eyes." Agamben proceeds to say that beholding a work of art is not a static experience but rather an ecstatic one: "It means ecstasy in the epochal opening of rhythm, which gives and holds back. . . . In the experience of the work of art, man stands in the truth, that is, in the origin that has revealed itself to him. . . . In this being-hurled-out into. . . rhythm, artists and spectators recover their essential solidarity and their common ground."
Very Heideggerian and, as Morris says, very lovely. What I take from this is the notion of rhythm as a spatiality that opens up in the temporal experience of the artwork—it's where we dwell. Pound's emphasis on the sequence of the musical phrase, then, on the creation of a non-metronomic rhythm (or to put it negatively, to "break the pentameter") might indicate a desire to make poems with a rhythm that we can experience, dwell in, and "meet" in (presumably the metronome rhythm requires you to sacrifice too much of yourself, or else it is simply inadequate for creating enough space in a modern world ruled by quantification and the clock). This is still an inadequate conception of music, and doesn't address any of the concerns raised by the commenters over at Ron's blog, but I think it may provide a useful opening.
Somebody found this blog with the search terms photos kike boxing girls. How disturbing is that?
First off, let me say how happy I am that the President has seen fit to close government offices in honor of Jordan's birthday.

Now Pound. Ron's discussion of music and the New Formalists' clumsy understanding of its centrality for poetry have me thinking about that quality in The Cantos. What exactly does he do with his own idea to "compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not the sequence of the metronome"? Typing that out I'm struck by the priority given to "sequence": what follows. It's close to, though not identical to, syntax; or rather it's prior to syntax, if syntax is a sequence that makes meaning. Pound's paratactic style and general resistance to syllogistic thinking (often conflated with his fascism because it appears anti-rational) might be in service to sequence, rather than the other way around; the line makes music prior to both older formal paradigms (the pentameter, which requires you to fill in your ten syllables and five strong stresses) and the content, the way of thinking, that those paradigms tended to generate or be filled with. (Consider the argumentative structure of the sonnet, or the flexible but cumulative structure of Dante's terza rima.) Pound's musicality is most apparent in the Cantos that engage directly with other poems, particularly the epics of Homer and Dante (he has little to say to Virgil and astonishing contempt for Milton). In 47 we have an extraordinary song for Adonis, which remains marked by the modern even as it attempts to resurrect the god and his rite:
The sea is streaked red with Adonis,
The lights flicker red in small jars.
Wheat shoots rise new by the altar,
           flower from the swift seed.
Two span, two span to a woman,
Beyond that she believes not. Nothing is of any importance.
To that she is bent, her intention
To that art thou called ever turning intention,
Whether by night the owl-call, whether by sap in shoot,
Never idle, by no means by no wiles intermittent
Moth is called over mountain—
The bull runs blind on the sword, naturans
To the cave art thou called, Odysseus,
By Molu hast thou respite for a little,
By Molu art thou freed from the one bed
           that hou may'st return to another
The stars are not in her counting,
           To her they are but wandering holes.
He achieves a rolling effect by respecting each line's integrity; one may have three beats, one may have six, but each describes a complete movement. When he introduces spaces he creates a retroactive connection between that line and the one preceding it, but the space cushions the enjambment when there is any. It has a formal feeling (in the sense in which Reagan's funeral is formal, or in which an occasion may call for formal dress), but the line's clear priority over the sentence creates clarity—a surprising quality to attribute to The Cantos, but there it is. Whereas for example the tangled multi-line syntax of Milton calls attention to the difficulty of what the poet is attempting and his mastery over that difficulty, Pound's variable lines forecast Olson's breath-procedure (The Cantos are well-scored for the voice and easy to read aloud) and foreground the presentation of individual images or individual words. This is where the fugal comes in: the poem doesn't accumulate, but reading it is like swimming in a vast yet finite pool: one will eventually encounter the same repeated waters, the same ladders, the same drains. I realize now one reason I've never gotten into The Cantos before is because I would typically open the book in the middle and try to excerpt it; it simply doesn't work. They require reading from the beginning, and reading them fairly quickly, as I'm doing, helps keep individual elements and phrases fresh in my mind so I can recognize their importance and understand the particular layer of significance that they represent, a layer that becomes more apparent with each recurrence. Repetition is the friend of meaning here, a substitute for the syllogism; whereas in Stein it's the primary tool for breaking down syllogistic thinking and liberating words and paragraphs from the tyranny of sentences.

