Thursday, June 26, 2008

Le bavard accroupi

A Red Belt

I am, rather dutifully (that is, without the effortlessness Exuberance or its occasional mistress Variety ensconces one in) reading the first volume (subtitled I: The Young Genius, 1885-1920) of the new Pound biography, A. David Moody’s Ezra Pound: Poet (with the additional clarifying clattery tack’d on of A Portrait of the Man and his Work) (Oxford University Press, 2008). Title page info-glut miasma of the sinking heart. Some parts of the book, I admit, gnaw that same bone of doggedness. (“Duty” falls down out of disgruntlement, is waylaid futility, one thinks. I read the Noel Stock biography when still the merest slip of a boy in my Dingo boots. I grutch’d through the Humphrey Carpenter piece of butchery—Carpenter plainly disliked Pound; one wonders why he bother’d.) Moody notes (regarding A Lume Spento) that the “covert but ambitious plotting is of greater interest now than most of the poems in themselves,” adding that “Only a third of them would be preserved in the definitive collected poems of 1926.” The claim being that “the revolutionary intent and the bold ambition implicitly declared in certain poems” is “most of all” found (though “unnoticed ever since”) “in the arrangement of the collection as a whole.” Bold enough. However: next comes a brace of pages of (mostly) one- and two-sentence “synopses” of the individual pieces:
In the next poem, ‘In Epitaphium Eius’, it seems we have the poet himself speaking Cino’s epitaph. This takes a flatteringly philosophical view of his libertine passion, presenting him as one who ‘loved the essence tho each casement bore / A different semblance than the one before.’ Then ‘Na Audiart’ has another troubadour, Bertran of Born, putting together his unique lady by taking a trait from each of several ladies of Langue d’Oc—a variation upon Cino’s supposed loving the One in the many.
(Isn’t that the rough plot of a Lawrence Durrell novel, maybe one of that oddball pair, Tunc and Nunquam? Constructing a woman? Or what’s that A. R. Ammons poem about Louise (I think she’s at a McDonald’s)—Ammons, in a mere twenty-or-so lines burlesquing a blason—(“a blason praises a woman’s beauty part by part in anatomical order from head to foot, concluding with praise of her inner beauty, of the perfection of her soul or heart or mind.” Invention, apparently, of Geoffrey de Vinsauf, 13th century.) (Love that “soul or heart or mind.” Constructing a woman, basic model.) (Long fossick and whinge) oh, here it is:

I drove down to Aurora
at 4:15 and picked up
Louise from work
and Louise’s hair, what a deposit,
and her eyelashes and teeth,
her shoulders hung
with all that seemed to be
getting away with her sweater,
and I suggested McDonald’s
for dinner but thought we
should stop off somewhere
first and get it over with:
Louise and I love relaxed
dinners and that’s the
kind we had: Louise’s
shiny fingers pulled
french fries out and her
stomach and hips and thighs
appreciated the hamburger: by
then I was feeling real loose
and easy and thought as we
left of Louise’s ankles and
toes getting her out of the
place and of the way her
mind put it all together
without even thinking.
Parodic and sly. Is it only because of my recent rambunct with O’Hara that I see O’Hara all through “Louise” (the rev’d up nigh constant speed of the thing with perfectly put end stop / line break at “get it over with”; the tick of the horologe of “4:15”; the echo of “The Day Lady Died”’s “and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of” in Ammons’s “by / then I was feeling real loose / and easy and thought . . .”)

Drifty. Warn’t I talking about the Moody biography? Warn’t I going to bother the Poundian (drifty or determined, in Venice circa 1908) note that “All art begins in the physical discontent (or torture) of loneliness and partiality . . . It was to fill this lack that man fist spun shapes out of the void. And with the intensifying of this longing gradually came into him power, power over the essences of the dawn, over the filaments of light and the warp of melody.” (Against the intense “naïve purity” of that stance, one’s got to put Pound’s barrage of commands to poor Homer at home, father and bankroller of the boy’s jaunt.) Gearing up for A Lume Spento, he instructs:
Whang—Boom—Boom—cast delicacy to the winds . . . The American reprint has got to be worked by kicking up such a hell of a row with genuine and fake reviews that Scribner or somebody can be brought to see the sense of making a reprint. I shall write a few myself & get someone to sign ’em.
New meaning to “I make a pact with you, Walt Whitman—” So: at what point is Pound’s expressivist stance of “naïve purity” dismantled? Hugh Kenner’s got an essay titled “Art in a Closed Field” that argues for literature’s parallels to the mathematical concepts of General Number Theory. Simply: the usage of word “field” in literature descends out of number theory terminology; “A field . . . contains a set of elements, and a set of laws for dealing with those elements”; and the “concept of the field is a device for making discoveries.” One writes a poem using a limit’d vocabulary of four hundred words. Kenner points to precursors Flaubert and Mallarmé: “Flaubert . . . defined the element of the novel as not the event but the word; just as it was Mallarmé who said that poems were made of words, not ideas.” Though: is a blason a field? Is a sonnet? Is it possible to use the form of the blason (or sonnet) for “making discoveries”? Is one more apt to do so within the strictures of a “new” form? One writes a poem using a limit’d vocabulary of one-syllable words. One indulges in bavardage, chatter. Sous la bave, le blague . . .

Ezra Pound, 1885-1972