Stanzas from Frederick Seidel

These lines from Frederick Seidel’s “Sonnet” hit me hard:

A dying man literally without a face
Pointed at where his face had been.
He did this without a sound.

But not as much as these other bits from other poems, all of them final stanzas or leading up to one. The first is from “Glory”:

United States of America v. Ezra Pound
My song will seek and detonate your heat.
Pound reciting with his eyes closed filled the alcove with glory.
My art will find and detonate your heart.
I was a freshman and everywhere in Washington, D.C.
I walked, I dreamed.

This one is from “On Wings of Song”:

Flesh and juice of the refreshing and delicious.
Inside a crashproof housing. But I don’t recognize the voice.
This is your Captain. In the unisex soprano of children his age.
We are trying to restart the engines
On wings of song. The pilot giggles posthumously–
“You may kiss my hond,” he drawls, for the last time
Holding a hond out to be kissed from this page. (Sound of crash.)

And these are the last three stanzas from, er, “Fucking”:

There was a man named Pericles Belleville,
There is a man named Pericles Belleville,
Half American.

At a very formal dinner party,
At which I have met the woman I loved the most
In my life, Belleville
Pulled out a sterling silver-plated revolver
And waved it around, pointing it at people, who smiled.
One didn’t know if the thing could be fired.

That is the poem.

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David Shapiro

I brought a few poetry collections to work today. Three of them (Spicer, Stevens, Palmer) are omnibus volumes, “meta-collections” gathering collections that were previously published as separate books. The Lauterbach is a selection culled across several volumes, none of which are represented in its entirety, with a possible exception being the 1997-2000 poems in the section entitled The Call, which were gathered here in If In Time for the first time, as far as I know.

Foreground: four books from the personal canon. Background: lots of other significant stuff.

While I already have my hands/head/heart full with these writers (hands…literally!), there’s another book I meant to bring today but forgot to grab before I left. It’s a single collection, the only one I have by David Shapiro, and it’s ironic to think and write about this absent book when its title is After A Lost Original.

I first found out about Shapiro when a Google search for either “Ezra Pound” or “John Berryman” led me to this piece about difficult poetry collections, with The Sonnets of Ted Berrigan (onetwothreefour!) now joining The Cantos and The Dream Songs. The comments were even more helpful by pointing to poets I was already familiarizing myself with (Hart Crane, Louis Zukofsky, Basil Bunting) and Shapiro, who I only found out about through a comment that “nominated” A Burning Interior.  Another Google search, for Shapiro and his “difficult” collection this time, led me to a fantastic set of articles and interviews on Jacket.

I’m fond of quoting lines from After A Lost Original, such as the last two lines/sentences that end, um, “Sentences,” which I’ve always found heart-tugging in its evocation of a link between author and reader, one based on an experience not founded on understanding and knowledge:

The reader loses his way richly, but it is not certain that the reader loses.
Nevertheless, you found your way about, though I do not know you. (31)

I also like Shapiro’s “Prayer For My Son,” a response to (parody of, rewrite of) Yeats that offers advice like:

Be concealed
Like a conceptual tree
And when you need to be explicit, be (18)

and (cited here)

Forget what you have earned
Learn to know what you have not yet learned
Until you confuse the good
With the beautiful
Don’t seek out the wise, be wise
Never abandon the beloved
Just close your eyes
To the world and open your eyes. (ibid.)

In fact, and this is why I’m a bit irritated about not having my copy of After A Lost Original at hand, I like the lines Michael Leddy cites in his review, such as this one from “You Are The You” (the 8th poem in the Broken Objects, Discarded Landscape section):

To look up into your face
Is like looking into the devastated stars (33)

and, from the third stanza of “Dido To Aeneas” (4th in the same sequence):

I am a city and a statue and a wall and a revenge
It is a recent cut like an accident in a forest. (29)

and, from “The Mistranslation,” the third poem in the sequence entitled Voice:

The mountain hears bright shadows shine.
A mountain brightens; shadows shine.
I hear the mountains; bright shadows shine. (57)

I’m moved by how seemingly ordinary language in lines becme dramatized by a line break that turns a verb into an imperative (again, from “You Are The You”)

To whom does the you in your poem
Refer (33)

I wish I could say something more coherent about Shapiro’s collection, but I’ll just leave it to William Keckler who blogs about Shapiro’s After A Lost Original here and also includes “You Are The You,” the source of the last lines I’ve just quoted. And over here, Keckler has Shapiro’s “A Night Of Criticism,” another one I often plunder for lines to cite.

Here’s a PDF of Thomas Fink’s critical essay on Shapiro’s New And Selected Poems, which I’d go ahead and order if I wasn’t so fixated on buying each of Shapiro’s other collections, so as to get as much of his poems in my hands/head/heart.