There's much, much more to say about the Fifth Decad, which contains the Usury Canto and the gorgeous Canto 49, which is composed of translations of anonymous Chinese poems. Still figuring out what relationship may exist between Pound's concept of usury and the Marxist conception of the capitalistic practices which seem to meet in accusations whose substance, if not origin, could come from Adorno as well as Pound: "no picture is made to endure nor to live with / but it is made to sell and sell quickly". The problem with Pound is that he has no understanding of how structures might work to create conditions that people accept as natural—it all comes down to intent, to the specialness of the actor. A good man can't do a bad or even a merely venal thing by Pound's lights: "This cnal goes still to TenShi / though the old king built it for pleasure". The intention of "the old king" matters more than what the canal has come to be used for; nor is there room to consider the possiblity by which the king's pleasure was itself a creation of larger economic and ideological structures. Still, his translation of a peasants' song is moving in its simplicity, in its representation of life beyond the structures of human domination (though perhaps overdetermined by its vulnerability to the demands of nature, of necessity—that's the tipping point between pastoral and wilderness, pastoral and agriculture). And to return to the question of sequence, it suggests a version of time that is musical not in its difference from the metronome, but in its realization as an attribute of recurring experience, a pleasure in itself:
Sun up; work
sundown; to rest
dig well and drink of the water
dif field; eat of the grain
Imperial power is? and to us what is it?

The fourth; the dimension of stillness.
And the power over wild beasts.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

I'd like to direct you to this sensitively written (if atrociously titled) San Francisco Chronicle article about my friend Brian Teare and his book, The Room Where I Was Born.
Alas, poor Ray.
Really getting into it now. Yesterday I read Eleven New Cantos (31-41), which forecast later nuttinesses: wholesale importation of presidential diariess, Major Douglas' Social Credit, Greek words sparkling with the same luster Heidegger tried to put on them (I think of Heidegger more and more as I read; he and Pound had similar ideas around techne). Learning things about Martin van Buren, a president I never expected to care about; Pound's hero for remarks like "Thou shalt not. . . jail 'em for debt" (Canto 37). More anti-Semitism in Canto 35, what my trot, William Cookson's A Guide to the Cantos of Ezra Pound mincingly calls a "satire, directed agaisnt Viennese Jewish society. . . not narrowly racialist." Oh no? When someone named "Tsievitz / has explained to me the warmth of affections, / the intramural, the almost intravaginal warmth of / hebrew affections, in the family, and nearly everything else...." One could come up with a positive spin on "intravaginal" if one labored hard enough, I suppose, but it's meant to disgust and succeeds. Cookson's apologetics are often hard to take, as in this paragraph explaining Pound's adoration of Mussolini, who appears as "the Boss" (and who finds the Cantos Pound shows him amusing, "divertente"):
It is probably impossible to have the kind of acute perception which Pound possessed without a counterbalancing blindness. In politics he missed much which was obvious to people not "afflicted with genius." But it needs to be pointed out that despite Pound's admiration for Mussoini, the political thought of the Cantos represents an attempt to restore the Anglo-Saxon heritage—it is against unlimited sovereignty and therefore fundamentally anti-fascist. Of such contradictions poems are made.
It's more Cookson's tone than what he says that raises my suspicions and hackles. Because there is indeed evidence of an unfascist, even anarchistic Pound in the Cantos, as in this extract from a letter by John Adams in Canto 33 [the typography here is hard to duplicate]:
Is that despotism
or absolute power...unlimited sovereignty,
is the same in a majority of a popular assembly,
an aristocratical council, equally arbitrary, bloody,
and in every respect diabolical. Wherever it has resided
has never failed to destroy all records, memorials,
all histories which it did not like, and to corrupt
those it was cunning enough to preserve......
Plus there are again the beauties, scattered here and there but sometimes concentrated, as in Canto 39, which evokes the dangers and erotic pleasures of Circe's island:
               there in the glade
To Flora's night, with hyacinthus,
With the crocus (spring
               sharp in the grass,)
Fifty and forty together
               ERI MEN AI TE KUDONIAI [In the spring the quinces]
Betuene Aprile and Merche
               with sap new in the bough
With plum flowers above them
               with almonds on the black bough
With jasmine and olive leaf,
To the beat of the measure
From star up to the half-dark
From half-dark to half-dark
               Unceasing the measure
Flank by flank on the headland
               with the Goddess' eyes to seaward
By Circeo, by Terracina, with the stone eyes
               white toward the sea
With one measure, unceasing:
               "Fac deum!" "Est factus." ["Make God!" "He is made."]
Ver novum! [New spring!]
               ver novum!
Thus made the spring,
Can see but their eyes in the dark
               not the bough that he walked on.
Beaten from flesh into light
Hath swallowed the fire-ball
A traverso le foglie [Through the leaves]
His rod hath made god in my belly
               Sic loquitur nupta [So the bride speaks]
               Cantat sic nupta [So sings the bride]

