2 Poems by Ezra Pound


Ezra Pound is so complex, he really calls for meticulous knowledge and towering judgment. And I can’t provide that, but have a few thoughts. A man who decided when he was young that he wanted to know more about poetry than any other person in the world, he seems to have inherited the burden of the 20th Century, set the pace for it in English language poetry.

He and his friends replaced the cloying sentimentality, soft dreaminess, meditative nature, and the dependence on “inspiration”, of the poetic world they were born into. But while the poetry became harder to read, harder in tone, more exact in image, the pain of the early 20th Century broke out and this was felt by Pound more than anyone else, even in the sense that he was a cheerleader for the dark force of the century, a fashioner of fascist propaganda, who completely lost his mind in the years leading up to the war.

He almost extruded privacy from his poetry, but not from his radio addresses. By removing the private and the personal, the subjective expression, and the personal position from his poetry, he did radically deny the luxuriant interiority of the 19th Century, but also, what could be more fascistic?

Room became available in his own work for the stripped down renderings of the great heroic literary testimonies of the past, which he brought in through translation and innovative literary cannibalism, though these also read in a kind of hyper-textual, but fundamentally unrealistic way, in the sense that the characters of the Cantos (and I haven’t read much but based on what I have read and heard) are like shades: they are either literary characters, or if they are historical, their treatment is with such a high diction and fragmentary tone that the nature of the Cantos as text is always pronounced.

I don’t have much to add to the great controversy and scandal concerning Ezra Pound. His fascism, anti-semitism, treason, destroyed his life. Ultimately he saw himself as a failure as a writer and a man; he seems to have been essentially crazy the second half of his life; his translations have been called uninformed, perhaps delusional; and I imagine many people think he is very overrated as a poet.

Though I haven’t read the Cantos, the two poems I include here I do think are tremendous accomplishments. The first, the Ballad Goodly Fere,  is a translation of an imaginative rendering of the Christ figure with one of His Disciple, Simon Zelotes. The second poem is one of Pound’s better known Cantos, Canto XLV, and works despite his personal agitas concerning usury.

I encourage all of you to enjoy the nice resources on Pound at The New Yorker, which has a lovely article on him, also at Penn Sound, and here at this Langdom Hammer lecture from Yale Course on youtube.

The BreakBeat Poet Anthology


BreakBeat Anthology, poems produced “by and for the Hip-Hop generation”, came out in 2015. It has over 70 contributors and the volume has a lot of variety in terms of form (not to mention age and race of the contributors).

Of the poets I wanted to highlight here, 4 of 5 I found at Poetry Magazine, featured in their April 2015 issue. It turns out that issue was dedicated to this anthology.

The fifth piece, by poet, Tony Medina, I couldn’t find online, so you’ll need to get the book for that one.

Jamila’s poem, Daddy Dozens, is an ingeniously funny mocking love song to her dad while at the same time finding a way to be emotionally sly. Jamila Woods at Poetry Magazine.

This is a lyrical ode to the DJ craft. Joel Dias-Porter at Poetry Magazine.

Danez Smith is mega-talented, as shown at the poem I linked to here, which I think is significantly stronger than the light piece included in the anthology. You can both read and hear Smith read his (excerpted) poem here: Danez Smith at Poetry Magazine. And in 2016 the poem was discussed on a podcast, which is linked here: Podcast on Danez Smith.

Now this poem by Ms. Franklin also is an incredible laurel on her brow, she calls it a manifesto and ars poetica, but it is concise, dense with the rich invention of African American culture, so that almost no one else, like Bop, can really “go there”. Krista Franklin at Poetry Magazine.





Sharon Olds’ Human Poem


Sharon Olds here shows an ability to transmute a plain style and direct speech into an experience pregnant with an almost metaphysical significance.

      The Space Heater

On the then-below-zero day, it was on,
near the patients' chair, the old heater
kept by the analyst's couch, at the end,
like the infant's headstone that was added near the foot
of my father's grave. And it was hot, with the almost
laughing satire of a fire's heat,
the little coils like hairs in Hell.
And it was making a group of sick noises-
I wanted the doctor to turn it off
but I couldn't seem to ask, so I just
stared, but it did not budge. The doctor
turned his heavy, soft palm
outward, toward me, inviting me to speak, I
said, "If you're cold-are you cold? But if it's on 
for me..." He held his palm out toward me,
I tried to ask, but I only muttered,
but he said, "Of course," as if I had asked,
and he stood up and approached the heater, and then
stood on one foot, and threw himself
toward the wall with one hand, and with the other hand
reached down, behind the couch, to pull
the plug out. I looked away,
I had not known he would have to bend
like that. And I was so moved, that he
would act undignified, to help me,
that I cried, not trying to stop, but as if
the moans made sentences which bore
some human message. If he would cast himself toward the
outlet for me, as if bending with me in my old
shame and horror, then I would rest
on his art-and the heater purred, like a creature
or the familiar of a creature, or the child of a familiar,
the father of a child, the spirit of a father,
the healing of a spirit, the vision of healing,
the heat of vision, the power of heat,
the pleasure of power.

Spenser’s Amoretti


Spenser invented a new form for the sonnet which has a sprightly and surprising rhythm, and also effectively adds two couplets in the interior, while keeping a third couplet as a closer. Like the terza rima it has interlocking rhymes, but holds more depth and comlexity in its pattern than the terza rima, though perhaps losing some of Dante’s clean simplicity.

The form is as follows,


There are three quatrains and a couplet. The second line rhyme of the first two quatrains becomes the first line rhyme of the following quatrain, which is what makes it interlock.

