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

Peter Nicholls on George Oppen

Here are two points on Oppen’s poetry that have made a significant impact on how I think about my own work.

On the multiplicity of voices that speak in a single poem:

“Quotations are everywhere in Oppen’s poetry, especially in his later work, where he began to distinguish them by using italics rather than quotation marks, thus marking them not as speech but as another layer of text. Increasingly, the incorporation of ‘foreign’ materials does not point outside the poem, but functions rather to disrupt any sense of unified poetic ‘voice’ even though sources are often obscured.”

On poetry as a form.of knowing:

“The poet may recall a past experience, then, but that experience is fundamentally recast, perhaps so as to be almost unrecognisable, when caught up in the force-field of present perception. We are dealing not with a situation in which a given subject appropriates something other as an object of knowledge, but rather one in which (as for Heidegger) thinking and being are somehow elided. In this sense, the poetic imagination intuits rather than knows…”

From “George Oppen and the Poetics of Quotation” by Peter Nicholls

The Prisoner’s Dilemma

(No, not this one.)

Although I ordered The Prisoner on Blu-Ray late last year, I was finally able to re-watch the first episode (“Arrival”) only last night. That the last time I saw it was a little more than two decades ago compounds the strangeness of an already-strange television program.

Even stranger is how, after having spent so much time lately reading Heidegger, my mind kept picking up on various bits and pieces here and there: Number Six has been thrown in the Village! The Village imposes Schuld from outside, so Number Six must remain resolute! All this is admittedly half-baked, though I’m willing to think it through sometime.

Another idea that kept clamoring for my attention as I watched the episode was the postmodern serial poem that Joseph Conte differentiates from the more “traditional” epic form:

The serial form in contemporary poetry, however, represents a radical alternative to the epic model. The series describes the complicated and often desultory manner in which one thing follows another. Its modular form–in which individual elements are both discontinuous and capable of recombination–distinguishes it from the thematic development or narrative progression that characterize other types of the long poem. The series resists a systematic or determinate ordering of its materials, preferring constant change and even accident, a protean shape and an aleatory method. The epic is capable of creating a world through the gravitational attraction that melds diverse materials into a unified whole. But the series describes an expanding and heterodox universe whose centrifugal force encourages dispersal. The epic goal has always been encompassment, summation; but the series is an ongoing process of accumulation. In contrast to the epic demand for completion, the series remains essentially and deliberately incomplete.

Obviously, The Prisoner can’t really accommodate all the features cited above (it’s closer to Conte’s “finite serial form” than the seemingly more infinite form described in the preceding quote), but given what one fan has called “The Ordering Controversy,” it’s all too easy for me to see connections with Conte (though this idea requires more polish).

Some constraints:

  1. Always start with “Arrival” and end with “Once Upon A Time” and “Fall Out.”
  2. Show “The General” before “A, B, and C.”
  3. Ensure that “Free For All,” “Dance Of The Dead,” “Checkmate,” and “Chimes of Big Ben” are the next four episodes after “Arrival,” with or without the McGoohan-recommended order of those episodes.


Even with the above in place, can one really do a non-sequential free-for-all with all the other episodes the way a serial poem can? Too much to focus on for the moment, so I’m concentrating on the viewing issues for now.

I really like this review of the Blu-Ray set, but I’m a little confused about why it refers to it being a “ten-disc set” with what has been referred to as “the fan order” or “the fan sequence.” I’m absolutely certain I only have five discs with all 17 episodes arranged in what seems to me a different order.

For some time, I’ve been looking at this “viewing order for beginners” from the Gigacorp site. It’s different from the fan sequence, which nevertheless merits approval, as long as the order of “The General” and “A, B, and C” are reversed. (Tim Lucas of Video Watchdog also makes this recommendation for his list.) If I’m only following the fan sequence with that recommended switch, I have two choices so far: either the Tim Lucas list or the Gigacorp list.

But then again, there’s the work of a Prisoner fan named Theresa Donia. The Donia List, however, is so well-argued, because it’s derived from three (!) preliminary lists she came up with before she made her conclusion. You can see those three side-by-side at the bottom of this page, but it’s well worth reading every part of her essay to see how she came up with the logical sequence, the chronological sequence, and the psychological sequence BEFORE she decided on the final sequence. It’s a tour-de-force of fan geekery that literally takes my breath away.

It gives me four more choices, however, and that’s quite confusing (even without counting the Wikipedia listing and the many Facebook discussions), unless I consider my own inclinations and preferences when it comes to serial storytelling, as well as those of my wife…which means I might opt for the rather strange “two-serial” approach here.