I’ve linked to Joanna Fuhrman‘s interview with Shapiro before, but here it is again. I just enjoy reading it now and again. From its evocative title (“pluralist music” sounds like something that calls to me as an ideal to aspire for in my own writing) to so many gems and insights, it’s well worth reading again and again. If I had a hard copy of it, I’d be highlighting most of the text.

Finally, here are some aphorisms from Shapiro that dance around how he “makes it new — with stickers.” I’m not as skilled in that kind of papercraft, but here’s something to look at and think about:

Heavy meta mayhem!

In The Beginning: Questions

Two years ago, on the first day of the first graduate-level poetry workshop I ever attended, my teacher asked us to bring copies of a poem we liked. This was, I imagine, designed to be both an assignment and an icebreaker, perhaps even an introduction. For the next few days, I kept several poems in mind and tried to decide between them. At that time, this included the following:

In the end, I copped out and chose not one, but two: the Stevens and the title poem from Harvey’s collection. My teacher didn’t care much for the latter but vigorously discussed many of the formal devices Stevens employs in “High-Toned.” Afterwards, however, he warned me of the tendency in Stevens’s poetry to exclude the reader, which became one of the many ideas I wrestled with that semester as I wrote my poems and submitted them for critique during the workshops.

(To be honest, I can’t remember the word my teacher actually used to describe Stevens’s writing; I often think it was “arrogant” or “aloof,” but there are times when I feel it could be something else like “snobbish.” A year later, I would remember his point but not the word he used, when I read Louise Gluck’s “Invitation And Exclusion,” the essay in Proofs And Theories where she describes how her early “encounter with Stevens was shattering (114),” because reading his work made her feel “superfluous, part of some marginal throng (115).” By that time, I had learned to simultaneously heed and ignore the warning; though I somewhat understand where Gluck is coming from when she characterizes Stevens’s work as such, I admit to loving his poetry precisely for that very quality.)


The other question my teacher asked that first day was just as confusing: “How do you reconcile choosing Stevens and Harvey?” I was puzzled for several reasons. After all, as someone who loves listening to both “So What” by Miles Davis and, er, “So What” by Anti-Nowhere League, I considered the differences between Stevens and Harvey to be much less irreconcilable than that.

More to the point, while Stevens’s lyricism and Romanticism, not to mention his frequent use of blank verse, can make him seem arguably more conventional than, say, Pound (“break[ing] the pentameter” was Pound’s “first heave” but Stevens doesn’t seem so interested in that project) or Eliot, the indulgence in wordplay and musicality makes many of Stevens’s poems approach, limit-like, the point of nonsense.

In “A High-Toned Old Christian Woman,” it’s obvious in bits like “tink and tank and tunk-a-tunk-tunk,” but many of the other lines make their sense through sound: “like windy citherns hankering for hymns,” the last two lines of the poem, and many others seem to me to form the “jovial hullabaloo among the spheres” which is the poem itself. It’s a play of sound without being nonsense, and neither is Harvey, despite how skittery the latter (and even the former) seems to, say, Tony Hoagland.

I still like those two poems I’ve chosen, although, when another teacher in another poetry workshop I took one year later gave the same assignment, I chose a different one: Ann Lauterbach’s “Rancor Of The Empirical,” which I consider a little Stevensian in theme and language. It has since become my “totem poem,” although I did have a runner-up: Chad Davidson’s “Cockroaches: Ars Poetica.”

Jim Powell On Sound And Sense

I wish I could read the entire essay from which this came from:

It was Bunting who discovered in a German-Italian dictionary the translation Pound made into a slogan, “dichten = condensare” — ‘to compose poetry is to condense.’ This desiderates compression of sense, economy of means, the quest for le mot juste, for the one right word that supplants a half dozen blurry approximations, the fusion of phrase and perception that subverts habits of thought and speech to embody insight and survive, weathering the erosion of dailiness and the passing of fashionable ideas, rewarding repetition. But in poetry sound and sense are consubstantial, and compression of sense requires corporeal embodiment in the simultaneous melic condensation of verse. Memorability, durability in the mind, has always been recognized as one of the primal functions of poetic form (incantation, hypnosis, is another), and memory is a hedonist. She lives in the mind, which is a carnal thing, and wants corporeal nurture, wants in verse the carnality of a substantial music–impedance, weight, solidity, resistance: impedance like a burr to snag in recollection, resistance to outlast the corrosive blizzard of oblivion, solidity that like Yeats’ “stone in the midst of all” troubles the recourses of memory and reflection, a weight of phrase that sinks beyond the currents of ephemerality into the deeper reaches of our lives.

via Chicago Review 34:2 (Spring 1984)

Who Is Hugh Selwyn Mauberley?

