Thursday, March 10, 2011

reading notes: pound, hulme

I have just now finished Richard Sieburth's newish (2010) edition of Pound's New Selected Poems and Translations (New Directions), &, like Elohim thru that first stretch of Genesis, I pronounce it good. Very good indeed. From a pedagogical point of view, this is now the standard Pound text: all of the significant shorter poems, great lashings of Cantos, & excellent explanatory notes. Sieburth includes a fascinating appendix detailing the history of earlier Pound selections, including the crunky old Selected Poems (New Directions 1949, & reprinted zillions of times afterward).

There are two further appendices: TS Eliot's original introduction to the 1928 Faber Selected Poems, and John Berryman's rejected introduction to the New Directions 1949 volume (later published in Partisan Review). It's the Berryman that's the real surprise for me here. I confess to not knowing Berryman's criticism at all except by reputation – and we all know how reliable reputation can be. But this piece is chock-full of nutty goodness, critical insights falling like dew. Here's my favorite: In discussing the "distance" with which Pound treats his subject, Berryman singles out among its causes Pound's
unfailing, encyclopedic mastery of tone – a mastery that compensates for a comparative weakness of syntax. (By instinct, I parenthesize, Pound has always minimized the importance of syntax, and this instict perhaps accounts for his inveterate dislike of Milton, a dislike that has had broad consequences for three decades of the twentieth century; not only did Milton seem to him, perhaps, anti-romantic and anti-realistic, undetailed, and anti-conversational, but Milton is the supreme English master of syntax.)
Could this be phrased any better?
On a lighter note, I've just finished Alun R. Jones's The Life and Opinions of T. E. Hulme (Victor Gollanz/Beacon, 1960), a book which proves that even fifty years ago an English academic (U of Hull) could publish, with a well-regarded pair of publishing houses, a perfectly ill-written book. But there's this grand titbit, part of a chapter enticingly titled "Hulme and Women":
Hulme, sitting at a table in the Café Royal talking to his friends, suddenly looked at his watch and strode from the building with the remark, "I've a pressing engagement in five minutes' time." In twenty minutes, he had returned wiping his brow and complaining that the steel staircase of the emergency exit at the Piccadilly Circus Tube Station was the most uncomfortable place in which he had ever copulated.


Daniel Bouchard said...

What about Rolfe Humphries's rejected introduction? No mention of that.

Mark Scroggins said...

Sieburth mentions & describes it in his brief essay, but apparently doesn't see fit to reprint.

Archambeau said...

I presume the Hulme incident will be recounted in your forthcoming study "Lays of the Poets."

Vance Maverick said...

That Berryman extract is good. I trust he's talking about the tone of the poems, though, rather than say of the letters.

A.H. said...

Very interesting post and how right you are to highlight Berryman's solid perceptions on Old Ez and Possum, indeed, on Milton. An informative post. Thanks.

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