Monday, February 27, 2006

Loy's poetry

The two poems I particularly liked were "Gertrude Stein" and "There is no Life or Death." Loy's use of end alliteration (?) in the second poem of words such as "activity," and "declivity," etc. contributes a graceful quality to the poem. Moreover, her writing style in both of these poems seems in accord with the Modern thematic of sparse language in favor of elegance.

"Aphorisms" had so much depth -- they read like wonderful proverbs. It is as if Loy offers the beauty of poetic language alongside proverbial wisdom. I can see why she dubbed herself a futurist; many of her ideas and concepts seemed quite advanced as evidenced through the "Feminist Manifesto." She makes several commendable assertions about feminism and the virtues of women, but also points out the challenges that face them. Her views on sexuality, chastity, and "purity" seem far advanced for her time pointing out the debarring limitations of these concepts and also encouraging women to think beyond the conventional paradigms. While there is a raw intelligence to the Manifesto, there is also a stripping of sentimentality that I found slightly intriguing. For example, she asserts that "honor, grief, and pride" must be detached from sexuality. She seems to push women to take this concept to a level that is not merely physical, but also intellectual and emotional. Yet, preceding this acute observation she somewhat surprisingly states that "Woman must destroy in herself the desire to be loved." However, I'm wondering if this is more metaphoric than literal. Any ideas? Maybe we'll discuss some aspect of this in class.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

More on Moore

The literature on Moore is vast; here are a few guideposts. If you want to drill down deeper, please throw up your findings on the blog—that’s what it’s here for!

For basic info, the usuals: here, here, and here, where you can hear Moore reading “The Fish.”

There’s a collection of excerpts about Moore from H.D, T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, and others here. This is a good site with a bio of Moore in her own words and a helpful bibliography of work on Moore, another of which you’ll find here.

I enjoyed, but wasn’t especially edified by Charles Molesworth’s 1990 Marianne Moore: A Literary Life, who emphasizes the deep (some might say slightly pathological) family ties that shaped Moore’s life and work. In addition to her syllabics, Moore is famous for collaging quotations from various sources to compose her poems; one major source was the letters and sayings of her mother, who Moore lived with until 1947 (Moore was 60).

Moore carefully controlled and edited the poems that appeared in her lifetime. Recently, the publication of Moore’s early poems have stirred up some very interesting reviews on Moore in outlets like the New York Times and the Times Literary Supplement. You’ll find a handy roundup here. Brad Leithauser’s especially helpful I think on why it’s O.K. to be annoyed with Moore, even if you love her work. Fiona Green (a friend) is characteristically shrewd about why the classic Collected Poems, edited and ruthlessly revised by an elderly Moore, should remain the standard for her poetry.

More on Loy

For more on Loy’s life and some handle on recent critical perspectives, there’s the usual suspects:

Academy of American Poets on Loy.
Modern American Poetry site.
Carolyn Burke’s 1996 Becoming Modern: The Life of Mina Loy went a long way to putting Loy back onto the poetic radar. You can read the introduction and an interview with Burke about Loy here.

A helpful bibliography for further reading is here.

Loy started her career as a painter, made fashionable lamps to support herself through the Twenties, and continued making assemblages inspired by the lives of the Bowery homeless long after she’d stopped writing. You can see some of her visual work here.

Also, a couple of resources on Mina Loy’s friend and lover, Italian Futurist F.T. Marinetti .

and her second husband and love of her life, proto-Surrealist Arthur Cravan.

Also, Billy Corgan has a song to Loy—who would have thunk? Does anyone have this? It might be fun to listen to in class.

BTW, that's Loy with Pound on the streets of Paris, 1923.

Of Chemistry and Consciousness

From the desk of Lizette:

Note the preoccupation with consciousness--mentioned four times in Aphorisms on Modernism, and again in Gertrude Stein--while “the past” is oft noted in both this and Aphorisms on Futurism. There Is No Life or Death seems to summarize, in a swift space, both aphorism sets. The concepts of the absolute, time vs. intensity and lack of love all echo there.

Returning to Aphorisms on Modernism, I thought that the “Life is only limited by our prejudices” paragraph reinforced the “The mind is a magician bound by assimilations” paragraph. Or perhaps it’s the reverse. Anybody else think so?

