Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Pound and Parody

TLS October 30 2009

from Christopher Reid's review of Helen Carr's The Verse Revolutionaries: Ezra Pound, H. D. and the Imagists:

. . . it does seem that, for Pound, authenticity of voice could only, or most reliably, be attained through translation or adaptation. Even those poems of his that might have come about solely as expositions of the pure Imagist manner--miniature masterpieces like "In a Station of the Metro" and "The Garden"--wear an air of pastiche, as if behind each of them lay some imagined original in a foreign tongue, most likely Japanese or French.

Reid's comment on Pound as pastiche helped me understand an editor's comment on the ghazals I submitted. He said, "They read like the most exquisite parodies of Pound translations from Chinese and Japanese, yet they also do work as original poems do." The slipperiness of imitation, translation and parodies! I did not write the ghazals as parodies, exquisite or not, but now I see how they could be read that way. This reading offends the Neo-Romantic ethic of sincerity in me, but it also pleases me to think how modernist it makes my writing look. I have been thinking about how to take modernism into account in my work, and lo and behold it is here among us.

A modernism not of Eliotian fragmentation, but of Poundian translation. How would the politics of this work out? It is easy for critics to dismiss my work as overly imitative (parodic) of the English poetic tradition, as colonial hangover. Neo-romanticism is still so powerful, in the UK, US, and in Singapore influenced by the USK, with its insistence on originality and individuality, and so parody, that parasite, is judged as inferior. One has to change the climate for parody. Not only to read every poem as always a parody of another, but also to sense behind every language "some imagined original in a foreign tongue." Parody: parallel song.


Shropshirelad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shropshirelad said...

How generous of that editor to concede that your ghazals "also work as original poems do." What an exaulted plane of perception he must occupy. His remarks remind me of an observation once made by Pope Alexander.

Some have at first for Wits, then Poets past,
Turn'd Criticks next, and prov'd plain Fools at last;
Some neither can for Wits nor Criticks pass,
As heavy Mules are neither Horse or Ass.

Eshuneutics said...

"authenticity" came from "translation". That suggests a contradiction to me. Surely, a translator's voice cannot be authentic, since it is trying to retain something of the voice of the original. If a poem wears an "air of pastiche" then it has to be an incompletely realised poem. I dont' see Reid's point at all. It contains a "seem" and an "as if" which suggest he doesn't understand Pound at all.

Eshuneutics said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eshuneutics said...

"This reading offends the Neo-Romantic ethic of sincerity in me, but it also pleases me to think how modernist it makes my writing look."

Whoa, hang on a minute. Neo-Romantic=original creativity. Modernism (a la Pound)=pastiche. This makes your writing "modern". This is such dangerous reasoning. MAKE IT NEW. Pound was not into pastiche as a modernist strategy. Yes, it exists in the poems of "Hilda's Book", through "A Lume Spento", certainly in "A Quinzaine for this Yule" etc, but by the time of Imagism and Vorticism, Pound was well beyond parody. His translations from "Cathay" are not pastiche. "Homage to Sextus Propertius" was an ironical attack on translation and pastiche. "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley" is definitely not pastiche. To say that...JLK's poetry is reminiscent of Poundian Modernism because it exhibits elements of Poundian pastiche isn't true. The test of Modernism in Pound's sense would be The Pisan Cantos. Sorry, I don't get this line of thought at all. It's the kind of statement encouraged by some editor who really does not know his Pound...who knows a lot about Pound...but does not read the poetry of Pound authentically.

Eshuneutics said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eshuneutics said...

Shrophire Lad is almost right. I suspect the order is...a poet...turned critic...turned wit.

Shropshirelad said...

Clearly this so-called editor was not really thinking about Jee's ghazals at all. He was thinking about himself. He was thinking, "How can I appear clever and dismissive to this gifted lad?"

He should have his ass smacked with a mackerel by my aunt Susan. She is a lunch lady. And no one I know understands how handle twelve-year-olds better. Or editors.

Eshuneutics said...

Your ghazals are nothing like Pound in anyway-- this is a fantasy in the mind of the editor. (I wonder who?) They simply work or do not work as poems. The notion that they echo Pound is spurious, more like an editor trying to justify what he finds in the ghazals. This is no better than saying, in my mind, JLK's ghazals come from an Asian form, Pound worked from Asian forms, Japanese and Chinese, there is an echo between them. What bull-shit, Jee.

Eshuneutics said...

Suppose, you changed tack, Jee, and started to write text-poetry, would you then be a better poet or simply imitative of Olson? Couldn't you then be part of the US scene...a scene based on Olson Parody? There is a real apologetic tone creeping in here for writing poems with set forms as in the English tradition. I feel that a parodic tradition would simply create what Pound despised: a culture of diluters and poet-tasters. Largely, what the Olson tradition has produced....mind you it's hard to level such a low-brow accusation against them because who know what their free-verse scrawl is about. Pound was as Neo-Romantic as any poet in his desire for originality. Pound simply cannot be used to justify a culture of parody.

Jee Leong Koh said...

Dear Eric,
You are a champion, but I read the tone of the editor's positive comment differently. Perhaps I have misled the reader by quoting only part of his comment, but it was the part I wanted to think about and blog.

Jee Leong Koh said...

Dear Eshu,
You know I have not read Pound with any kind of seriousness, and so am talking through my ass when I think aloud about him.

But I think there is something here in the link between translation and modernism. Not just actual translations, but the feeling that all poems written now read like translations of something older, more original. I was provocative in using the term "parody" to stand in for "translation," but I was thinking of the slipperiness of both terms, what they share in common etc.

