Expansive Poetics – (Cendrars – The American Inheritance)

Blaise Cendrars (Frédéric Sauser),(1887-1961)

I want to turn back to 1887 for just one moment to get Blaise Cendrars (because, oddly enough, Cendrars, except for Apollinaire, was the earliest of these practitioners of irresponsibility, of liberty, of poetic liberty. It’s after Apollinaire, it’s our third Frenchman. “Five Corners”  it’s that little short poem and I read it before but I want to go back to it now because he was the earliest of these poets who worked on it, and he was much admired by Henry Miller, by Apollinaire, by the later Surrealists, by Breton – [Allen reads next Cendrars’ “Five Corners” (in translation)] – ” I dare to make noise” – see, “I dare to make noise/color movement explosion light is everywhere/Life blossoms in sunlit windows/which melt in my mouth/I am ripe/I fall translucent in the street/  You speak, old man/  I don’t know how to open my eyes/ Mouth of gold/ Poetry’s a game” – So that’s actually a description of this liberty – a theatrical statement of a very high order. Very noble, I think, compared to (the) pettifogging, literalistic, heavy-handed poetry that was taught as part of the English tradition. If you read Allen Tate, John Crowe Ransom, T.S.Eliot, Hart Crane, they are (all) so square in their approach to language – even (William Carlos) Williams, in a sense (although Williams tried his hand at this in Kora in Hell – improvisations). Williams was influenced  by the Surrealist movement and did try that and did a very brilliant job.

And so I think the great thing, when we move to American poetry, is that we have inherited all of this rich tradition, and all these years, and about 1950 or so (or (19)48, I would say), there was a poetic explosion in which, all of a sudden, all of these old European traditions were being recognized and poets began using them. Began (using) Ezra Pound, began using Greek prosody, began using Surrealist juxtaposition, began using haiku, began using cut-up, began using liberty of the imagination, began using Dada tricks, began using William Carlos Williams literalism. We inherited all of that, picked all of it up, and most poetries in Europe did not, oddly enough (except a few cranks and geniuses!). Among the Russians it was more difficult, but (Andrei) Voznesensky does do that too.

So what we’ll do next is try and trace some of these influences into American poetry next time we come and meet. And I guess (for homework) just read through the American section (of the class anthology), we’ll see what we’ve got…beginning with the sound of Vachel Lindsay..

class ends here

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