In The Last Lunar Baedeker, Loy writes “the woman who is a poor mistress will be an incompetent mother...” Mistress in which sense? And why is unselfconsciousness in sex an indicator of inchoate evolution?

The Lunar Baedeker poem makes glorious use of alliteration (my faves include posthumous parvenues, oxidized Orient, crystal concubine--but there are numerous others), homophonic syllables (from Pharaoh, furrowed phosphorous) and word play (lead to mercurial doomsdays). Maybe I’m overanalyzing this last bit? Mercurial does have other meanings, of course, but it also has the bedrock meaning of having to do mercury. Lead has several incarnations, too, but I’m thinking here is where she plays off the element known as lead. Both mercury and lead are metallic elements.

Loy and Moore

Hey gang:

As you're reading and thinking about our poems for this week, do me a favor. Write down a few thoughtful words that you feel best describe the poetry of Mina Loy and Marianne Moore (maybe 3 each...) Try to consider just their poetry as separate from what you know about them as authors and people. If you have the extra time between classes, consider how your lists are similar or different and come to class prepared to say how.

Happy weekends!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

good class tonight

i just want to say a hearty right on to Katrina and Lara for giving a stellar presentation. the performance idea was great. i had a lot of fun.


Stein's Compostion as Explanation

I really enjoyed reading Stein's essay, "Composition as Explanation." While her style of writing is somewhat convoluted at times, I think she makes several compelling points in this essay. Her theory, for example, of how a classic becomes accepted is important to understanding relative concepts such as how literature becomes canonized. Though she speaks in somewhat estoteric terms about beauty as a concept, I think one could as easily replace that word with poetry. Somehow, I felt like she was speaking very directly about the asthetics of poetry.

"If one were not so indolent they would realize that beauty is beauty even when it is irritating and stimulating not only when it is accepted and classic" (21). It seems particularly useful advice in our own study of literature and why we study certain authors, poets, writers -- how we come to view their work as classic. Much of that seems to be based on the conventional 'wisdom' of a select few (i.e.-Pound?) who hail the stars of a new generation. It made me think about how much goes unread, unrecognized, or unseen for its beauty. (Until, hopefully, someone claims it one fine day). ;)

Bring Your Kleenex?

Couldn't resist posting this comment from NYC poet Amy King's blog. Her class read Stein last week:

"Last night in my poetry class, a student read the first four or five pages of "Objects"from Tender Buttons aloud, which was, for many of them, their first encounter with Ms. Gertrude Stein. Another woman started crying & giggling in the middle of the reading and remarked many times over, “I don’t know why this is making me cry!” She was confused by her own reception of the work, but not averse to it. I’ve never seen a student react so strongly & openly to poetry before."

Also in the Couldn't Resist Dept.: Posting this picture from Stephanie Young's blog of Barbara Guest with Frank O'Hara at the Cedar Tavern.

Monday, February 20, 2006


Hey everyone!

For our presentation on Stein on Tuesday night, we ask that everybody
choose one "Object" from Tender Buttons, one that you have something to
say about, anything at all. It's looking like it's going to be a fun
class...Just be ready to say share something, we're not trying to give
you any extra homework or anything!

~Katrina & Lara

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Colorful Covers

From the desk of Lizette:

What is the significance of all of the colors mentioned in the first half of OBJECTS? From "A Carafe" through "A Piano," Stein either alludes to color in general (as in "That is no color chosen") or specifically (as in "Light blue and the same red with purple."). I've always found Stein's prose to be an uphill climb, and--with apologies to Stein aficionados-- her poetry not much better. But I admit to being intrigued by some of her patterns, like the colors I mention. Some colors appear to be linked with particular concepts, especially yellow, red and white.

Then, in roughly the same first half, what is the purpose of the word or concept "cover?" Glazed Glitter, Substance/Cushion, Dirt/Not Copper, A Box, A Plate, A Book all give space to cover or coverings (e.g. "Excellent not a hull house" in It Was Black).

Beginning with More and continuing through the end of OBJECTS, is anyone wondering about the frequency of the word "little?"

I'm curious about the two references to Japanese culture in Careless Water and Glazed Glitter, and the appearance of all the umbrellas (or maybe there's just one with three mentions).

I loved "Picasso." Very meditative, almost like a chant in some places, and it reminded me of sudden fiction. I was able to fashion meaning out of it--it made a certain sense to me.

