Wednesday, June 02, 2004

I honestly don't get what the big deal is if Jim Behrle or anybody else says that they don't read Ezra Pound. I read a lot of Pound. I have the big new Library of America volume and the new Pisan Cantos book sitting on my desk. Good for me. But my telling you that isn't going to make my poems any better, or Jim's any worse.

It's kind of funny, actually, that this level of piety to a Great Writer should characterize the "post-avant," whose spirit you would think would be more like "fuck your heroes" than revere them. The discussion on Tony Tost's blog has a dispiriting element of "these kids today don't know their Pound," with hushed references to craft and The Tradition, that makes me want to scream. (Pound would have been the last poet who demanded to be read purely on the basis of his reputation and stature.)

Maybe this is all beside the point, anyway. The question of "influence" is, as I think Jim suggested, more a game for critics than poets. There's more than one way to put this, but since Eliot came up let's put it Eliotically: the "tradition" is not a question of having read all the right books in English 10 but of having the tradition "in your bones"--in other words, of having absorbed it in an almost organic fashion. And it may be that the most interesting moments in a contemporary poem are, as Eliot puts it, those where "the dead poets...assert their immortality most vigorously." But this doesn't demand that contemporary poets consciously display their knowledge of Dead Poet X or Y; a poem larded with allusions to Pound and Eliot and Stevens is as likely to be horrible as sublime. The recognition of those dead poets--of influence--is a task not so much for the poet as for us as readers; those readers for whom Pound is central will gravitate toward those poets in whom Pound echoes the loudest--or, conversely, will see the hand of Pound everywhere in poems they love.

And if Pound is really so central to the modernist or post-avant or whatever tradition, then any poet working effectively in that tradition is de facto working under the influence of Pound, even if said poet has never read a word of Pound; otherwise we could not recognize that poet as working that tradition. (That some new formalists take as their axiom "Pound was wrong" should suggest to us that pretty much all non-new formalist American poetry--and that's a lot--is based on the unspoken assumption that Pound was right.) If Pound is so central, then everyone writes under his sign whether they know it or not.

In short, when I read a new poem I don't know, or care, whether the author has or hasn't read Pound or O'Hara or Shakespeare or whatever. I'll make a judgment about that poem, and my liking or disliking it may have something to do with how I can fit it in with other poems that I have read and liked--which may add up to a "tradition," which may mean that contemporary poems I think are good have something in common with poems by Pound I think are good.

Is it really possible to write poetry while gleefully ignoring Ezra Pound, or relegating him to cartoon?

Well, there's no way to know until we try.

Finally, the question of Pound's politics that opened this whole discussion. Do I think Pound wrote great poetry? Yes. Was he a crank, a racist, anti-Semite, and fascist? Yes. These things can't be separated; for Pound maybe more than any other modern writer, form is politics, and Pound's drive for historical totality and coherence in the Cantos is part and parcel of his attraction to the self-mythologizing Mussolini. The irony is that Pound may have become useable to us only insofar as he failed--insofar as the Cantos becomes a collection of fragments, a vast field of culture as opposed to a single and total vision.

1 comment:

8709 said...

Hey, I was searching blogs, and came onto yours, and I like it. I kinda landed here on accident while searching for something esle, but nice blog.. I got you bookmarked.

If you got time , go visit my site, it´s about mens male enhancement reviews. It pretty much covers mens male enhancement reviews and other similar topics available.