Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Poetry, April 1913

This is another epic issue of Poetry, with poems from Pound, Harriet Monroe herself, and Yeats.

 Pound’s Contemporania are the stars here.  I mistyped “starts,” a meaningful slip?  I’ll just note a few observations that might be useful.  First, I think that I learned something about the publication history of these poems from Cyrena Pondrom’s awesome essay “H.D. and the Origins of Imagism” from a 1985 issue of Paideuma, a journal currently run by dear friends (I worked there for a year).  If I remember correctly, Pound had sent poems to Poetry but demanded them held back so that Aldington and H.D. would be published first, before sending new poems in a more Imagiste style.  What strikes me most about this sequence, on reading it again, is perhaps how the poems define themselves.  They define their audience and their reception, and are out to provoke as well as enshrine themselves.  This isn’t exactly unprecedented, (“So long lives this, and this gives life to thee”) but what might be novel is that some of these poems aren’t about much else than their own quality.  This reminds me of a moment in Barrett Watten’s Plasma: “If it’s a good idea, it results in a permanent change.”  That whole stanza from Plasma could be about the Imagists…

I want to zoom in on two particular lines from the first poems: “I beg you, my friendly critics/ Do not set about to procure me an audience” (1).  Could this be referring to the apologia from March’s issue of Poetry?  I have a feeling that this poem is in dialog with Poetry itself—and The New Age as well, with its preoccupation with procurers.  Procurers show up again in “Pax Saturni,” and I wonder whether or not Pound is positioning himself against Beatrice Hastings and her denial of forced prostitution here.  Maybe?

Which leads me to make a note about how this project has developed: it is more of a public notebook than anything else.  I’m not really reviewing the little reviews in any sense beyond re-viewing.  I may hold back some things I’m thinking, or I might type them up, but I’m sure my thoughts are not complete.   

Yeats’ poem is thrown into biographical relief by the comment in the “Notes” section of the issue: “Mr. Yeats' poem is especially significant because of its rare autobiographical mood. It is seldom that this poet speaks of his attitude toward his art, or the world's attitude toward him.”  That seems like a good gloss to me—the poem is a combination of Yeats meditating on his dead acquaintances (and Maude Gonne, of course) and an ancient Irish legend.  I’m struck by how this poem is a foreshadowing of “Easter, 1916,” published three years earlier.  All changed, all changed utterly.  A terrible presentiment… I’m not enough of a Yeatsian to know exactly what’s going on here, I might try to figure it out. 

Lastly, Harriet Monroe puts her money on modernism in the essay at the end of the issue, “The New Beauty.”  She cuts her ties with Victorian and Elizabethan verse styles, in favor of a new beauty that that goes beyond questions of “subject, nor yet of form.”  Modernism is instead located in the power of vision—odd to juxtapose that next to Contemporania.  Yeats and H.D. might agree, though.  Monroe also pretty much admits to printing subpar poetry in order to encourage young authors.  See the apologia for Pound, in the previous issue.  Lastly, on a postcolonial note, she ends with fulsome praise for Rabindranath Tagore: “But this Hindoo shows us how provincial we are; England and America are little recently annexed corners of the ancient earth, and their poets should peer out over sea-walls and race-walls and pride-walls, and learn their own littleness and the bigness of the world.”  This follows on the reviews by Pound.  I’m not sure what to do with that, but I do think it is cool.

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