Happy Birthday, Gertrude

February 3 was Gertrude Stein's birthday, and my Poem-A-Day calendar marked it with this quote from contemporary poet C.D. Wright. Chime at all with your own reading?

"Gertrude Stein was a merrily errant writer. Her unfailing ear, radical syntax, and, perhaps more than any other quality, her comfort with her own procedures, set her texts securely in the foreground of American experimentalists. If her aims can be said to begin the language all over again, she made a grand beginning.

Stein's signature is a vigorous application of repetition. Beginning, middle, and ending are foresworn for the loop, the continuous present, a technique she considered cinematic....Stein's vocabulary is childishly simple and literal. Her tone is naive. She merely verbalizes what she sees. But behind the simple facade is a lion that never sleeps....There is a boggling level of inclusiveness in Stein, made all the more so given her method of composition. Out of reiteration comes an intensity, and from this inclusiveness, a democracy in word, phrase and sentence structure which combined to vitalize poetry in a late age. No one has equaled her exaggerated melodies."

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Thinking with Stein



A pleasant simple habitual and tyrannical and authorised and educated and resumed and articulate separation. This is not tardy."

This passage from Tender Buttons always gets me...I feel as if I've lived through that kind of dinner a thousand times, but the scenario I'm seeing hasn't been spoon-fed to me. There's a gist of something, perhaps a suppressed feeling, a criticism of a complicated sequence of moments, a specific account of a space of time that has occurred often, but not an exact time. Many ways to read it. Perhaps not a comforting experience of reading for some, because it is unlike the habitual reading that we do in the newspaper, or in the reading of a novel or even in many poems, something where we strive for completion and the comfort of identification with the words and the way they are presented. "There is a likeliness lying in liking likely likeliness." (That's from "Portrait of Mabel Dodge.") People are drawn to the familiar, why?

Stein actively disrupts the act of reading "habitually" in Tender Buttons, but she does this while describing mostly objects and foods that probably would have been familiar to her own household. What if we looked around at things that were familiar and didn't take them for granted? What if we described around items rather than naming them? I thought it was interesting that one source I looked at, Bob Perelman's The Trouble With Genius, mentioned that Stein often did not read the titles of the sections aloud when reading Tender Buttons in public. (I'll have to listen to the sound source that Rodney posted and see if she reads them there.)

Mina Loy's "Gertrude Stein"

of the laboratory
she crushed
the tonnage
of consciousness
congealed to phrases
to extract
a radium of the word

And by finding the "radium of the word," perhaps that's where the biases in language are shown. Juliana Spahr's talk that Rodney posted gives excellent examples of how reading Stein might be a freeing experience for someone to whom English is a second language. Stein's language sort of performs in a space where it's not as important to have everything figured out. It's a space of becoming. We discover things. Perhaps she is criticizing a lot of what she sees, but it takes a while to have an opinion about that sink in...

I was reading from Joan Retallack's book How to Do Things With Words, and there's this one little section:

"I never saw John Cage come alive. He seemed to be alive already. ditto Marcel Duchamp? ditto ditto Gertrude Stein?"

I guess I feel like she's alive, trying to burst out of those pages, bouncing around. I laugh, I open the book to where ever and just start thinking with her. I'd like to hear what everybody thinks about all of this...

I also think it would be interesting to compare what we began to talk about in class a little, about H.D. trying to make the aftermath of war, history, and a literary tradition more familiar and approachable in her poetry...both H.D. and Stein seem to want to recreate "familiarity" in some way.

Being In the Present

There's a lot of talk, always, about Stein's repetition, and I feel like that has a lot to do with the feeling of the present moment in Stein's work. How many times in your mind do you repeat things to yourself? If we are asked to repeat in reading, it has the effect of trying to sink in, to emphasize that very place in the sentence, that very concept. Perhaps Stein is trying to keep us right there in the current sentence for a while, rather than rushing on to the next sentence. I would stretch to say that the reading itself could be a practicing for a way of living, truly relishing every moment as it comes along rather than anticipating the next chess move.

John Ashbery says of Stein's work: "if, on laying the book aside, we feel that it is still impossible to accomplish the impossible, we are left with the conviction that it is the only thing worth trying to do." So, the perseverance might be more important to emphasize than the completion of a masterpiece. The use of rhyme and rhythm and repetition really makes her writing resonate, even if we cannot attach a definite doctrine or purpose to her, she makes a loud sound. People still react to this sound.

