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

Advertisements

From Marvin Bell to Ozzy Osbourne?

I first came across Marvin Bell when I read his opening remarks to a conference on camouflage held five years ago. In some ways, his linking of camouflage to poetry was somewhat formative in my own thinking as well, how “poetry doesn’t easily reveal itself,” how “it can be the lie that tells the truth.”

At the bottom of that page was a Dead Man poem of his, which I felt was an interesting figure the first time I read it. That Bell’s Dead Man is both alive and dead seems to have inspired my Heidegger short story, I now realize.

But because of the HTML coding of the Web page and how it ended up looking, I misread an important formal characteristic of the structure of Bell’s Dead Man poems, namely, how “each line of poetry in a dead man poem is a compete sentence, long or short,” which means enjambment is set aside as a device. The impression the poem left on me then was based on a misreading: I admired what I thought were long lines dramatically enjambed into shorter chunks that seemed to be hanging on for dear life.

If one looks at “The Book of the Dead Man (#70)” as printed in the Introspections anthology, Bell’s formal choice becomes even more interesting as it happens on the printed (albeit virtual) page. With the leftmost margin reserved for the start of a new sentence, sentences too long for the width of the page end up indented in the next line. Here, enjambment seems (forced) to take place, even if Bell says, “[L]ong thought and practice lay behind my decision to let the sentence determine the poetic line.” He continues:

“Free verse” is not a form, nor an absence of form, but a method for inventing new forms. In the Dead Man poems, I redefined the free verse line by discarding many of its material particulars: the common emphasis on enjambment, for example. … I have always felt that the key to free verse is the sentence. That is, syntax provides the opportunities to enjamb or not, and syntax determines the character of the line. The free verse line without reference to syntax is like a train without reference to tracks.

While there may be quibbles about the definition of free verse as a method (metaphorical though it may be, it seems oddly more precise to borrow Umberto Eco’s notion of the novel as “a machine for generating meaning” and call free verse a machine for generating poetic form), Bell’s assertions are fascinating, especially given my love of enjambment, an amour fou that led to my mistake of reading the line ending as a yellow light to beat, rather than a place to pause for a beat.

For one thing, the importance of the sentence to Bell’s understanding of free verse is parallel–separate yet aligned–with Annie Finch and her defense of meter, which she sees as a ghost haunting (American) free verse. I’m still not sure how much I accept the idea, but there is a third parallel: James Longenbach presenting prose poetry in The Art of the Poetic Line as “suggesting that the very power of line asks us to wonder how it would feel to do without line.”

The other thing point of interest is Bell’s figure of the train. A train may be derailed from its tracks, and certainly the tracks it normally must move on become more emphasized when that happens, but it’s interesting trying to link this with Bell’s recognition of and hesitation towards the “well-wrought urn.” Bell says, “The very sanity of the polished lyric is its own reward,” but follows this with a caveat: “Though I came to writing through the lyric tradition, I am not wholly of it. For I came to understand that I was crazier than that.”

Poetry as a crazy train?

“Where I’m From”

I’ve enclosed those three words in quotation marks–conspicuously missing from the Permalink–because I’m not going to talk about where I’m from, at least not here/now.

I will, however, talk about this poem as a writing assignment. It is a rather enjoyable experience, even if (more so?) one were to do it in a fashion that’s somewhat schematic.

My teacher used Pat Schneider’s Writing Alone and With Others, but I’m not sure my efforts, fun as they are, supports the claim that this exercise “has produced gorgeous pieces from the entire workshop with almost unfailing consistency.” My work seems to belong to that zone marked by “almost.”

I suspect a significant part of this is rooted in the unresolved simultaneity of my fascination for and my suspicion of the poet’s I, but there’s also the aversion I feel towards writing poems about my childhood (which could be traced back to issues that would give a Freudian fits, or simply my having listened to this at a formative age).

Or maybe I should just be a little more focused. I should really do a bout of intensely concentrated writing, rather than the lazy scribbling I’ve been doing, similar to the way I doodle when, say, over the phone. And I should really open the work to the exacting tasks and demands in what I’ve been reading lately (and not-so-recently).

Still, I suspect that my resolve to focus on craft might be a ploy to shift the emphasis away from something else.

Longenbach

I’d like to meet James Longenbach someday to thank him for writing The Resistance to Poetry. I’ve just finished reading the book, but each of its nine essays bursts with so much insight that I don’t think I’ll ever really finish “reading” it.

As a sample: the opening salvo that gives the book its title and general thrust.

And to think I was already so impressed with his The Art of the Poetic Line, which I read before The Resistance to Poetry. (Saying that reading the former led me to the latter is only half-true: Chad Davidson mentions Resistance… in “Got Punked: Rebellious Verse.”)

I struggle with the line, so reading The Art… was quite mind-expanding, too. Anyway, more about Longenbach in this interview, showcasing his sensitivity to the materiality of language and, by consequence, poetry.