So the B rhyme and C rhyme each appear four times, which lays a new burden on the English sonneteer (and Spenser used full rhymes). The freshness of the 5th line and the 9th line is even followed with a different freshness in the 6th and 10th lines, which are words whose sound is totally new.

What is really interesting to me about this pattern is that the role of the end words is multiple in many lines. For instance the 4th line is the age-enduring typical quatrain rhyme. (Kind of a marching step.) But it also serves as the first rhyme in a couplet. It is part of a couplet, a quatrain, and has looser ties to the 8th line. It is connected to all four appearances on that rhyme. It is almost like complex jazz harmonics. In this way, there are shifts representing all kinds of rhyme, except near rhyme and interior rhyme, which Spenser largely avoided.

These three-sonnets-from-spensers-amoretti are some of his more triumphant efforts in my (novice) opinion. They appear in Amoretti and Epithalamion, a two-volume, or coupled book, published in 1595. The merit of this book has been much debated, (Faerie Queen is considered his masterpiece) but scholarship in the 20th century renewed a lot of interest here because of discoveries into some amazing patterns that Spenser worked into the book.

For instance, in Amoretti, a sequence of 89 courtship sonnets to a young woman written after his wife’s death, Spenser employs a lot of number patterning. The sonnets are almost daily devotionals; composed to follow the day’s liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer, the liturgical book of the Church of England. Scholars have argued that the first half of the volume (Amoretti) has a center (central group) between Ash Wednesday and Easter, 1594.

Alexander Dunlop, who wrote the introduction to this section of The Shorter Poems of Edmund Spenser, writes “the tone and imagery of [sonnets] XXII and LXVIII identify them as Ash Wednesday and Easter sonnets; the number of days between them equals the number of days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. This group is centered in Amoretti, with 21 sonnets preceding and following and a spring sonnet two before and two after the central group.” He writes that sonnet LXII, also works as an Easter sonnet indirectly dated to Easter, 1594. That poem’s reference to a new year, and new dawn, sprung is appropriate for a key turn in the religious calendar.

Dunlop also argues, “his use in Amoretti of a framework related to Ash Wednesday and Easter removes those events from the mere sequence of history and asserts this transcendence of the personal and particular events that seem to form the sequence of historical time.” In other words, Spenser seems to be grafting a cosmic meaning to the narrative of their courtship through reference to events in the (Christian) calender.

What does this really amount to? Notably, Spenser does not stop short of even deifying the young woman he pursues, so Spenser’s distraction from God (who is present but almost obscured by his romantic passion) is treated as a sub-plot of his absorption in the girl. He makes use of the religious means at his disposal to glorify, and essentially chronicle her worship.

Dunlop also points to a very interesting tension between the poet’s worship and elevation of the woman, and more subtle notes of a pursuit of his mastery of her. While Spenser keeps drumming on a theme of his weakness and inferiority to the young woman, he also introduces images of caging, binding, conquest, captivity, and imprisonment. In Epithalamion, which translates as “wedding song”, this undertone becomes more dominant, as the poet has secured his bride.

I haven’t read Epithalamion yet, because I’m really looking for sonnets, but I read that it also is intensively patterned after units of time. There are 24 stanzas, 365 long lines, and 68 short lines, (the sum of the weeks, months, and seasons).

While it fascinates me how Spenser built this structure, and wove so many quiet lines that doubled duty to his poem, I can’t see Amoretti as approaching the glorious Shakespeare’s Sonnets, or Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella. Amoretti is beautifully accomplished in syntax, almost effortless in rhyme, and has some really shining moments with metaphor and imagery. The primary downside for me was the degree of repetitiveness. Shakespeare has about 60 more sonnets in his sequence but never fails to turn things new and find original ways to display his love. And Sidney is just much more intense in feeling and sound and his narrative is more moving. If you read the three sonnets in the link, or have read Spenser before, feel free to tell me what you thought.

You can hear some of Spenser’s sonnets read at LibriVox .

Frank Bidart’s Confessional


Here is Frank Bidart’s long poem Confessional. It employs a layered composition of first person narrative and extended quotation from Augustine’s Confession. It is at once alienated and intimate, appealing to the mind and heart as a grown son works through his grief and anguished conscience after his mother’s recent passing, with a mysterious confessor who needs the first lessons of faith taught to him.

Three Poems by Seamus Heaney


These Three Poems by Seamus Heaney are given in the order of their publication, with one each drawn from his first three books. (I’m reading Opened Ground now, a volume of selected works that came out after he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995.)

Heaney has an incredible sense of sound, making each word count and turning every short line into a pleasure. It is interesting how Heaney seems to approach his early poems (the first two volumes) with so much humility, focusing on observation of his environment, and writing with ready material, especially of his childhood, without hype or grandiosity.


Marianne Moore’s The Fish


Moore was very stoical and firm in life, but if she held out the joy she displays in poetry in some physical craft she would have made a marvelous and playful dancer.

The Fish

through black jade.
       Of the crow-blue mussel-shells, one keeps
       adjusting the ash-heaps;
              opening and shutting itself like

injured fan.
       The barnacles which encrust the side
       of the wave, cannot hide
              there for the submerged shafts of the

split like spun
       glass, move themselves with spotlight swiftness
       into the crevices—
              in and out, illuminating

turquoise sea
       of bodies. The water drives a wedge
       of iron through the iron edge
              of the cliff; whereupon the stars,

rice-grains, ink-
       bespattered jelly fish, crabs like green
       lilies, and submarine
              toadstools, slide each on the other.

       marks of abuse are present on this
       defiant edifice—
              all the physical features of
       of cornice, dynamite grooves, burns, and
       hatchet strokes, these things stand
              out on it; the chasm-side is

       evidence has proved that it can live
       on what can not revive
              its youth. The sea grows old in it.