I wonder if anyone else can comment on Stein's writing being in the present. The sense of the present is in the "-ing" of course, as in "Picasso:" He was having something coming out of him something having meaning. He was not ever completely working." I feel as if Stein's writing reflects a process, more than a completed statement. What are the implications of that? She even references that with Picasso here: "not ever completely working." Is it that Picasso was less conscious of his painting ability, in relation to past goals of completed idea of painting, that made him interesting enough for this portrait? Is he less concerned with his identity, more with his art? Or are the words just part of the composition, brushstrokes that we shouldn't ponder over beyond their usage?

Okay, I feel I've wiggled enough doors loose with my monkey wrench.

Hopefully we'll all learn a little more by listening to Stein read in class on Tuesday.


A Resource is a Resource is a Resource

As promised, a few resources for Gertrude Stein.

Primary Sources
Here is Stein reading. Hear Stein read here.
Read all of Tender Buttons (1914) online.
Find a large selection of Stein’s other writings, plus critical responses from some of her contemporaries including William Carlos Williams, here.

Other Sources

A terrific article on reading Stein by our own Julianna Spahr.
Ulla E. Dydo is a preeminent Stein scholar who has the advantage of being attuned to movements in contemporary American poetry.
Peter Quartermain, poet and literary scholar, brings a participant observer’s eye to Stein’s legacy with his Disjunctive Poetics: from Gertrude Stein and Louis Zukofsky to Susan Howe.
James R. Mellow’s Charmed Circle is a genial, sort of old-timey biography of Stein and her world.

Tip of the iceberg, but hope this helps...feel free to post anything else you find.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

In Memoriam, Barbara Guest 1920-2006

Just got a note from Julianna Spahr letting us know that Barbara Guest passed away last night at her home in Berkeley. Julianna links to this poem. You can also find a generous selection from her writings here.

Sad news: hers was an exceptionally productive and full poetic life.

There's a good informative obituary here.

Turns out Guest's biography of H.D., Herself Defined: H.D. and Her World, stirred up controversy when it appeared in 1984. Guest took H.D. to task for her narcissism and the decline in her late writing at a time when a new generation of feminist scholars was rediscovering H.D. as a Modernist pioneer.

The obit above has some interesting things to say about the oscillations in Barbara Guest's own poetic reputation over the years. The story of modern American poetry keeps getting written and rewritten--1912 is still happening!

Blue Flowers in Snow

From Lizette:

I wanted to mention an observation in connection with the discussion about H.D.'s couplets in the last class. Though my favorite poem was Part [1] in The Walls Do Not Fall, which is not in couplets, my second favorite was Part [1] in Flowering of the Rod. I've nicknamed this the snapshot poem, because in every couplet except for two, I could see a snapshot, a still-life, of an object or definitive movement. In the first pair I see a garment (or raiment); in the second I see face and hands; in the third, someone standing; in the fourth, snow; in the fifth, the blue flower; in the six the ice-floe pattern (and again in the sixth); in the seventh, a banner, and so on. In the last one I see climbing, but I couldn't discern a snapshot in the 13th and 14th pairs.

On to Stein.


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Universal Human Experience

The other thing I forgot to mention. It's as though her knowledge is infinite. She has so many allusions to other sources: biblical, greek, egyptian, occultic which lends a unique touch to her poetry.

I think one criticism that I've heard leveled against her in the past was that these references position her to be unaccessible to the average reader, which I don't think is quite fair. It seems like this is a common criticism against writers who veer off the margins a little and explore the imagination in different contexts. I'd make a pitch for her and just say (she manages to be trailblazer in some respects) by also offering a universality to her poetry. For example, her figure of the veiled woman appears as several different characters with references to different traditions.

I really enjoyed her poetry, but I'm interested in what others will say about it.

The Original Imagist

After reading H.D. over, I can see why she'd term herself an imagist. I think poems such as "Sea Rose," "Pear Tree," and "Sea Violet" have such a breathtaking loveliness to them. There is a cool, graceful sensuality to these poems which I found rather striking. Rather than being overly subsumed by the fruit and flower imagery, she uses them in perfect unison attributing significance to those flower and fauna that might be historically be overlooked.

