Do I need to say that decent poetry bookshops in South Florida are pretty much nonexistent? Well, there aren’t many anywhere, for that matter. I don’t know the midwest or the west coast, but on the east coast & south the only good new poetry bookshops I know are Bridge Street in DC, Talking Leaves in Buffalo, & St. Mark’s in NYC. And places that have consistently interesting used stock are even rarer – Rust Belt in Buffalo is the only one that springs to mind. But the Strand’s poetry section is so damned large, & I get up here so rarely, that there’re always at least a dozen things I end up buying. Indeed, semiannual trips to the city & the Strand seem to be the primary way recent works of poetry enter the house anymore. (But yes, I bought your book new, straight from the publisher.)
One of the few non-poetry books I picked up, however, was Gregory Barnhisel’s James Laughlin, New Directions, and the Remaking of Ezra Pound (U Massachusetts P, 2005). A very solid piece of scholarship. It’s weird to think of our distance from the modernists, which these days is approximately that of the modernists themselves from the late romantics. And it’s only now that we’re beginning to get histories of modernist writing that aren’t in the “heroic” mode of Hugh Kenner et al. What they called the “new historicism” in early modern studies when it hit modernism became the “new modernist studies,” & it’s not so much a “new” historicism as the first round of a real live critical history-writing.
At any rate, Barnhisel’s is one of those books whose thesis is so simple & unified & compelling that you wonder why the hell this book wasn’t written decades ago. After a very interesting examination of Pound’s publication history thru the 1930s, veering between trade publishers & small press coterie editions, Barnhisel traces how James Laughlin & ND published & promoted him in the postwar years – when Pound was a political pariah; Pound wanted to be Ruskin, the commentator on culture & society: ND promoted him as Pater, a mostly apolitical aesthete. Or rather, they promoted his poetry & his literary essays & downplayed precisely the public persona he most valued, that of political & economic gadfly.
In the process they implicitly supported & underwrote New Critical apoliticism, & a notion of aesthetic autonomy that went far beyond Pound’s own; for Pound, the poet was both the technician of a purified language and the prophet of corrected social structure: that latter role disappears in his public face, as presented in ND books, between 1946 & 1973 (the year of the Cookson-edited Selected Prose, which finally made many of his economic writings available).
I wish Barnhisel’s prose were a trifle more elegant, & I’d like to see a bit more Bourdieu brought to bear on these issues, but on the whole this is a very useful book indeed. (Not least, he confirms that at least one other reader has conceived the 1930s American publishing scene in much the same way I did in Poem of a Life.)
Columbarium, Susan Stewart (U of Chicago P, 2003)
A book of “first things” – between the bookends of four longish poems on the 4 Empedoclean elements – air, fire, water, earth – a series of shorter poems on various themes, arranged from A to Z. The elements of which we are made & among which we live, & the 26 glyphs by which we comprehend & express them. A curious blending of the pre-Sokratic & the high classical (Virgil’s Georgics one touchstone). As always in Stewart’s work, an almost obsessive, loving regard for the evidence of the senses. An impressive range of forms in the alphabetic section, most of them ad hoc & gracefully realized.