If Richard Sieburth is, as I suspect, correct when he says, “To read Pound has always involved the invitation to become his student,” I’m not sure I’ve been reading Pound, at least in that sense. Or, perhaps more precisely, I have not yet accepted that invitation wholeheartedly, given my lack of confidence in dealing with Pound’s works and life. (In addition, although I don’t think Sieburth is excluding the early work in which “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (Contacts And Life)” is included, I suspect he has The Cantos on his mind more than he does those other poems and translations.) Still, I encircle Pound, occasionally listening to him read his work and always deriving pleasure from it even if I don’t (dare) read poetry aloud that way. I approach Pound cautiously, almost as if I see him in his steel cage. I am horrified at the conditions he has been subjected to but also at the man himself. I  condemn the cage but am also thankful for it, to my shame. Like Heidegger, Pound fascinates me with a strangeness I do not find comfortable; perhaps because Pound’s mental stability has been called into question, I find I easily imagine Pound to be feral and wild. To a certain extent, this excuses him more than Heidegger, though not by much. And yes, I hide my fear in judgments like these.

*****

When I took a course on literary theory a couple of years ago, one of the required readings was the fifth chapter of Brenda K. Marshall’s Teaching The Postmodern: Fiction And Theory. There, Marshall discusses (Linda Hutcheon’s ideas on) historiographic metafiction through a discussion of three novels that fit that category. One of those was Timothy Findley’s Famous Last Words, a novel that featured Mauberley as its central character. It was my first time to hear of Findley, and, to be honest, of Mauberley. Back then, I already knew of Pound’s Cantos, and I’ve read some of the Imagist work and the translations from the Chinese, but for some reason, “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley” failed to show up on my radar until I read about it in the Marshall. I was at least two steps removed from it, but I pretended to know it, to at least read and understand enough for class discussion. I remember being entranced by a line from the novel that Marshall quotes: “All I have written here is true; except the lies.”

*****

Around a year later, reading James Longenbach‘s The Art Of The Poetic Line, I encountered Mauberley again (Longenbach also talks about the poem here and calls it “probably the best poem ever written about midlife crisis”), focusing this time on the formal elements of the poem and not so much the character himself.

*****

This morning, listening to the Caedmon Recordings of Pound reading the poem, I misheard the first line of the second stanza of the Siena Mi Fe’; Disfecemi Maremma section. Instead of hearing Pound intoning, “For two hours he talked of Gallifet,” I heard instead “For two hours he talked of Gallifrey.” I then thought of how Pound’s poems, like the best poems, are always bigger on the inside. I also thought about Pound claiming, “All ages are contemporaneous in the mind,” wherever that came from. I also saw Pound as the Master but couldn’t and wouldn’t sustain it.

*****

I’m reading a really old (first published 1955, first paperback edition 1974) piece of criticism on Mauberley, this blue box book. I’m not really all that interested in the kind of literary genealogy characteristic of these kinds of “source and influence studies,” but reading the book, I almost feel like I’m travelling in time and meeting Mauberley again, not where he was originally but some other place, when people were studying Pound without feeling the need to apologize for his Fascism, the way I always feel like I have to, even when I’m just all alone, reading Mauberley and thinking about it.

*****

These are the last words of Famous Last Words:

Text by Timothy Findley

Man on the Dump

I don’t really like doing blog entries like these, but I’ve got more than seventy tabs open on my browser–excluding this one!–so I really need to unload some links here. This blatter of grackles certainly needs a place:

