More Ginsberg on Pound (1980 class transcription)

Ezra Pound, poet, Rutherford, New Jersey, at the home of William Carlos Williams, June 30 1958 – photo by Richard Avedon

More on Ezra Pound (who passed away 39 years ago).

Here’s transcription of remarks by Allen (from a 1980 NAROPA class)

AG: ABC of Reading by Ezra Pound. How many know of that (book)? Yeah, I recommend taking a look at it or buying it, reading it, it’s a little anthology, its like a teaching anthology to hit high points and special effects in. (turns to student) – do you know it, Mike?.. have you read it? – when?

Student: This summer

AG: .. (We’re) talking about Ezra Pound’s ABC of Reading. It’s a book I’ve come back to over and over again for clear ideas and suggestions in how to write, how to think about writing. I think, in the next bulletin for NAROPA we will be quoting a line of Pound as our headline [“Pay no attention to the criticisms of men who have never themselves written a notable work”] – “Don’t look for..” (or). ”don’t take.. criticism from anyone who has not himself wrote a notable work – (or) “don’t take criticism in your field of art from someone who’s not himself created a notable work”.. and there are a lot of little gists and piths, condensed suggestions, in that book, which are full of wisdom and practical experience, like wisdom derived from practical experience, from writing. And Pound also, it seems to me, has one of the best historical takes on the development of English ear, prosody, the verse line, and its mixture with foreign verse-forms, like Chaucer..Chaucer’s English mixed with French verse forms and French poetic techniques, on the cross-fertilization of languages as the cultures developed. So he’s got good history, if you want to understand the morphology of verse forms, and he’s got good basic definitions. One that I’ve worked with quite a bit with people when I’ve been working on their poetry is the notion of condensing, which he speaks about with great clarity, taking it from Basil Bunting, I think, which was the original. I’ll read that little paragraph (Allen begins reading from ABC of Reading) – “Dichten equals Condensare” – then footnote – “A Japanese student in America, on being asked the difference between prose and poetry, said: Poetry consists of gists and piths”. “This chapter heading is “Mr Bunting’s discovery..” -. “Dichten Equals Condensare”. Does anybody know what..? Is Mark here? [looking again for a student] German? Dichten?

Student: Speak?

AG: Dichter is “poet”. Is.. “poetry making”, I think, in German, equals “to condense”. And I think Bunting found that (phrase) in an old German dictionary, oddly enough. “This chapter heading is Mr Bunting’s discovery and his prime contribution to contemporary criticism”. – “and his prime contribution to contemporary criticism” – Pretty good! Actually, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I think I ‘ve mentioned this but I read in 1965 all my own poetry in Mordern Tower, Newcastle, a place where a reading series was organized for Creeley and American readers by Bunting’s protégé and supporter, Tom Pickard, a British poet, and Bunting came. ‘Cause he was there, and I’d heard so much about him, and (I remember) meeting him for the first time, I read all through “Howl” and all through “Kaddish” and, everything I’d written from 1948 to 1965 practically, a three-an-a-half-hour reading – longer! – and, when we were going home, I asked Bunting what he thought, and he said. “too many words!”, meaning not you go on, you’ve been writing too long, but just that in “Howl”, or in “Kaddish”, there are too many words for what you want to say. And actually, I took that to heart. Somehow it cut in, it made sense. Out of his mouth, it made sense. It didn’t make sense out of anybody else’s mouth but from his mouth, I understood it. Sort of like hearing (Chogyam) Trungpa (Rinpoche) say something.. He just went right in, and I said “oh, of course, naturally, and then, when I started putting together poems from The Fall of America, I did begin condensing quite a bit, (and those of you who I’ve worked with on individual poems may have recognized that, simply taking (out) long-winded phrases and cutting out all the articles and prepositions (and) trying to get them packed into as..packed a line as possible, as condensed a line as possible.. In other words, it’s not “the eye glasses of my mother”, but “my mother’s eye glasses” – simple as that. You don’t have to say “the eye glasses of my mother”, these are the eyeglasses of my mother, just say “my mother’s eye glasses”, these are my mother’s eyeglasses

So (Allen picks up from where he left off in Pound’s ABC of Reading)

“It is, as we have said, ingrained – the idea is far from new – ingrained in the very language of Germany, and it has magnificently FUNCTIONED, brilliantly functioned. Pisistratus found the Homeric text in disorder. We don’t quite know what he did about it. The Bible is a compendium, people trimmed it to make it solid. It has all gone on for ages, because it wasn’t allowed to overrun all the available parchment. A Japanese Emperor, whose name I’ve forgotten, whose name you needn’t remember, found that there were TOO MANY NOH PLAYS, he picked out 450 and the Noh stage LASTED from 1400 or whenever right down to the day the American navy intruded, and that didn’t stop it. …Ovid’s Metamorphoses are a compendium, not an epic like Homer’s, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales are a compendium of all the good yarns Chaucer knew. The Tales have lasted through centuries while the long-winded mediaeval narratives went into museums”.

