Friday, July 30, 2010

Not Jaded



I've been reading through the brand-new issue of Paideuma, and enjoying it considerably. It's a journal, you probably already know, of "modern and contemporary poetry and poetics" published by The National Poetry Foundation in Orono, Maine (which publishes the great "Person & Poet" series of books, each one a treasure; and not to be confused with The Poetry Foundation, which publishes, you know, Poetry). The journal was founded by the legendary Burton Hatlen and Carroll F. Terrell, to whom any student of modernist poetry must be deeply indebted.

Paideuma, as the inside cover quotation from Ezra Pound reminds us, is a term used by Frobenius "for the tangle or complex of the inrooted ideas of any period.... The Paideuma is not the Zeitgeist, though I have no doubt many people will try to sink it in the latter romantic term.... I shall use Paideuma for the gristly roots of ideas that are in action."

Well, this new issue, Volume 36, has a fascinating look at EP's early poetry as collected in the abandoned "Hilda's Book;" a piece on the difficulty of the late Cantos; a fascinating look at Mary Barnard (known for her translations of Sappho, but interesting in her own right); a poignant investigation into Reznikoff's use of testimony in his documentary poem, Holocaust; a really nice piece on Ed Dorn; a fascinating look at what's in John Wiener's archives by Andrea Brady [with which I have a small quibble, about which more later]; a brief essay on Ted Berrigan's taking speed (!); and a thoughtful linking of Wordsworthian poetics and contemporary American poetry. There are reviews, too (including one of Peter Nicholls' superb book George Oppen and the Fate of Modernism, about which I've blogged), and lovely obits for the late Omar Shakespear Pound and other folks who served modern poetry. Now I know that some folks will not find stuff like this as devour-worthy as I do, but hoo boy, it all turns me on!

One of the reviews is by Ron Bush - a great Pound scholar (who also, full disclosure, invited me to speak at Oxford a couple of times), and it's about Ezra Pound: Cantino postumi, edited by Massimo Bacigalupo. The book collects castoff fragments of Pound's Cantos "that have previously appeared in the back pages of Pound scholarship." (Some of which, by the way, appeared in the front pages of Poetry magazine, e.g., this ur-Canto.) The point of presenting these bits that didn't make the final cut is, as Ron explains, "not so much to change our understanding of the Cantos as to present passages of high literary quality," which the book "does in spades."

One specimen that Ron quotes seems to date from the end of February 1942, when EP placed jade on the body of his deceased father; the lines "are associated with Confucian rites for the dead." Here's a snippet, which I can't indent properly on this blogging platform:

To attract the spirits by the beauty of jade
that the music be an announcement to the air between
earth and heaven

and thrice go up to the roof corner to call the departed spirit
and for a woman that they lay out her party clothes
and in her boudoir
and three times call back her shade

As my readers will know, my own father recently passed away, so you can imagine how I felt reading these lines. Pound was always good on departed spirits; I urge everyone to listen to the impossibly moving audio of EP reading Robert Lowell's version of Dante's Inferno XV — “Bruno Latini” that I dug up at Harvard if you never have. I didn't think to leave a piece of jade with my dad, and he wasn't much of an Ezra Pound fan, but that gesture and these lines really made me sit in my chair and stair wistfully out the window. One lives for discoveries like this. And one therefore owes a debt of gratitude to scholars like those named in this post who make it possible for us to increase our critical understanding and appreciation of poetry. This includes folks like the current "editorial collective" at Paideuma who give us a bridge between scholarship and appreciation, when it comes to the modernists: thank you, Carla Billitteri, Steve Evans, Ben Friedlander, and Jennifer Moxley.

I know I'm too much of a poetry geekhead, but this is a kind of little-magazine publishing that just doesn't get recognized often enough.

1 comment:

Steven Fama said...

Poetry geekheads shall inherit the earth.

Or perhaps earth the inherit.

Either way, geekhead poetry forever.