Thursday, January 31, 2013

Poetry January 1913

What an epic issue of Poetry!

H.D.'s debut in print (to my knowledge) is the most exciting part, for me--as a student of imagism and of H.D., seeing these three poems makes me happy, simply glad.  They remind me of the first time I read them, in Dr. Mara Scanlon's modern poetry class at the University of Mary Washington--a life-changing course and a course-change in life. 

Rather than close-read them, I want to make a few notes on how they are presented in the magazine. First surprise: they are under a heading that declares them "VERSES, TRANSLATIONS, AND REFLECTIONS FROM 'THE ANTHOLOGY.'"  In caps.  It's fascinating that they are labeled by these three plural descriptors, none of which quite pertain to the poems themselves.  They aren't traditional "verses," certainly not in the pejorative sense "verse" sometimes gets in Poetry (see pg. 131 of this issue: "Already many books of verses come to us, of which a few are poetry.).  They aren't translations.  Perhaps "reflections" is the closest approximation, foreshadowing H.D.'s famous "Oread."  Tucked into the back of the issue is H.D.'s biographical note, which includes a more accurate description: "Her sketches from the Greek are not offered as exact translations, or as in any sense finalities, but as experiments in delicate and elusive cadences, which attain sometimes a haunting beauty" (135).  I like this description because it really captures the essence of H.D.'s Hellenistic poetics--especially labeling them as resisting "finality," granting them a sort of ephemerality that stands in direct opposition to the usual characterization of imagist poetry as hard or icy.  I might come back to this.

Other things of note in this issue: Vachel Lindsay opens with a funeral ode for William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army.  It couldn't be more different than H.D.'s poems. I'm starting to get a feel for the way poetry as an art form had little direction (and few restrictions) at this point in 1913--at least in America, there's a wide diversity of styles. 

The big surprise of the issue is no doubt "Waste Land"--no, not that one.  This one is by Madison Cawain--an American from Louisville.  It's an eerie prefiguring of Eliot's "The Waste Land," down to the briary reeds and noisy insects:

The cricket's cry and the locust's whirr,
And the note of a bird's distress,
With the rasping sound of the grasshopper,
Clung to the loneliness Like burrs to a trailing dress. (104).
That's it, right?  This one is far less experimental than Eliots, but the parallels in tone and diction are really fascinating.  A half-second of research shows that this similarity has been discussed, by Bevis Hiller and by Robert Ian Scott.  Might be worth a follow-up.,
In the editorial section, Pound writes a famous sketch of literary London.  Good to revisit it--the best part is the positioning of Yeats and Ford as polar opposites.
The second editorial caught my eye because it mentions that Edna St. Vincent Millay has published "Renascence," declaring that it "outranks the rest and ennobles the book" while also delicately questioning whether or not Millay is a real person or actually just twenty years old: "said to be by..." (128-129).  Awesome. 
Right, I have to run to a lecture by a current prof., Jessica Burstein, on fashion and "cold modernism." 

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