more on Pound: query for Jerry R. From: Jerry Rothenberg (jrothenb@CARLA.UCSD.EDU)
Subject: Re: more on Pound: query for Jerry R.
To: Multiple recipients of list POETICS

This is in reply to Tenney's query about my own statement that the the most telling impact of Pound's work was on poets who politically, morally, might have been at the greatest distance from it. To start with my own experience

-- growing up when I did -- the presence of Pound in the late 1940s was, to say the least, a bewilderment. I was stunned by much of the poetry, both by how it read (the language of it) and by what I heard it saying: anti-war & anti-capital & powerful too in its presentation of a way, a means, of approaching & hoping to shape the world through the poet's means, the poetry itself. I was about 16 years old at a first reading of him & shortly thereafter -- along with the reading -- came the awarding of the Bollingen & the tremendous fuss that that stirred up (close to fifty years ago). With that we were aware also of the extent of Pound's fascism &, as became clearer over the years, the viciousness of the anti-semitism in his World War II broadcasts -- a lunacy of language common to the fringe of homegrown fascists who were also in his entourage. My own first published piece of writing was a letter to the New York Post (a different NY Post at that time) in which I lamented what I thought had happened to Pound and what had become (as it still seems to be) a conundrum around the man & the work the man had given us. There was a lot I didn't know then but knowing it would certainly not have made it easier.

I was never, in any sense, a Poundian, since there were too many other threads & lines coming into my awareness to allow a focus (in that sense) on any single individual. But the observation of Pound's impact -- on myself & others -- began shortly after that: the observation that those who were most significantly building on Pound's poetics & actual poetry were not the crazies & the fascist hoods of the John Kasper variety, etc., but poets like Kelly, Olson, Duncan, Mac Low, Blackburn, & before them the whole gallery of "Objectivists" or -- from other directions -- any number of European and Latin American writers -- all of them (as I understood it) with a political and moral sense (coming out of World War II) that was strongly anti-fascist, strongly in opposition to the totalitarian barbarisms for which Pound (in the years of his fascist infatuation) had become a minor flunky. In their context Pound became, remained a vital force -- the proof, through them, of what was right & germinal about him and the proof, conversely, of what was evil -- & banal in Hannah Arendt's sense -- in his succumbing to the "fascist temptation."

What Pound offered and in some sense made possible wasn't divorced from the political but wasn't at the same time tied to what became HIS politics. It was a demonstration of how the political -- as history -- could enter the body of the poem -- how the poem could thrive on what Ed Sanders (many years later & clearly drawing on Pound) spoke of as "data clusters" defining a new "investigative poetry". I don't need to go on with this, I think, except to note that it was (as far as I can recollect) not the little fascists who learned from this but poets who by disposition and, I believe, commitment were looking for a way out of the fascist & totalitarian nightmare that had threatened to overwhelm our world. And there was also -- stronger in Pound than in most other forerunners in the North American context -- a sense that history & poetry could be redefined, opened up and certainly renewed, and that for this Pound himself (as Charles B., I think, points out in his Pound essays) was a stepping- stone, a guide to things that his fascist leanings would have finally precluded. He was clearly the most extraordinary translator we had by then produced -- not only pointing to Albigensian Provence and to a sense of China speaking to the present, but (coming like Cesaire and the other Negritude poets) from the likes of Frobenius, forming one of the links (but only one) to an African past as a pinnacle, too, of the creative human spirit. It is not to say that this was -- all of it -- of Pound's doing but that he helped to set much of it in motion -- much of what, coming after him & (in some sense in spite of him) -- became essential to our present work.

And, finally, I would point out what was -- for myself & others -- the lesson of Pound's failure -- the lesson of the poet who had in the long run betrayed his poetry. It is a terrible thing to say and it is, I think, a terrible possibility that faces all of us. But it is Pound who also says it best, from the "pull down thy vanity" voice in Canto 81 to the still more telling voice (where he was already into his silence, depression) in Canto 116:

        I have brought the great ball of crystal
                          who can lift it?
        Can you enter the great acorn of light?
                 But the beauty is not the madness
        Tho' my errors and wrecks lie about me.
        And I am not a demigod,
        I cannot make it cohere.
I can read this, anyway, as both a confession of failure (and of betrayal -- of himself & us) and at the same time a triumph of whatevr is there speaking through him. But not Pound alone -- for which let me end, Tenney, by copying out (in what's already a long message) a poem by Julien Beck (of the Living Theater, etc. (a good pacifist & anarchist & anti-fascist), who I think loved all the poets that he mentioned in it. It's one too that Pierre and I are hoping to include -- along with a number of others -- in a section of manifestos for the next volume of Millennium.

Julian Beck's "the state will be served / even by poets"

the breasts of all the women crumpled like gas bags when
neruda wrote his hymn celebrating the explosion of a
   hydrogen bomb by soviet authorities
children died of the blistrs of ignorance for a century when
siqueiros tried to assassinate trotsky himself a killer
   with gun and ice
pound shimmering his incantations to adams benito and
   kung prolonging the state with great translation
   cut in crystal
claudel slaying tupi guarani as he flourished cultured
   documents and pearls in rio de janeiro when he
   served france as ambassador to brazil
melville served by looking for contraband as he worked
   in the customs house how many taxes did he requite
   how many pillars of the state did he cement in
   place tell me tell me tell me stone
spenser serving the faerie queene as a colonial secretary
   in ireland sinking the irish back for ten times
   forty years no less under the beau monde's brack
seneca served by advising nero on how to strengthen the
   state with philosophy's accomplishments
aeschylus served slaying persians at marathon and salamis
aristotle served as tutor putting visions of trigonometrics
   in alexander's head
dali and eliot served crowning monarchs with their gold
wallace stevens served as insurance company executive
   making poems out of profits
euclides da cunha srved as army captain baritoning troops
and d h lawrence served praising the unique potential of
   a king

these are the epics of western culture
these are the flutes of china and the east

everything must be rewritten then

goethe served as a member of the weimar council of state
   and condemned even to death

this is the saga of the state which is served

even to death