I thought it was fascinating how she took what we might interpret to be marginalized flowers and fruits and attribute them with a grace that is at once striking and lovely. For example, in "Sea Rose," she took a flower that is "thin, and sparse of leaf" and yet attributes it with a long-deserved beauty and grace. In fact, she mentions that it is more precious than a wet rose on a single stem. By inverting those binaries interpretations of grace, beauty, and abundance I think she comments inadvertently on the nature of beauty, asthetics, and form -- which reign as important elements in her poetry as well.

I also found her comment in Norman Pearson's introduction to Trilogy to be fascinating. For example, in a note to Pearson, she clarifies her role as a poet: "I do not want to pick out gems or be a 'clear-cut crystal.' That catch phrase is easy for journalists. A seed is not a crystal..." (vi). It seems as if she didn't see her poetry as a mechanical, efficient slice of prose (as Pound claimed Modern Poetry should be). So, while it may have some of these characteristics on the surface -- its also a beautiful amalgam of discrete, simple, yet elegant images -- which makes poetry a pleasure to read.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Finding H.D.

Not that you couldn't find these Google-quick yourself, but here are a few fun & useful H.D. links on the web:

Hear H.D. read from Helen

Learn more about H.D., Imagiste

Read excerpts from recent critical work on H.D.
(this Modern American Poetry site, btw, is a great starting-point for critical books and articles to use for your 20-page papers. It covers a number of the poets we're reading this term).

Could I persuade a few more of you to post your reading journal entries on H.D. to our blog before Tuesday?

Saturday, February 11, 2006

End to Torment

In 1958, the year the campaign to get Ezra Pound released from St. Elizabeth's was to finally succeed, H.D.'s Swiss analyst persuaded her to write down her memories of Pound, her sometime fiancee, insistent fraternal presence though her early years in London, and, with a quick stroke of the pen, creator of one of the most famous personae in 20th century American literature: H.D., Imagiste.

Her memoir was eventually published under the title End to Torment in 1979. In the back, the editor includes a chapbook of poems Pound wrote for H.D. in 1905-1907, before Pound left for Europe, a period when the two were still (in that quaint way prewar America had of putting it) courting. I thought it'd be fun to include one to show what Modernist iconoclasts could sound like in their very early twenties, and to mark out the distance American poetry traveled, the vanguard of it anyway, between say 1905 and WW II, the years of the Pisan Cantos and Trilogy. What do you think?

The Wings

A wondrous holiness hath touched me
And I have felt the whirring of its wings
Above me, Lifting me above all terrene things
As her fingers fluttered into mine
Its wings whirring above me as it passed
I know no thing therelike, lest it be
A lapping wind among the pines
Half shadowed of a hidden moon
A wind that presseth close
and kisseth not
But whirreth, soft as light
Of twilit streams in hidden ways
This is base thereto and unhallowed
Her fingers layed on mine in fluttering benediction
And above the whirring of all-holy wings.

--Ezra Pound, "Hilda's Book"

Uncle Ez on the Possum

Been wanting to post this since our last class--Pound's 1966 death notice for T.S. Eliot:

He was the true Dantescan voice--not honoured enough, and deserving more than I ever gave him.

I had hoped to see him in Venice this year for the Dante commemoration at the Giorgio Cini Foundation--instead: Westminster Abbey. But, later, on his own hearth, a flame tended, a presence felt.

Recollections? let some thesis writer have the satisfaction of 'discovering' whether it was in 1920 or '21 that I went from Excideuil to meet a rucksacked Eliot. Days of walking--conversation? literary? le papier Fayard was then the burning topic. Who is there now for me to share a joke with?

Am I to 'write' about the poet Thomas Stearns Eliot? or my friend 'the Possum'? Let him rest in peace. I can only repeat, but with the urgency of 50 years ago: READ HIM.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Troubling the Colleagues

Lizette asked me to post this:

I am not familiar at all with H.D., but already in the
few poems we are reading I can see the tremendous
breadth of her work. There is the evocative,
standalone imagery--word painting--of her poems in the
Gioia/Schoerke, and then there are what I call the war
poems in the handout. I'm partial to the war poems,
owing to their narrative bent, their technical
complexity (she does all sorts of fascinating things
with her words, structure and rhyme schemes, and with
her generous--though not pedantic--allusions) and the
spiritual strands she braids in with a deft touch.

