Tuesday, May 9, 2023
And you criminals who killed for a narrow shareof power and a few rotten spoils.Enough is enough.
The corners converge, causing the globe to grow smallerthan all of time times space dividedby every petty difference.
The girl newly dead on the sidewalk says,"Excuse me, but—what kind of moral force is brute moral force?"
Monday, May 8, 2023
Ezra Pound, was a politically reprehensible and one of the worst major poets of the 20th century. Traitor, reactionary, race-baiter, I have no sympathy for a man whose ambition had more to do with having power and influence over whole populations rather than poetry itself. He was, though, an idea man about the craft and art of the poem, and some of his criticism remains relevant. The way we discuss the quality and function of the image and the modifiers that do and do not attend it in context draw heavily from his notions about ridding ourselves of the weight of literary history and devising a poetics that can can help the reader perceive the world in new ways. Pound didn't want to stop there, of course, he desired to rule the world and aspired to be The Boss. A bully and self-aggrandizing creep he may have been (and traitor) but some of the ideas, at least, had value. He wanted poets to have the trifecta of prestige items with power, the pen, the scepter, the sword.
Eliot, Thomas Stearnes, was allied to Pound as an antisemite and race baiting neurotic who disguised his bigotry in a tradition of genteel Classicism, but I will defend him as a poet; too much of his images, his cadences, his drifting allusions hit the mark ; he is one of those writers who had an especially strong gift for getting the elusive essence of alienation, dread, spiritual desolation in a dehumanizing culture in his poems without turning them into padded, freighted dissertations. It is one of the tragedies of contemporary literature that Eliot, whom I think is one of the strongest poets of the last century, should happen to be, politically, a callous and malicious monster. Even dried up white guys who are lousy with nonwhites and can barely conceal their frothing anti-antisemitism can, at times, describe a mood or provide nuance to circumstances that transcend their repulsive politics and personalities.
Sunday, May 7, 2023
Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, in a 2016 chat with a Wall Street Journal reporter, talked about “banging his head” against the likes of Joyce, Pound and their attendant difficulties and his eventual decision to align himself with poets like Philip Larkin and Robert Frost and “poets, who dare to be clear.” Superb models to use if you're aspiring to write in contiguous sentences, unmarred by needless line breaks. Poetry readers should be grateful that Collins found his voice in the place where the conversations are actually happening, in the world and not the rheumy chambers of a book-addled soul. Difficult poetry that is actually good is difficult to write, and there are only a few among the millions who do so who actually deserve attention, praise, and continued discussion. At this stage, it becomes increasingly the case that there are far too many poets in the world who are trying to out-perform Stevens, Eliot, Stein, Olson in pushing the limits of poetry; the last group I paid attention to who managed difficulty that intrigued, provoked and which stopped making sense in a variety of works that made younger poets like myself examine the tropes I was using and attempt, with some success, to put it back together again, perception and images in newer works that come out just a little more out of the long shadow of previous and still present genius.
I might mention as well that Collins' work seems to be a sequence of experiences that are uninterrupted by work situations. Others can, I imagine, provide me with poems of his where work is an element, a strong one, perhaps even the subject of the poem, but it occurs to me that Collins, at least in many of his poems, is a flâneur, a walker in the city, a watcher, the character who observes, records, relates the isolated bits of daily experience, testing the limits of his ideas, constantly re-acquainting himself with his fallibility. Please don't mistake that for a bad thing. It's nice work if you can get it.