That one phrase – “Dichten Equals Condensare”, Poetry Equals Condensation, Poetics Equals Condensation.
And the other generalization which I’ve gone over and over and over, repeated over and over is the distinction between phanopoeia, melopoeia and logopoeia – er, pictures, melody, and word-wit – Everybody’s familiar with that? If you’ve been in the class before.. Anybody who’s not been in the class, I’ve used this as a.. three ways of looking at poetry – examining poems for their picture (content), for the sound (prettiness, melodic prettiness), and also for the humor of the language or the wit of the language or the smartness, so there’s a nice re-definition of this , these three divisions, in the ABC of Reading

One – phanopoeia – throwing the object, fixed or moving, on to the visual field visual imagination, or “casting a picture on the mind’s eye, he said elsewhere

Two – melopoeia melody poeia making melody ..poetics –Poesis? Greek poesis, making, right? Making? Poetry means making in the original Greek, poesis has to do with making something. So phanopoeia – picture-making, melopoeia – music-making – “inducing emotional correlations by the sound and the rhythm of the speech”. As you came ..” I think I was pointing out in a little tune about Walsingham – “As you came from the holy land of Walsingham/ met you not my true love by the way?, – “as you came”..

That little cadence there that has such a delicate balance – “by the way”, “as you came” that.. the gentility and delight, the tenderness of the inquiry (“by the way’?) and some of the urgency does get across in that cadence So, “inducing emotional correlations by the sound and the melody of the speech”, that would be melopoeia – And logopoeia, “inducing both of the effects by stimulating the associations, intellectual or emotional, that have remained in their receiver’s consciousness in relation to the actual words or groups of words employed”. “On purpose laid to make the taker mad” “Love on purpose laid to make the taker mad” was my prime example of logopoeia in Shakespeare’s Sonnets. “Love is on purpose laid to make the taker mad,” not only sound, an interesting sound, but..”on purpose laid”..”on purpose laid” is pretty interesting, as just witty language. And to nail back down the notion of condensation, the next sentence of Pound – “Incompetence will show in the use of too many words. The reader’s first and simplest test of an author will be to look for words that do not function and contribute nothing to the meaning, or distract from the most important factors of meaning to factors of minor importance”. Then he suggests some tests and composition exercises, which you might do sometime – or we might do “Let pupils exchange composition papers (because this is an ABC book, like how to read, how to write, so it’s like a text book for classes – maybe some time we might actually use this as a class text, you know, take a whole term and use the Pound.. it’d be really interesting to see if it would work) – “Let pupils exchange composition papers and see how many and what useless words have been used (in other words, you’d have to exchange papers and figure out whether there are words in each others’ poems that are useless words, you know just sort of draggy, extra, bullshit, and how many words that convey nothing new.

Two, how many words that obscure the meaning instead of bringing it out. Three, how many words out of their usual place and whether this alteration makes the statement in any way more interesting or more energetic, or less.” –

That’s pretty good. And there’s another little pretty thing that I misquoted here, for sketching, for realistic William Carlos Williams-style sketching,

“It is said that Flaubert taught de Maupassant to write. When de Maupassant would return from a walk, Flaubert would ask him to describe someone, say, a concierge” (a landlady in a rooming house or hotel) “say, a concierge who they would both pass in their next walk, describe the person so that Flaubert would recognize,say the concierge and not mistake her for some other concierge” (You understand that it was the one that de Maupassant had to describe

In other words to describe it so sharply and so acutely.. by what particular she was significant (that’s (Carl) Rakosi’s language – “by what particular is he significant? – have I used that one yet? _ “by what particulars is he significant? – to find those particulars that would make that particular concierge significant (like a purple nose, say) so that Flaubert wouldn’t mistake it for any other concierge. These are really practical suggestions.

I start off with Pound ..Incidentally, he also says – “Exercises – Let the pupil… One, metrical writing, let the pupil try to write in the meter of any poem he likes” (that’s a good one) – because I was assigning meters similar to Ben Jonson’s (or similar.. between Jonson and Raleigh, I mean Raleigh and Jonson, Raleigh, Wyatt, Jonson – that was the assignment – to write a poem about mortality

Also he suggests “let him write words to a well-known tune”. Well, people do that all the time. I mean, musicians do that all the time. And “let him try to write words to the same tune in such a way that the words will not be distorted when one sings them” – In other words, where each note will fit a syllable and the word couldn’t be distorted in the pronunciation if you’re trying to fit it in to the tune.

The original audio for this April 3 1980 Allen Ginsberg NAROPA Institute “Basic Poetics” class may be found here – the first approximately 14 minutes are transcribed above –

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