I passed a budding flower today during lunch hour,
while walking with a colleague. The buds were just
opening, and they were very pink, though I'm not an
expert on identifying flowers and couldn't begin to
guess which variety this might be. I was reminded of
"Sea Rose" and "Garden" and came to a halt, staring at
the flower and trying to remember H.D.'s images and
symbolism. I know I've passed that plot of land
countless times, but this is the first time I noticed
what was in it. I was unable to recall anything more
than a verbal approximation, and after drawing curious
looks from passers-by, and a troubled one from my
colleague, I moved on.


Thursday, February 09, 2006

some more study questions for H.D.

1. What does H.D.'s rose in the poem Sea Rose symbolize? How does this differ from what roses traditionally symbolize?
What influence does the time period have on this particular symbol?
What does this poem suggest about old conventions and romantic ideas of beauty?

2. In her poems Garden, and Pear Tree do you think H.D. is asking readers to recall "Eden"? Does she believe we can go back?

3. How was it reading H.D.'s work directly after reading Eliot's The Waste Land?
How would you compare or contrast their prose? The musicality of the language?

4. How does H.D.'s work fit into the poetic tradition? What are some techniques she uses to separate herself from the traditional poetry before her, or from other Imagist poets?


laura wasserman
Some Study Questions for H.D.'s Trilogy:
(by Trilogy I mean "The Walls DoNot Fall," "Tribute to the Angels," and "The Flowering of the Rod")


1. In "The Walls Do Not Fall, H.D. makes tribute to the tradition of the word as triumphant over that of the sword, invoking the biblical assertion the "in the beginning / was the word" (section 10). Then, in section one of "Tribute to the Angels," she solicits the poet and the orator to take the rubble around them and "melt down and integrate, / re-invoke, re-create." What is her opinion of the role of the poet in the aftermath of the war, and how does she affirm this role(s) in Trilogy?

2. In the same line as Pound and Eliot, H.D.’s poetry is heavily weighted in classical tradition, with perpetual reference to the Bible, Greek mythology, and ancient goddess symbology from Egypt, and the Middle East. What (modern?) methods does she use to connect these traditions to each other and to her experience of WWI? What is her interpretation/vision of the war, and how does she use these symbols and traditions to communicate it? Do you agree with her interpretation/portrayal of the war?

3. Think about the tones that H.D. uses throughout Trilogy. When is it (if ever) hopeful, angry, inciting, didactic, prophetic, uncertain, etc., and why? Compare and contrast these tones with those found in Eliot and Pound’s respective work on similar subject matter (i.e. the state of things after WWI).


1. What do you make of H.D's consistent use of couplets? How do the couplets serve (or not) her modern/imagist agenda and/or the subject matter in Trilogy?

2. How does she use language (rhythm and repetition) in "The Flowering of the Rod" to convey her cyclical theme of death/destruction and life/resurrection?


1. The bio in our anthology states that "both H.D. and imagism were born at the same moment." How is H.D. the embodiment of the imagist movement? What makes her work the ultimate representation of imagism?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The audience question is a little more amorphous. My impression is that most poets wouldn't deliberately think about an audience (in an ideal world) but it is always a possibility. Considering he worked as a banker and lived a pretty conventional life on the surface, I'd be surprised if he deliberated over that with great concern, but I can understand the latent inquries that lie beneath the surface.

On a somewhat tangential note, I really liked "Preludes" this time around. It seems like one of Eliot's most famous lines is from this poem: "The sight of some infinitely gentle / infinitely suffering thing." While several of his longer works tend to meander into various, sometimes unconnected thoughts -- I found this one to be cohesive and graceful. I also felt that Eliot touched well on that most loved of modern themes: isolation and self-exile (thought maybe that's not as prominent as the first theme). He has a sort of compelling rather than biting way of putting things, though far from hiding under the guise of perfection. For example, the line, "You had such a vision of the street / As the street hardly understands" seems to speak volumes on isolation itself. I see some parallels with some of the modern fiction that was produced during this era as well, so its interesting to see how writers (whether of prose or poetry) grappled with many of the same issues.

For its asthetic imagery, I also loved "La Figlia che Piange" (which we were not assigned to read) but it was fairly short and the last three lines caught my eye. It is really quite a lovely poem and one of the few where these predominant themes don't surface.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

T.S. Eliot – the [post?]modern man

I spent my undergraduate years loving/hating Eliot … all I really know is that The Waste Land is a poem / people say a lot of other things.

