Wednesday, October 11, 2006

clever but stupid

Why am I so attracted to British poets these days? I’ve just gone thru binges of reading Geraldine Monk, John Wilkinson, & most recently Robert Sheppard, & am right now in the delighted middle of Alan Halsey’s Not Everything Remotely: Selected Poems 1978-2005. Part of it I suspect is just unreconstructed anglophilia, of the sort that keeps me watching Monty Python & listening to the Watersons. But there’s also a different relationship to language, to history in these poets that I’m fascinated by.
I learn from Henry Gould (I often learn from HG) that the Library of America has just put out a Hart Crane volume, edited by Langdon Hammer (fellow biographer – he of James Merrill; once we sat together on a panel in the strangest conference I’ve ever attended, smack in the middle of WCW’s Paterson – a strange event I’ll probably recount someday). Crane’s always been one of my blind spots – a poet I just don’t get, despite a semi-annual hauling down of my copy of Complete Poems & Selected Letters (ed. Brom Weber, in the old “Anchor Literary Library” edition, with HC staring balefully over a cigar on the cover) & a re-reading of "The Bridge" & whatever else catches my eye. Time for another try, I think.

By my count, Crane (born 1899) is the youngest of the modern poets to appear in the LOA’s flagship series (the others being Frost, Pound, Stevens, & Stein). It is of course high time for a real LZ volume – not to slight the selection Charles Bernstein did for the LOA’s “Poets Project,” but I worry that getting into the PP (nicely produced but all too short pocket-sized selecteds) is gonna become a de facto consolation prize for not getting a full treatment: We’ve recognized you, lad/lass (addressed to Yvor Winters, Muriel Rukeyser, LZ, etc.) – now fuck along & stop dreaming of those big black covers with their little redwhite&blue stripe. But when oh when will the WCW and Moore volumes arrive?
Hugh Kenner once bitched that the LOA format was far inferior to that of the Pléiade, & he’s right: the books are too big, the gutter too narrow, not enough notes, covers easily stained etc. Shopping tip for Poundians: next time you’re in Rome, pick up the Mondadori Pléiade-style edition of I Cantos – translation by Mary de Rachewiltz, tons of notes in the back, & an English text that’s much better than the thing New Directions keeps tossing at us year after year.
Clever but stupid. I’ve grown from being a brash, self-centered, clever but stupid young person to a timid, self-centered, clever but stupid greybeard, in whom a demon of wholly unwarranted ambition struggles with a torpid Oblomov who’d prefer to sit and read. (The Demon of Consumption – to eat books like deep-fried snacks.)

Why are so many academics unhappy?, asks J. “The best job in the world,” after all, once you factor out fiscal remuneration. It’s the element of self-examination, or an uglier gnawing spur “that the clear spirit doth raise / (That last infirmity of Noble mind) / To scorn delights, and live laborious days.”
Dave Parks weighs in with entry #2 on Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory.


Josh Hanson said...

I Heart Hart.

"Voyages" is a masterpiece.

One of those poets that I can't quite decide whether I love them despite or because of their weaknesses. When he writes badly, he writes very bad indeed, but he writes less than others with the same affliction (Wordsworth, Eliot, Pound, etc).

E. M. Selinger said...

Why are so many academics unhappy?, asks J. Better to reverse the question: why do so many Penserosi go into academia? Maybe because introspection, self-doubt, questioning of one's motives, etc., can be put to professional USE in this context, unlike so many others.

But hey, what do I know?

Eric (L'Allegro)

Michael Peverett said...

These Adorno pieces are a great way of learning something about a book I've no right to know anything about. I hope you'll keep whirling it around between you.

Peter O'Leary said...


From what I understand, the Library of America's Poets on Poets series is the result of separate funding, designated specifically for that project. I don't think that it's right to think of it as "Library of America, Jr." Many of the poets published in that series are still under copyright with the presses that published them while they were alive. Others won't ever have a big LOA edition of their work at hand. While a LOA Williams seems likely, will there ever by a Roethke, or a Winters, or even a Rukeyser? I doubt it...

Furthermore, again as I understand it, LOA isn't entirely in the black. It needs more Lovecraft-popular editions to finance things like Crane (or Williams, or Zukofsky, or anything poetickal.)

Mark Scroggins said...

Josh -- I'm trying, I really am, & maybe getting somewhere this time...

Eric -- you are *sooo* frivolous! I prescribe a major dose of Adorno & Joshua Clover. (More Adorno soonish, Michael)

Peter -- you're right of course. The Poets Project is underwritten by a bequest from James Merrill, one of the many generous things he did for poetry (including directly underwriting the LOA Stevens volume), & the whole LOA operation is financed on a tottering scaffolding of sales, grants, & fund-raising efforts (I get a begging letter every couple of months).

And it's probably rather appropriate to hold off on full-scale LOA volumes until there's a certain distance from a writer's life, otherwise there will be things like an LOA Yvor Winters (no offence Bob) or Roethke. Frankly, tho, the LOA Philip Roth kind of burns me up -- an absurdly overrated writer, without even the figleaf of a Nobel that Bellow had... Where's the Library of America Santayana? or Royce? or even Edmund Wilson? I'd read any of those before Roth.

Michael said...

I would like to extend an invitation to you to join in on a collective blogging section of our upcoming winter issue of Reconstruction. The issue is the “Theories/Practices of Blogging.” In addition to the special section of posts on blogging there will be about a dozen essays on blogging.

The deadline is October 27th.

Our intent in this section of the issue will be to collect a wide range of bloggers and link up to their statements in regards to why they blog (something many of us are asked) and any statement they have on the theories/practices of blogging.

If you already have a post on this you can feel free to use it, or, if you are interested, you can submit a new one.

We will link to each statement from the issue at our site, with the intent of creating a hyperlinked list of statements on blogging that can serve as an introduction to blogging (or an expansion of knowledge for those already blogging).

If you are interested please contact me at mdbento @

Archambeau said...


You eat books like deep-fried snacks? It could be worse. For example, I eat deep fried snacks like deep-fried snacks.