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

Meghan O’Rourke On Jack Gilbert

Because a friend reminded me how many of Gilbert’s poems entranced me, I read “The Recluse: Rescuing the poet Jack Gilbert from Oblivion” by Meghan O’Rourke and found this captivating:

All Gilbert’s poems have a distinct movement, a fluidity of perception that relies little on narrative, and a great deal on the contrast between finely observed detail and perfunctory sentence fragments.

Also: “Poetry Is A Kind Of Lying”

 

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?

Five for Today

  1. Ermita is a district of the city of Manila where I live. It has long had a reputation as a red-light district, so I was surprised to learn that the word itself “always refers to an uninhabited or isolated place, a location for spiritual retreat”: the sacred and the profane?
  2. I like jazz a lot, but if there was a musical genre I’m trying to integrate in my work, it would be (punk) rock. Still, Lauren Camp’s “What’s In The Notes: The Sound Of Jazz In Poetry” made for interesting reading.
  3. I’m not really too cozy with the work of Richard Wilbur, but “A Birthday Card For Richard Wilbur” is a nice piece that spends time talking about simile, which is not one of my strong points, and it reminds me that Wilbur has a poem called “Lying.”
  4. “The Sweetest Sounds I Ever Heard” is a short piece about what it means for a piece of prose to be poetic. I’d prefer a longer discussion, but it’s not always that you read an article for general readers that focuses on the sonic quality of language in prose. As someone specializing in poetry for my MA but also struggling through taking a fiction class this semester, I enjoyed reading this.
  5. Actually, I used to aspire to be a fiction writer, and one of my early influences was Patrick McGrath, which means I very badly imitated him. These days, I don’t read him that often anymore, much less imitate him, but I still enjoyed his short stories a great deal when I re-read a couple last year. I like reading his interviews, too. Here’s another.

John Cheever on Lies and Life, Fiction and Reality

INTERVIEWER

I was reading the confessions of a novelist on writing novels: “If you want to be true to reality, start lying about it.” What do you think?

JOHN CHEEVER

Rubbish. For one thing the words “truth” and “reality” have no meaning at all unless they are fixed in a comprehensible frame of reference. There are no stubborn truths. As for lying, it seems to me that falsehood is a critical element in fiction. Part of the thrill of being told a story is the chance of being hoodwinked or taken. Nabokov is a master at this. The telling of lies is a sort of sleight of hand that displays our deepest feelings about life.

INTERVIEWER

Can you give an example of a preposterous lie that tells a great deal about life?

CHEEVER

Indeed. The vows of holy matrimony.

INTERVIEWER

What about verisimilitude and reality?

CHEEVER

Verisimilitude is, by my lights, a technique one exploits in order to assure the reader of the truthfulness of what he’s being told. If he truly believes he is standing on a rug, you can pull it out from under him. Of course, verisimilitude is also a lie. What I’ve always wanted of verisimilitude is probability, which is very much the way I live. This table seems real, the fruit basket belonged to my grandmother, but a madwoman could come in the door any moment.

via Paris Review – The Art of Fiction No. 62, John Cheever

Timothy Donnelly

I once posted an excerpt from a great interview with poet Timothy Donnelly, but I’ve yet to write about how captivated I am by his poems and poetics. His recent collection The Cloud Corporation has gotten rave reviews, and he’s been compared to Wallace Stevens and Hart Crane (and Jay-Z).

What I’d like to do here for now is link to the text of “The Cloud Corporation” and his reading of it, as well as a review that discusses the difficulty and duplicity of his work, especially with regard to selfhood (and which also compares him to Jay-Z). All of those are themes I’m seeking to explore in my thesis. Well, not Jay-Z, but you know.

Three Steps

I’m not sure which Heidegger blog Another Heidegger Blog is supposed to be an other to, but visiting it again for the first time in a long time last night was a good thing, because it led to this and that:

  1. Being’s Poem: This blog’s title caught my eye, mostly because I’m browsing through my copy of Poetry, Language, Thought these days. I know Ereignis to be a key term in Heidegger’s work (a really complicated one), but I’m not sure what the URL of Being’s Poem refers to though. Still, color me fascinated, for obvious reasons, with its focus on “philosophy, rants, poetry, and all sorts of worthless doodles.”
  2. “Return Of The Real”: This blog entry simply links to a three-part review of a recently-released anthology of what I consider the most exciting new thing in philosophy. Good thing too that The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism is available too as a free PDF, although I wish my Kindle could read it the way it could Graham Harman’s masterful Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics.
  3. “Do You Want Myself Or Do You Want My Song?”: This was actually cross-posted in the same online magazine that featured the three-part review of The Speculative Turn, but I went straight to the author’s blog, because it had more comments. It’ll take too long to discuss it now, but my interest in lies and deception for my thesis has a lot to do with this distinction (or not) between poetry and fiction.