Desperately Seeking Sources

Based on the critical project I’m currently exploring, having to do with my own personal poetic participation in the dismantling of the opposition between Romanticism and Modernism in order to embrace them both (call it postmodernism, or maybe not), I wish I could find the full texts of:

For that matter, I also want Howard Nemerov’s “The Difficulty Of Difficult Poetry” in full. The libraries I have access to over here? Not so helpful, unfortunately.
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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

Approaching Gnosticism?

I recently mentioned Brenda Hillman, whose Loose Sugar (scroll down for review) I own and love, and how I feel distant from her Gnostic sensibilities, even as it profoundly shape her poetics, which I find resonant. Yes, there is a contradiction here.

I might be coming close, thanks to “On Song, Lyric, and Strings,” a piece she wrote that clarifies my recent reflections on the lyric. You can see her argument in Section 2, where she offers lyric as “an element in poetry, not a type” and talks about how “once lyric meant unbroken music, but since the nineteenth century, it may be broken.” I now realize my position, which is close to this, isn’t so much anti-lyrical after all.

Hillman also provides what I thought was a hilarious though insightful comparison between Emily Dickinson and Eminem, which I’ll quote here for certain key terms that mean a lot to the work I do (emphases mine)

In lyrics, identity quests might be aided when the certainty of a rhythm is crossed with a question; Dickinson’s poem “I’m Nobody—who are you?” and Eminem’s line “I’m Slim Shady I’m the real Shady” have in common the fact that their speakers present contradictory riddles as deflections for saying who they think they are—Dickinson in iambic and Eminem in trochaic rap. Much pop music has this gnostic quality, making animate assertions about losing the self while finding it. To the complaint that contemporary poetry is too musically inaccessible, I’d note that the temporary difficulties of such poetry instruct us about possibilities of meaningful expression of the quotidian

A lot of this makes sense to me, except for the question of how essential it is to Gnostic thought that it is about “losing the self while finding it.” If left at that, then it’s something that fits with my own poetic sensibilities. I may even accept the idea of knowledge as revealed in a-logical mystery, but I feel close to an understanding here.

I think I like the way Loose Sugar and other work by Hillman presents dualities without resolving them in a synthesis (Hegelian or something else). I think I can appreciate her use of Gnostic thought and alchemy as specific forms of negative capability or as a way to still function even when holding two fundamentally opposing views (I’m referring to the is-it-Fitzgerald-or-not bit in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy). I’m just not sure it’s my way of doing so, since there are a whole lot of other approaches to the binary, such as apophenia.

ADDENDUM:

Hillman’s article, which I only read last night is eerily in sync with a lot of what I’ve written in an essay I just finished, so much so that I am compelled to revise my essay and mention the Hillman to avoid being suspected of plagiarism.

On top of that, Hillman also specifically mentions HolderlinRobert DuncanWalter BenjaminPaul CelanGerald Manley Hopkins (an influence on W.S. Graham and John Berryman), and Annie Finch. I can’t help but wonder if this is this is the pneuma approaching.

Found Particles

A few days ago, I updated my Facebook and Twitter accounts with two lines from W.S. Graham that were cited in the essay I linked to in my last entry (yes, sorry, but I’m the type to do stuff like that!):

Somewhere our belonging particles
Believe in us. If we could only find them.

Not only did those two lines resonate with me, I also liked how it supposedly both opens and closes “Implements in Their Places,” the title poem of his final book. (I say “supposedly” only because I haven’t read it in its entirety, though what excerpts there are online have been tantalizing, to say the least.)

Atkinson’s context for those lines also had to do with their appeal to me, when she talks of Graham’s late work as a demonstration of

the torque of writing poetry; the exponentially maddening, tantalising relationship between the desire to wield language, and what really only ever amounts to a more finely articulated appreciation of its fundamental unwieldiness.

Now, in another essay on Graham called “Elegy For The World,” this time about loss as “a significant feature” in his work, I find those two lines cited in terms of the recurring appearance in his later work of

a lonely figure grappling with the difficulties of language, trapped in a place where the real world has been replaced by a world of language, which is for the writer as tangible as that that has been lost.

I feel something is being said here about the recent work I have been doing, which seems also attuned to what has been described as the “expressive experimentalism” of Brenda Hillman.

(Here, though, I find a certain oddity at work, in terms of what we might call a spiritual sensibility in the poetics. Like Jane Hirshfield‘s Buddhism, I don’t think Hillman’s Gnosticism speaks to me. And yet, I hear a voice there. I’m not sure about Graham’s spiritual beliefs, but there too seems something lurking there as well.)

W.S. Graham

I wasn’t so familiar with W.S. Graham’s work when I first came across “The Uses of Difficulty, Written in the Margins of W.S. Graham,” though I was already, given certain interests, looking forward to reading the essay. Three lines into the excerpt from “Approaches to How They Behave” however, I found myself entranced by the themes of presence (speaking) and absence (death) as well as Graham’s lineation and his use of “exact” as both adjective and verb (the latter being a device I’ve been using more and more in my own work lately).

So I went on Google, and one of the first items to turn up was this old blog entry discussing the translation issues raised in the Paul Celan article from which I just quoted. It’s a discussion that takes its its blog entry title and much of its content from Graham. Oh, apophenia, I love you.* (And from there I came across this wonderful bit from George Steiner: “Uncertainty of meaning is incipient poetry.”)

“Approaches to How They Behave” is apparently a long poem, so only excerpts are available online. This one has six sections, and the same blogger has put up Graham’s “Penzance/London” and “The Gobbled Child.” Poetry Nation has “What Is The Language Using Us For?” in what seems to be its entirety, as well as “Imagine a forest” and “The Secret Name.” I need more time with these works–the essay on difficulty suggests an hour–but from what I’ve read so far, I feel a certain affinity for the shapes in Graham’s work, the shapes of his thought and the shapes of his verse.

More to follow.

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.

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.”)