Stochastic Bookmark

abstruse unfinished commentary

about correspondence


Waxing poetic, waning prosaic

Half the year gone by, not much to show for it in these parts, though I've kept up with bookchat, which has put more poets on my radar than anything else, making for a larger proportion of my reading. (Obligatory linklift: What we talk about when we talk about poetry when there's poetry about and we're not about to get in to a bout about what poetry's about.)

The biggest undertaking was Ezra Pound's Cantos, a group reading of which petered out after the first 30 (so too the Cantos themselves; I expected the Pisan Cantos to be the high point but they were but a relative maximum). I picked up the Companion by Carroll Terrell (of Terrellton) after 30 so as not to be lost in the weeds, and weeds not wildflowers they are, but it covers the grounds well. It was a bit odd to read Pound railing against high finance at a time when that sport is again current ... still I don't think politics makes for good poetry (of course Plato had it t'other way round); nonetheless, it's part of the warp & woof (mad dog!). Given his insistence on the importance of 'right names' it's more than a bit odd that he so often muddles them (not just Chinese transliterations, nor even corrupting Western names, but pure misidentifications), not to mention his ideosyncretic take on Chinese (among other things); and clearly he didn't know when to say enough. That said, it doesn't take away from the achievement of the initial cantos or the technical innovations throughout (well, middle excluded), and also led me to Browning's Sordello, and prompted me into The Analects of Confucius*, and, serendipitously, Kenneth Rexroth's 100 Poems from the Chinese, a less literal than liberal take, the Sung sometimes mediated through French renderings, but strictly speaking that wasn't his aim ... for my part, a relief from Pound's agenda and sounding an ironic note on poet-polity: "Chu Hsi (1130-1200) is the great philosopher and historian, founder of Sung Neo-Confucianism. That is, he gave the ancient code of the scholar gentry a new religious and philosophical content, owing much to Ch'an Buddhism (Zen) and Taoism—the sort of etherialization undergone by a doctrine when it no longer corresponds to reality at all. However, he gave Confucianism another 700 years of life. As might be expected, his poetry is formal—'neo-classical.'". Similarly ironic: Pound's insistence in being acknowledged as unacknowledged legislator.
*oops, speaking of irony, left this note out: VI 13: "The Master said to Tzu-hsia, 'Be a gentleman ju, not a petty ju." with note "The original meaning of the word is uncertain, but it probably referred to men for whom the qualities of the scholar were more important than those of the warrior. In subsequent ages, ju came to be the name given to the Confucianists."
Odds & ends:
Jack Ross covers Cantos LXXII-LXXIII w/ englishing of latter;
JEHSmith on Pisan: I disagree with his conclusion; Pound recantless, even Terrell lapses in suggesting (through another cite on CVII 69) that dropping the last word from exceptis viris religioses et Judaesis was exculpative, when every other ref is supposed to confirmatively imply any missing bits;
and Edmund de Waal's The Hare with Amber Eyes, beyond intrinsic interest, provided clear counterpoint.

Other poetry-related reading was more rewarding: Haffenden's Empson bio, Mendelson's The English Auden: Poems, Essays and Dramatic Writings 1927-1939, Geoffrey Hill's Selected Poems (wow!) ... Muldoon, Heaney ... and stuff queued up for the second half includes selected Hall and Lorca, early Ashbery and complete Merrill. Prose, that's another story, a good one, but for another post.


Anonymous David Auerbach said...

Damn, I just do not have bandwidth to jump into the woods of the fictional woods, as much as I'd like to.

Were you reading the Kenner book The Pound Era alongside the Cantos? It seems like a wonderful if eccentric companion. I have yet to delve into the Cantos at all; I fear that unlike Finnegans Wake, it will not repay my attention.

29/6/11 14:21  
Blogger nnyhav said...

I didn't take up Kenner; one who did had this to say: "for all that Kenner has a grand ear and eye for the architectonics, he's actually not that good/interested at close reading for its content/impetus, which is how Pound gets away with it, for Kenner. [...] he still lets Pound get away with stuff in ways that any half decent intellectual historian would put a stop to ... he stopped short of, or didn't care just as long as his own commitments and decisions were vindicated and attested to."

I think the first 30 Cantos well worth the trouble, both intrinsically and historically (I mean wrt modernism, not the halfbaking of sources Pound performs in subsequent ones). Why the Pisan Cantos are held in higher repute mystifies me.

30/6/11 01:51  
Blogger Ray Davis said...

It was like the Elvis comeback special (if Elvis had been interned for treason and then promoted to the laughing academy). Not nearly as good as the Sun sessions but exciting news to old rockers.

1/7/11 09:56  

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