||Friday, June 4, 2004
Much talk lately in the blogosphere, and some yelling, about attitudes towards Ezra Pound and about whether his politics should matter in our appreciation of his poetry. The latter is utterly uninteresting to me, except in the context of the absurd claims made by some people that writing formal verse is somehow connected with right-wing politics. I once read Pound and anything or anyone connected with him almost obsessively, but until a few weeks ago I hadn't read a line for years. Then Marjorie Perloff's review of Richard Sieburth's new edition of Pound's Poems and Translations led me to buy the thing with a credit card.
There is no question that Pound is one of the people who shaped 20th English language poetry. He championed an amazing variety of work by talented poets in almost every genre, from Frost to Zukofsky. But Jim Behrle and Jonathan Mayhew are right: "he's minor" and it's too bad "Pound's own poetry fails to conform to [his own] criteria most of the time. I wasted my money.
It's another story altogether with Alfred Corn's review in Contemporary Poetry Review of Ben Downing's The Calligraphy Shop and David Yezzi's The Hidden Model (the review itself is in the for-pay-but-well-worth-it-just for Paul Lakes's-essays archives). Though the price-per-poem is much higher in these slim volumes, here's what I found on first opening Yezzi's book:
UPON JULIA'S BREASTS
Who now reads Herrick?
Since our proscriptive age cannot abide
the mannish gazing that's objectified
the female shape (both gamine slim and more
curvaceous in its lineaments), I swore
correctness, chiefly to avoid the din
one risks to laud the callipygian.
So, turning chicken, now I praise your skin
rubbed with fresh herbs; and hungrily begin
to taste the parts you help me to prepare,
so plum, for my delight; and, ravished, dare
to broadcast that your white meat drives me wild,
dear circummortal chef, sweet Julia Child.
Well, Chapman's Homer it's not, but it's a delight, and maybe the slightest thing in the book. This other pair of rhyming sestets is from Ben Downing:
—which is to say "God willing," more or less:
a phrase that rose routinely to her lips
whenever plans were hatched or hopes expressed,
the way we knock on wood, yet fervently,
as if too wax too confident might be
to kill the very thing she wanted most.
It used to pique and trouble me somehow,
this precautionary tic of hers, but now
I understand why she was skeptical
of what Allah in his caprice allots,
because that she should live He did not will,
or, more terribly, He did that she should not.
i.m. Mirel Sayinsoy 1967-99
BTW, I read Herrick.
I was just beginning to learn my way around meters and forms when I wrote this double ballade, and I recognize how ineptly I handled it. But I think only complete recasting could make it better, and I don't have the time or energy or — sadly — the interest, to do that work. Nevertheless, here it is, on this 15th anniversary of the massacre in Tiananmen Square.
June 4, 1989
Students came to Tiananmen Square
To mourn the death of Hu Yaobang,
And call the old men to repair
The State they'd led to wrong.
Workers joined the student throng
And made the Square the people's place —
Thousands and tens of thousands strong,
They gave Liberty a Chinese face.
From the Great Hall of the People glared
Faces from the revolution, hung
There to silence those who dared
To charge the State with wrong.
But now the torch of freedom shone
From the statue of a woman raised
Before them — the people's challenge flung,
Giving Liberty a Chinese face.
Deng Xiaoping and Li Peng stared
As one man, unarmed and alone,
Despite the armored terror
Of the State's insane wrong,
Stopped a column of tanks along
The Avenue of Eternal Peace.
He simply stood his ground,
And gave Liberty a Chinese face.
Remember the thousands dead and mourn.
Remember the State's deadly wrong.
Martyr's blood is never erased —
They gave Liberty a Chinese face.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
2006 Michael Snider.