Mind, Mouth and Page – (Pound’s Don’ts)

Ezra Pound circa 1918 – photo by E.O.Hoppe

AG: A couple more useful things for you – “A Few Don’ts” – for poets. This is how (Ezra) Pound defines his image (it’s on page 4 of the Literary Essays) – “An “Image” is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time” – That’s very much like the haiku. You could say the haiku satisfies that “intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time” [Allen continues reading from Pound] – “I use the word “complex” rather in the technical sense employed by the newer psychologists…though we might not absolutely agree in our application. It is the presentation of such a “complex” instantaneously which gives that sense of sudden liberation, that sense of freedom from time limits and space limits, that sense of sudden growth, which we experience in the presence of the greatest works of art. It is better to present one Image in a lifetime than to produce voluminous works. All this, however some may consider open to debate” – Pound is pretty loose – “The immediate necessity..” – this is maybe 1917? [the actual date is 1913]- “the immediate necessity..is to tabulate A LIST OF DON’T’S for those beginning to write verses. I can not put all of them into Mosaic negative. To begin with, consider the three propositions (demanding direct (sic) treatment, economy of words, and the sequence of the musical phrase)” – That’s good to bear in mind. “Direct treatment, economy of words” (or “condensation”, as Pound later used (it) – like with the good haiku before – I just tried to condense it down to its nub, just the facts). “Direct treatment, economy of words, and the sequence of the musical phrase” – Consider them, “not as dogma…but as the result of long contemplation, which, even if it’s someone else’s contemplation, might be worth consideration” – “Pay not attention to the criticisms of men who have never themselves written a notable work.” – That’s really good advice! – “Pay not attention to the criticisms of men who have never themselves written a notable work.” – Huh?

Student: How would you condense that?

AG: Listen to the poet.

[he continues] – “Consider the discrepancies (between) the actual writings of the Greek poets and dramatists, and the Graeco-Roman grammarians concocted to explain their metres.
Regarding “LANGUAGE..” – and this is, like the best of Pound, I think (probably everybody here, including myself, here, needs to attend) – “1) LANGUAGE – Use no superfluous word, no adjective which does not reveal something” – that’s common sense – “Don’t use such an expression as “dim lands of peace“, it dulls the image. It mixes an abstraction with the concrete. It comes from the writer’s not realizing that the natural object is always the adequate symbol.” – That was the quote I started with before. Getting things mixed up and dull in the minds’ eye “comes from the writer not realizing that the natural object is always the adequate symbol. (and (note) he’s got”adequate” italicized)” – “Go in fear of abstraction. Do not retell in mediocre verse what has already been done in good prose” – I was thinking (here) in terms of our poem on Attica (sic) – “Do not retell in mediocre verse what has already been done in good prose. Don’t think any intelligent person is going to be deceived when you try to shirk all the difficulties of the unspeakably difficult art of good prose by chopping your composition into line lengths. What the expert is tired of today the public will be tired of tomorrow…Be influenced by as many great artists as you can, but have the decency either to acknowledge the debt outright, or try and conceal it…Use either no ornament or good ornament.” – He also has “Don’t imagine that the art of poetry is any simpler than the art of music, or that you can please the expert before you’ve spent at least as much effort on the art of verse as the average piano teacher spends on the art of music” – I’m not sure of that now. Because, in his day, “the art of music”.. the music teacher spent all his time practicing scales (which would be the equivalent of practicing different verse-form constructions – sonnets, triplets..) and I think that would be a bore. But the effort at the art of verse might be effort in observing your own perceptions and observing your own speech, rather than writing sonnets, (such as) in this modern case of the (practices encouraged at the) (Jack) Kerouac School of Disembodied Spontaneous Poetics.

Student: What would be a good ornamentation?

AG: Pardon me?

Student: Ornament. What would be a good ornamentation and a bad ornamentation?

AG: Good ornamentation – William Butler Yeats‘ poem, (in) “Gratitude to the Unknown Instructors” – “What they undertook to do/ they brought to pass/all things hang like a drop of dew/ Upon a blade of grass.” That’s good solid ornamentation.

Student: That‘s ornamentation?

AG: Well, the first thing that came into my mind. “..like a drop of dew/ Upon a blade of grass.” – “all things hang like a drop of dew/ Upon a blade of grass.” – that’s not quite what you were asking for..

Student: “Fare-thee-well”?

AG: Fare-thee-well? We need a context to ornament. We need a body to ornament. I thought of Dante I suppose there’s a lot of ornamentation in Dante. I would say (Gregory) Corso is full of good ornamentation – [Allen quotes Corso] – “A hat is power.. Standing on a street corner waiting for no one is power” – and then, the ornamental line – “The angel is not as powerful as looking and then not looking” – See, he ornamented that with an angel, but then he sort of like made the angel angelic by looking and not looking, by making the angel disappear, sort of.

Pound also suggested for “RHYTHM AND RHYME” – “Let the candidate fill his mind with the finest cadences that he can discover, preferably in a foreign language so (that) the meaning of the words may be less likely to divert his attention from the movement. – e.g.” – he suggests – “Saxon charms, Hebridean Folk Songs, the verse of Dante, (and) the lyrics of Shakespeare – if he can disassociate the vocabulary from the cadence” – In other words, if you can actually hear the sound – “Don’t imagine a thing will “go” in verse just because it’s too dull to go into prose. Don’t be “viewy” – he says “viewy” – “(I) leave that to the writers of pretty philosophical essays. Don’t be descriptive. Remember that the painter can describe a landscape much better than you can, and he has to know a great deal more about it. When Shakespeare talks about the “Dawn in russet mantle clad” he presents something which the painter does not present. There is nothing in this line of his, nothing that one can call description, he presents. Consider the way of the scientists, rather than the way of an advertising agent for a new soap. The scientist does not expect to be acclaimed a great scientist until he’s discovered something. He begins by learning what has been discovered already. He goes from that point onward. He does not bank upon being a charming fellow personally. He doesn’t expect his friends to applaud the results of his freshman class work. Freshmen in poetry are unfortunately not confined to a definite and recognizable class room. They are “all over the shop”. Is it any wonder that “the public is indifferent to poetry?” In short, behave as a musician, a good musician, when dealing with that phase of your art which has exact parallels in music… Naturally, you rhythmic structure should not destroy the shape of your words, or the natural sound, or the meaning. It is improbable at the start that..” – at the start (sic) – “..you will be able to get a rhythm-structure (strong) enough to affect them very much, (though) you may fall a victim to all sorts of false stopping due to line-ends and caesurae” – In other words, that would be reading Williams’ “Why – it is the smile of her/ the smell of her..[Allen quotes from “Virtue”] – Well, it’s not a good one for that [reads, instead, the following, with exaggerated line-breaks] – “But/ I/ merely caressed/ you/ curiously fifteen years ago and/ you still go/ about the city you say/ patching up sick school children” [from “Young Love” from Spring and All]. In other words, when you’re writing, don’t chop your reading of the writing up because the line breaks. If it’s a run-on line, it’s a run-on line. And because of the attention to breath-stop (as (Robert) Creeley calls the stoppage of breath at the end of a line), there’s a tendency for a number of modern open form poets to stop at the end of a line even though it doesn’t make any sense in terms of speech.

Well, ok, what I’d suggest is read (Pound’s) “Retrospect”, particularly (the section) about vers libre, free verse (and the last section of that, on page 14, is titled, “ONLY EMOTION ENDURES”, which is a great phrase – “Only emotion endures” – Time? (We’ll) continue with Williams (and (with) some friends of Williams, like (Charles) Reznikoff) next time –  [class and tape end here].

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