I was in Barnes and Noble yesterday reading Pound's "Cathay." From one angle they read like good translations, from another, like interesting original poems, and yet another, like pastiche. I think they can be read in different ways, not just one.

Pound says, "Make it new," and not "Make it authentic." Isn't astonishing that a man who said "Make it new" dealt so much with the old. Much as I prize authenticity, I also think it is a problematic concept. Much of the time, I find myself describing poems as "authentic" when the truth is I like or am persuaded by its artifice. A life can be authentic in the sense of actions matching one's words or behaving according to one's beliefs, but a poem?

About that tone of apology: not at all. I want to change a whole climate of opinion. I want to be the weather in which poems are read. Delusions of grandeur, yes, but apology, no.

Shropshirelad said...

Hi Jee,

I think I probably agree with how you judge a poem to be "authentic," but I rarely use the word authentic myself.

I tend to look at poems as contraptions that either work or they don't. I evaluate them based on how the interior organic logic or structure of the piece intersects with my own experience of the world. It's like that old saw about music, "I don't know what it is: but I know it when I hear it." Be it Bach or the Beastie Boys.

I am not sure I feel that all poems written now feel like they are translations, or parodies of some impalpable poetic ideal. I think that is uncharitable to both ourselves and our contemporaries.

But I do feel that poets have allowed themselves to be relegated schools with very specific codes of thought: Language Poets, Formalists, Free Versers, Spoken Wordists. Maybe the problem is how we are taught to classify ourselves as collections of competing political constituencies rather than as individuals: the fractured identities we are trying to assert are not our own.

Perhaps, dear Brutus, the fault lies not in the stars, but in ourselves.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Eshuneutics said...

Well, I would agree, "Cathay" can be read in different ways. But you are missing something, here, something that ought to strike your approach to poetry. Pound did not translate any old poem in "Cathay" in any old manner. He selected and translated thematically. The whole is the poem, the new exists in the holistic view-point. You talk of "they" when you should talk of a whole. Pound assembled "Cathay" as he did "Lustra" to represent modes of Amor. So, yes, some are pastiche. Yes, some are new creations. Yes, some read like the culture form which they came, representing a cultural sensitivity (now gone). "The Bow Men of Shu" stands as a commentary on the First World War. What you are hearings is part of a compositional method within a whole. You are being forced to read in diffent ways as the author intended, to make "distinctions in clarity" and so, through the whole perceive a new sensitivity. It isn't at all "astonishing" that the creator of free verse, the better artist (not Eliot), linked the new to the old. It was part of the quest for renewal. Time for Pound isn't linear. Arnaut Daniel, for him, was more modern and revolutionary, than Tennyson. I understand what you are saying, but Pound isn't the justification for it. I understand the point that you are making, that all poems seem intertextual, enmeshed with others. Why not? No poem comes out of the writer's imagination (anymore than a child out of the womb) without being connected to a collective (poetic) memory. And the poetic museum in which we think just makes that ever more the case. But what is new here? Bloom would have seen this in terms of fighting Influence, emerging from wrestling the angel towards freedom. You seem to be advocating that a poem is a wrestling match and giving into Influence, the perpetual repetiton, is a new horizon. I don't know. I would need to think about this for sometime. My immediate reaction is that writing a poetry that always sounds like something else cannot be distinguished easily from a lack of creative effort.

As for the editorial comment...clever but smarmy.

Eshuneutics said...

"But I do feel that poets have allowed themselves to be relegated schools with very specific codes of thought."

It is a good point indeed! We are taught the Romantics in Universities...their passion for originality. Actually, no one was more derivative than Shelley who believed that the poetic image was a synthetic image referring back to prime forms, as in Platonism. Not an exactly original concept! But this Romantic movement is very much something that "we" have imposed on poets. The same with The Movement. The same with Imagism. This camp mentality encourages allegiances and commitment to dead ways of writing. The US, more than the UK, has created this cult of deadness--though it likes to attribute it to the infamous school of quietude lurking clandestinely in the UK.

Shropshirelad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shropshirelad said...

I can't speak for the UK, but I think in the US much of this deadness is abetted by the uniformity of certain opinions enforced by the Creative Writing racket.

I remember one class I took at the 92nd Street Y in New York. We read a panegyric on the spiritual wonders of losing one's identity in another person's by a certain Polish poet who shall remain nameless. We went around the table and discussed our reactions.

Everybody took the teacher's lead in the class that this was a wonderful and imaginative description of love until they got to me. I pointed out that, physically, part of the fun with sex comes from the friction between body parts. I said the author wasn't paying very close attention to the practical application of what he was saying.

I then added, philosophically, that I rather liked who I was and that I found the idea of dissolving my identity into another person's somewhat repugnant. Everyone disagreed with me, very voicferously, until the man who I was sitting next to spoke up.

He was an elderly man, a baseball player, who, I believe, was somehow connected with the American Negro Baseball League. I will never forget what that man said to the class. "It took my people a very long time to establish identities for themselves. I like who I am. I like who we are. I think I agree with him."

The silence in the room after he spoke was deafening.

It was a workshop class. Not a single one of my poems was read or critiqued in class after that discussion.

James Midgley said...

Hi Jee -- I'm reminded instantly of your Mexican Poet poems, which very much seem to possess an element of pastiche. I think they're also my favourite poems of yours, in fact!

Interesting thoughts, as ever.


Jee Leong Koh said...

Hi James,
I was also very much thinking of my Mexican Poet poems when I wrote the post. Then I began thinking about my regular resort to personae, and what that may mean.