(Since it’s Valentine’s Day, my wife and I are going to celebrate in that manner made popular by married couples with children everywhere: stay home and watch TV. But this isn’t just TV, after all, it’s The effin’ Prisoner!)

So, what to do? There’s more at stake for my wife. I’m simply looking for an interesting approach to a show that already interests me. My wife needs to be interested in the show herself, beyond her curiosity about my interest in it. Her entry into the show must also be interesting to her, and I have a feeling the approach we choose will play a big part in that.


On a morning when I wake up with a crisis of faith, a crushing fear of failure, here comes Douglas Kearney:

Struggle presents the risk of failure. Loss can be a kind of failure. Contrast can intensify loss. If failure compels me—both in process and subject—to write a poem, establishing stakes is vital. There must be a cost. At some level, the rigor I aim for when composing a poem is a way of raising the stakes; the poem’s potential failure becomes a source of sweat I’ve sweat over. But that’s a matter of process. In subject, failure needs a thing to rupture, then deflate.

This is why public history is so important to my work. It comes with its own setup.


And with regard to my Heidegger project:

Still: what is the cost? What do I risk? I think the risk in the poems as poems is the chance that I could be grossly misunderstood. That my poems might be seen as merely making light of a tragedy. That I might have failed in my reckoning of cost and that in the end, I might have only heard what I wanted to hear.

The poems are ironic in intention, sure. But if they read/sound ironic, they fail. Which leads me back to cost as it relates to process.

The cost in the process—the aspect of poetic endeavor we can most control—was that in order to manage the voices of the animals, I had to occupy subject positions I disliked. I had to engage in a kind of cruelty that forced me to acknowledge my own capacity for it. My ability to disregard others’ suffering for my benefit.

I had to know something of myself and then ourselves. The bits that are the monster sometimes beat out the bits that are the hero. At terrible cost.


via Craft Work : COST : Douglas Kearney : Harriet the Blog : The Poetry Foundation.

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.”)

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.

Jacques Derrida Goes Up My Scale

In the course of all my current reading about Heidegger these days–“about,” not “of” because I’m using cheat sheets secondary literature–I came across the video above and found myself somewhat amused. (I enjoy watching that video, as I have a soft spot for XtraNormal videos set in the academic world, but it’s not really that funny, because the points it makes on both sides do make sense.)

That, of course, reminded me of how I still haven’t read my copy of Derrida’s Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question beyond the first chapter that begins with words that seem to me thrilling in every sense of the term: “I shall speak of ghost, of flame, and of ashes. And of what, for Heidegger, avoiding means.” (Italics his.)

Of course, as the Reading and Time video above demonstrates, it’s not always a good thing to keep piling up the research when what I’m preparing for isn’t really a scholarly article but, well, a somewhat irrealist short story I need to be writing, especially given how difficult it’s been from a moral perspective.

So I decided I’ll  forgo my reading of Derrida for some later, more leisurely, time. This was until I remembered that his Without Alibi (review here), which I also have a copy of but one I haven’t read at all, might prove very useful to my thesis (an altogether different project from my Heidegger short story), especially its first essay, “History of the Lie”…

…which I’ve just learned was spurred by his reading of Hannah Arendt, who brings us back to Martin Heidegger. Though I think I’ll take us back to Derrida by way of Antonio Gramsci Scritti Politti. How I wish I could have a T-shirt printed with “Desire is so voracious, I wanna eat your nation state.” Now dance:

POSTSCRIPT: Jesus. I just found a great online journal called Double Dialogues. Not only does it have two issues devoted to “Art and Lies” (!), pretty much every other issue contains something of interest (the Dominique Hecq essay “Uncanny Encounters: on Writing, Anxiety, and Jouissance” is simply one of many, but I’m mentioning that, because I want to meet Hecq someday.)

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’.

Five Online Essays

…whose tabs I’ve now closed on my browser, though I still have to read them:

  1. “Kristeva and Poetry as Shattered Signification” by Calvin Bedient
  2. Philosophical Aphorisms: Critical Encounters with Heidegger and Nietzsche by Daniel Fidel Ferrer
  3. “Zarathustra and the Children of Abraham” by James Luchte
  4. “The Wreckage of Stars: Nietzsche and the Ecstasy of Poetry” by James Luchte
  5. “Confessionalography: A GNAT (Grossly Non-Academic Talk) on the ‘I’ in Poetry” by Rachel Zucker

Ricky Martin?

Something tells me I may be setting myself up with the title of this entry. You see, I’m really talking about living la vida existencialista: Nietzsche and Heidegger.

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