Dark shoulders have stirred the lightning
A girl's arms have nested the fire,
Not I but the handmaid kindled
               Cantat sic nupta
I have eaten the flame.
He really does try to awaken the gods, doesn't he? Pound's battle-cry is "Damned to you Midas, Midas lacking a Pan!" (Canto IV). The spirit of unexploited nature. Here's where I begin to stitch the idea of Social Credit to pastoral; I don't know enough about economics to understand exactly why it's as nutty as everyone says it is (though I do understand Pound's fatal conflation of use-value with exchange-value, which is what enables him to discredit the labor theory of value; for all his epic reach, Pound wasn't much of a systematizer), but there's something powerful about the notion of "underconsumption"—that there are goods/gods aplenty and we just don't have a fair system of distributing them. One purely pastoral solution to this is Morris' world of artisanship and handicrafts, and Pound pays some homage to this idea. But by lodging the creditor, the usurer, in the position of devil, he ends up praising not just the forces of production but everything to do with production: the capitalist (more often pictured as an aristocrat like Malatesta) is celebrated because he owns the means of production, and his exploitation of the workers goes unnoticed. Douglas Mao, who's on my dissertation committee, makes a brilliant observation about this in his chapter on Pound in his book Solid Objects: Modernism and the Test of Production:
[V]irtually the same take on subject-object relations that serves a Marxist politics when the normative subject is a member of the proletariat can be absorbed by an anti-Marxist, and in this case lingeringly Fascist, agenda when the subject in question belongs to the class of rulers. It is worth recalling, in addition, that Pound's regression to the archaic form of instruction to princes in these cantos [Rock-Drill and Thrones] virtually requires him to neglect the changes in the experience of making engendered by mass production, to imagine techne (against his earlier habit of opposing the artisinal to the industrial) as a mode of knowledge that operates similarly in handicraft, assembly line work, and government. Viewed in relation to the thinking of a Marxist like Lucacs, therefore, this passage shows also how Pound's alignment with Fascism, if in some respects adventitious, was nonetheless supported by a characteristically Fascist transformation of revolutionary rhetoric into a gospel of action founded on historical continuity rather than rupture, and in particular upon an excision (from the center of historical inquiry) of attention to alterations in the conditions of production. (183)
What I find most suggestive here for my own project is the notion of how a critical approach to the operations of capitalism (instrumental reason, quantity absorbing quality, etc.) utterly transforms depending upon the subject position of the critic. Pound's fatal flaw then becomes his identification with rulers rather than the ruled (consider how directly the instincts of a Pound-influenced poet like Oppen run in the opposite direction). But there's something deeply pastoral about this: I think again on Shakespeare's pastoral plays, As You Like It and The Tempest in particular, in which a ruler forced out of power and into nature discovers a new wisdom, even a new power, from his association with nature; and when he returns to power at the end of the play he presumably will carry with him the new knowledge, which will make him a more just or perhaps just more secure ruler. Propsero is an interesting figure because he must renounce the power his ability to read the book of nature has given him before he becomes Duke again; he must drown it. To carry back the power of shaping nature to the throne would certainly turn him into a despot. The best example of pastoral lesson-teaching in Shakespeare comes in the anti-pastoral of King Lear, where exposure to what "poor wretches feel" prompts the king to say, "O, I have ta'en / Too little care of this!" We do get a more genuinely pastoral scene later, when the mad king is dressed in flowers. But this pastoral prepares him for death, not rulership. Hm. Well, it's the germ of an idea, and something may take shape around it today, as I plunge into The Fifth Decad of Cantos, 42-51.

Popular Posts