Virtually everywhere one looks, as the name Eliot pops up so does the word Modern. Is he the quintessential Modernist … why him … of all that is labeled modern among all that is/was modern why does a three-piece-suited shut down ex-pat hold a movement’s/moment’s trophy. Pedestalled above his contemporaries (save maybe Pound)—the face of between-the-wars poetry.

I must admit, my ideas for this are spawned from an over-dinner conversation w/ Stephen, who pointed me toward “The Aura of Modernism” by Marjorie Perloff … the following sources, however, I dug up on my own.

Perhaps Eliot is held in such esteem because he pushed a text forward—rejecting Modern conventions to create a Waste Land that holds a much more postmodern ideal [lack of ideals?].

From “Projective Verse” by Charles Olson:
“A poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it (he will have several causations), by way of the poem itself to, all the way over to, the reader. Okay. Then the poem itself must, at all points, be a high energy-construct and, at all points, an energy-discharge.”

The Waste Land is a flux of energy. –Controlled. Regulated. Allowed to move forward & back on itself. A text of interweaving energies—new & recycled—transferred into sounds/linguistics—a seeming mess of semiotics—the heteroglossic confluence of broken down fragments / an anti-epic construct—devalued/revalued into a narrative of interweaving energies.

From Themes & Variations by John Cage:
“A work should include its environment, is always experimental (unknown in advance).”
“Importance of being perplexed. Unpredictability.”
“Complexity of nature; giving up simplicity of soul, vision, etc.”
“Constellation of ideas (five as a minimum).”

Again, the confluence, the interconnection, the constellation—the dialectics. There is something in The Waste Land that denies the reader a simple experience. Countless complex themes—ancient Sumerian fertility religious rites meet the pissy rain of soon-to-be bombed out London—a poem of annotations / pages scarred w/ footnotes. No one knows where this poem goes. It goes somewhere new every time it’s read. It leads underneath the narrative—it leads around standard text/language—it leads well beyond the expectations for a “Modern” text.

A happy / self-induced confusion. A poem of words / thoughts / sounds / languages – fuck the references [let the words be the reader’s Tiresias / let Buddha & Tarot cards tell you of the Grail – it only makes sense when you stop looking for it to make sense].

From “To Define” by Robert Creeley:
“A tradition becomes inept when it blocks the necessary conclusion; it says we have felt nothing, it implies others have felt more.”

Eliot fragments worldwide traditions. The Waste Land steals a little bit of everything / reduces it all down to a minimum / remixes into a hodgepodge of mix-tape poetry [think late 80s/early 90s punk rock/post-punk—mix tapes were for sale on street corners & at shows—90 minutes of different sources / different sounds jammed together into one experience—the tradition redefined / the tradition remade / the tradition fragmented & split up & fused back together into a new starting point].

From “The Rejection of Closure” by Lyn Hejinian:
“I perceive the world as vast and overwhelming; each moment stands under an enormous vertical and horizontal pressure of information, potent with ambiguity, meaning-full, unfixed, and certainly incomplete. What saves this from becoming a vast undifferentiated mass of data and situation is one’s ability to make distinctions. Each written text may act as a distinction, may be a distinction. The experience of feeling overwhelmed by undifferentiated material is like claustrophobia. One feels panicky, closed in. The open text is one which both acknowledges the vastness of the world and is formally differentiating. It is the form that opens it, in that case.”

The Waste Land will suffocate. It is line after line of seemingly undifferentiated data w/o distinction. Hell, it uses as many different languages in cohesion as is poetically possible—& the final trinity of “shantihs” leaves the doors hanging agape for distinction[s]. The poem’s claustrophobic effects [affects?] are within the cave-in of language [the cave-in of languages]. A mess of text / a mess of texts / a mess of data: heteroglossia = a dialectic. There are collisions & aversions—all of which suck out the air in the room & leave a wide-open book of fragments / a wide-open set of individual differentiations. Removing the epic from the epic / removing the meaning behind the tradition / removing denotation from diction / it is up to the reader to refill all that’s been removed.

From “Semblance” by Charles Bernstein:
“Rather than having a single form or shape or idea of the work pop out as you read, the structure itself is pulled into a moebius-like twisting momentum.”

