Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Why shouldn't we?

I've finished reading - enjoying, admiring - two biographies, Mark Scroggins' "terrific," (in the words of no less than Dan Chiasson at the New York Times Book Review ) The Poem of a Life and A. David Moody's Ezra Pound: Poet (Vol. 1) as mentioned below, but there's a much-overlooked book essential for anyone interested in Modernist poets I also want to recommend. It's much shorter than either of the big bios, four decades older, possibly more charming, and equally illuminating: Ezra Pound's Kensington by Patricia Hutchins. Real scholars can decide if it holds up in every detail, but what a fun book, filled with things I've not come across anywhere else. It's based on, among other things, EP's correspondence with Hutchins, who came to live in his old London digs. Track it down!

Which brings me to something Pound said in Guide to Kulchur, quoted by Hutchins:

"The British mind in 1909 was decadent. I said so, and I got the languid reply, 'but surely other empires have decayed. Why shouldn't we?'"

A while ago I blogged my notion, acquired after sifting through the "Decadent" English poets, that after a fashion we, ourselves, are living in and contributing to another decadent era in poetry, full of florid ideas, simplistic melancholy and idealism alike, fiddling while things are kindling all over the world, and so on. And it strikes me that if Pound interrogated us today, he'd get the same answer he did almost a hundred years ago. Yes, I exaggerate - somewhat. But there is what he called "a meagreness, a dwindling" that we assent to, avants and quiets alike; in fact, the imposition of this false duality is evidence of what I mean.


My previous post about Bishop's prose needs a supplement. I've just laid eyes on the new book, and among its astonishments are her early stories, "The Thumb" - about a woman who becomes increasingly and overwhelmingly repulsed by a female friend who had... a hairy man's thumb on one hand!!! - and "Then Came the Poor," about the "Reds" taking over the country, causing a very wealthy family to abandon their stately home - one of the children sneaks away from the departing convoy of two cars filled with lamps, cutlery, books, and other valuables, to stay behind... where he joins the poor families who begin to inhabit the house and eat the remaining food in something that resembles an inverted, giddy version of Dr. Zhivago. These stories are extremely odd - like science fiction without the science - and would have earned Bishop quite a reputation, had she written them today at the age of thirty-something. I don't say they're masterpieces - they're rather unfinished, exploratory. But anyone who thinks Bishop dull and conventional had better think again. Bishop is an enduring mystery, elusive like many a great artist.

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