  1. The University of California Press has made a lot of their 1982-2004 publications available online. This link to the general list has Christopher Beach’s excellent ABC of Influence: Ezra Pound and the Remaking of American Poetic Tradition at the top. Unfortunately, not everything is accessible outside UC campuses; to cite one particular disappointment, Charles Olson’s Collected Prose is inaccessible where I am.
  2. If the first link was about digitizing books that first appeared in print, Electronic Literature Collection, Volume 2 is digital literature from the get-go. It’s a resource so rich I almost feel like weeping at the site sight of it. There’s only one item there I’m familiar with, which I highly recommend: Michael Mateas and Andrew Stern’s compelling Façade. (From the 2006 archive, here’s “Star Wars, One Letter At A Time.”)
  3. I’ve already posted “Great Gatsbys” from Hark! A Vagrant on my Facebook wall, but here, I’ll throw in instead a three-part series derived from Nancy Drew covers. As someone who absolutely adores Kelly Link’s “The Girl Detective,” you can imagine how much I enjoyed cartoonist Karen Beaton’s work.
  4. I want to read Stephen Burt‘s Close Calls With Nonsense, but I’m very pleased that its title essay, which is about “how to read, and perhaps enjoy, very new poetry,” is available online. It should be said though that the online version is of 2004 vintage, so one needs to adjust one’s expectations with regard to the use of the term “very new poetry.”
  5. For another take on 20th-century poetry, which may still be applied to much of the work done now in our 21st century, here’s an essay I’ve always enjoyed reading: “Parentheses and Ambiguity in Poetry of the Twentieth Century.” Choice quote: “The parenthesis in poetry might be better termed ‘par-antithesis’ for it expresses, through being the private space for a poet’s thoughts, a tangential movement to the rest of the poem, even whilst being integrated in it.”
  6. Mary Ruefle’s “On Erasure” contains fresh takes on what is becoming a somewhat common though still marginalized approach to poetry, but she comes up with a fresh take that begins with an anecdote of mishearing, includes a distinction between writing a poem and making poetry, and a conclusion pointing to erasure as “part of our lives.” That sounds irredeemably cheesy, but her Fernando Pessoa epigraph hints at what she means: “Everything stated or expressed by man is a note in the margin of a completely erased text.” (That sounds almost Heidegerrian, doesn’t it? But then, I would think so.)
  7. Two from McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, one of my favorite Web sites and certainly my favorite humor site: “Martha Ballard, Enlightenment-Era Midwife, Reviews Mötley Crüe, A Musical Group” and “Ten Excerpts From A Magazine Found At A Philly Gentlemen’s Club, Reformatted As Love Poems” are absolutely hilarious. (Here’s something even funnier: the autocorrect feature of PhraseExpress, an autotext utility installed on my computer, placed umlauts on “Mötley Crüe,” as is proper.)
  8. Poems about Freud: “In Memory of Sigmund Freud” is a typically moving elegy from W. H. Auden, while James Cummins’s “Freud” is a typically winking example of the contemporary sestina (Cummins also wrote a witty barb of a poem called “To Helen Vendler and Jorie Graham at Harvard” which targets Stevens scholarship). And then there’s Peter O’Leary’s “The Collected Poems of Sigmund Freud.”

(“Where was it one first heard of the truth? The the.”)

Nick Laird

Nick Laird was born the same year I was, and he’s had two novels and two collections of poetry published. In a move to vary my habit of adding books willy-nilly to my Amazon Wish List, I went ahead and ordered the newer collection.

He first caught my eye when I saw that one of his poems anthologized in The New North, an anthology of contemporary Northern Irish poetry edited by Chris Agee*, was entitled “The Use of Spies,” which interested me for several reasons:

  1. My mental Echelon sounds an alert whenever “spies” and other espionage-related words pop up in what I read, especially in poetry.
  2. I recognized the reference he was making with the title, mostly because of a childhood spent with this, rather than a deeper cultural connection with my roots.
  3. Laird apparently wrote a series of poems connected not only by titles taken from Sun Tzu but also being about married life. I want to write more love poetry, but one which dealt with marriage from rather odd perspectives (so far, I’ve written one that started with Anne Bradstreet and became an extended conceit on love as a giant robot of the mecha variety).

You can click here to listen to Laird read “The Use of Spies” and other poems, including “Wolves” and “Time for a Smoke” by Louis MacNeice (both of which I like a great deal). You may even “transcribe” his reading of that poem–which is beautiful–the way I did, because I can’t wait to get my copy of his book.

Two of Laird’s poems from the same book are also available here. Both “Holiday of a Lifetime” and “Estimates” are love poems, too, wonderful ones that capture an ache without coming across maudlin. Same with “Light Pollution.”

I’m also reading Laird’s columns for the Guardian. Even when he writes about a topic I don’t really think about, say, science and poetry, I’m tickled pink with his references to Robert Frost’s “Desert Places” and to “Hart Crane in ‘Voyages’ mode.” Three that I’d especially like to highlight are:

  1. “Like a prayer” (metaphor as agent of transformation)
  2. “Difficult ease” (which touches on my fixation with poetic difficulty)
  3. “The Slow Language Movement” (which touches on my admiration of John Olson’s “extreme reading” approach)

I love these moments of discovery.

* The death of Agee’s daughter led him to write a collection called Next to Nothing. Its  title poem references Heidegger, who I’ve been reading lately while I write a short story for the fiction workshop I don’t really talk about here: “…the human // Barnacled to the great right whale of Heidegger’s Being.”

Also of personal interest, the poem is followed by one called “Attic Grace,” which alludes to what got me interested in Ezra Pound in the first place, which brings me back to Salt Publishing, as I first came across their books when I wanted to know more about Tony Lopez‘s Covers, a collection of reworkings and “found poetry” that includes “Sequel Lines”:

We catch glimpses and echoes of Ezra Pound’s impossible fascist epic The Cantos (of which the author himself famously wrote ‘I cannot make it cohere’) in the Raworth-style self-replicating minimalist stanzas of ‘Sequel Lines’, an anti-epic freighted with unscalable detail of modernist catch-phrases, contemporary theory and non-sequiturs. ‘The unified subject / was out of a job’.