The Waste Land is never singular. Every source to everything is deconstructed / is ripped into a new context of language[s]/sounds. Meaning here, is a product of collage/assemblage work / is subjectively determined by each reader & is subjectively determined upon each reading. For what is here, so much more has been discarded—the ideas / images / poetics employed within are endless & separate from conventional use.

Eliot’s Waste Land is beyond the scope of hermeneutical analysis/reading. A construct of language & sounds / a construct of tradition & imagery / a construct of constructs—an exercise of language & sound might be more applicable. This is an experiment. This is a cut-up / a collage / an evolution of forms/theories / the appropriation of everything for the sake of something small & complex / The Waste Land is well beyond what people call Modern. Modernism rejected most everything it revolted against / The Waste Land rejected everything Modernism still held. A simultaneous inclusion/exclusion / an intentional misprision of all received values and poetic norms / something that if read w/o knowing the poet’s name & the date of composition would be called—w/o hesitation—breathtakingly postmodern.

The Fool on the Hill

More from Lizette:

In J. A. Prufrock, line 119, the reference to the Fool is assumed (per the footnote) to refer to the
stock-character Elizabethan fool/clown/jester. Considering the context of this stanza, the assumption
is probably correct. However, the fool used to have another sense: that of the sapient, clever and wise
man, a la Till Eulenspiegel and the Fool in the Marseilles Tarot deck (I believe the sense remains
unchanged in the Rider-Waite deck as well.

Just a thought.

Eliot's Audience?

This just in from Lizette:

I have some comments regarding Eliot's poems. For one thing, what is a loto (Burnt Norton, line 36)? The word's not even in my dictionary.

Reading these poems is even more of a research exercise than was reading Pound. Wading and slashing my way through thickets of allusions only snatches me, repeatedly, from the dream of the poem, from its milieu, message and story. While tracking down all of the fascinating facts proves interesting, the necessity of engaging in the wading carries the risk of derailing the reader. I have to wonder which persons Eliot considered to be his audience, his readers. We've all been raised in different placesin different decades, and with different canons. At times I get the impression that these poets (Pound, Eliot and their contemporaries) were writing solely for one another. More maddening still is when the book itself refers the reader to a cross reference on another page and poem (i.e., "See footnote 19 about the title of Part V.").

Friday, February 03, 2006

Waste Land facsimile

Hi folks,

I put some scans from the original Waste Land manuscript up here. You can see on these pages Eliot's original typescript as well as edits made by Ezra Pound, Vivian Eliot, and T.S. himself. I'll bring the book in on Tuesday so you can all see them up close. Pound does a fairly marvelous job whittling this work down to something taut and compact. The entire first page falls to the hatchet as well as much else along the way.

As you can see, the original title was "He Do the Police in Different Voices," a quotation taken from Dickens' Our Mutual Friend, referring to one character's propensity to read the newspaper aloud in, well, different voices. What is Eliot trying to do with all the fragments of texts and all the various voices speaking from within the poem? Do we hear the poet's own voice as well or is his voice obscured by all the others he's conjuring? Or is this melange in fact his own "voice"?


Fear Death By Water

Here is the man with three staves, and here the Wheel,
And here is the one-eyed merchant, and this card,
Which is blank, is something he carries on his back,
Which I am forbidden to see. I do not find
The Hanged Man. Fear death by water.

The Waste Land, lines 51-55

“I am not familiar with the exact constitution of the Tarot pack of cards, from which I have obviously departed to suit my own convenience. The Hanged Man, a member of the traditional pack, fits my purpose in two ways: because he is associated in my mind with the Hanged God of Frazer, and because I associate him with the hooded figure in the passage of the disciples to Emmaus in Part V.”

Thursday, February 02, 2006

7 Reasons Bruce Andrews Would Hate Us

Because we compared him to a Fascist like Pound!

1) COMPRESSION/staccato brevity

2) Inclusion of/engagement with HISTORY (inc. POLITICS, ECONOMICS, usw.)

3) Deployment of PERSONAE: distance between poet and words

4) CONDENSARE of existing language, rather than pure soul invention

5) Rethinking of TRANSLATION & its function: Dante

6) PARATACTIC organization of materials (“paratactic clown act”)

7) Composes in rhythm of MUSICAL PHRASE (hip hop?) vs. symmetrical metrical structures

Post more! 1912 is still happening …