Friday, April 26, 2013

Ezra Pound On Trial

Pound On Trial.

Pound’s career was driven by his own belief in the absolute centrality of poetry to Culture and the absolute cultural importance of the (genuine/professional) capital P Poet.

In Geoffrey Hill’s words, Pound ‘is vulnerable to accusations that he naively or willingly regarded his war time broadcasts as being in some way traditionally privileged by his status as a poet, ‘boasting of the sanctity of what [he] carried’; an attitude at best archaic and worst arrogantly idiosyncratic; oblivious of, or indifferent to, the ‘real world’ which lies “out there’, where things (and people) get done” (‘Our word is our bond’, Collected critical writings p146/7)

Reading the transcript of the trial in Julian Cornell’s ‘The Trial of Ezra Pound’(1966),  one can watch the train wreck of the collision between his ideas and those of the “real” world where “people get done’. 

Pound had been taken to America to be tried for treason. The Government, or technically the Department of Justice, contested his Lawyer's claim that Pound was not 'able to participate with counsel in the trial of a criminal case, and is not in a position to understand the full nature of the charges against him'.  Or in plain terms, was not sane enough to stand trial.

The following conversation occurs in the transcript (p208): The answers are from Dr. Joseph L. Gilbert, chief psychiatrist at Gallinger Municipal Hospital, one of four psychiatrists who had examined Pound and had unanimously agreed he was not in a fit mental state to stand trial. He is being cross examined by Mr. Anderson, representing the Unit States Government.

Q: And what are delusion of grandeur? A. Well, a delusion –I will have to break that up a little bit-is an idea not based on fact, not appropriate to the occasion, and not amenable to argument say, so a delusion of grandeur would be an idea of exaggerated importance, exaggerated self-esteem in his relation to the community, to the state, to the world. As in this particular case.

Q. In the case of a great person thinking themselves as great, would you say that is a delusion of grandeur? A. It may of may not be.

Q. And in case Mr. Pound thinks he is a great poet, would say that is delusion of grandeur? A. No. I did not consider that one of his delusions of grandeur.

Q. What did you consider? A. Well his rather fixed belief that if certain circumstances had arisen that he would have been able to stop the formation of the so called Axis and, therefore, have avoided the World War, and that if it had been possible for his writings to have reached the public, and especially important public officers throughout the world that the same thing would have happened, that the Axis would not have been formed…and thereby the World War would have been prevented, and there was a plot or conspiracy in certain quarters to prevent these writings from reaching the public [my ellipsis]…and that by his writings, his broadcasts, he was defending and saving the Constitution of the United states, that his economic theories were the last word in economy in the world, or in the economic field; that he believed he was being brought to America , after his imprisonment in Italy, for some use rather than-[INTERRUPTION IN ORIGINAL]
Q: Rather than for trial? A. Rather than face an indictment or trial…

Trivial pursuit question: How many ‘Literary theorists” or  ‘cultural critics’ claiming the centrality and importance of their own self importance would be classifiable under that definition of “delusional”?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Basil Bunting on Poetry..and writing it part 2

This is the first 3.52 minutes of Bunting's introductory remarks at a reading given at Keats' house in 1979. See previous post for the rest of it. I'm not sure of the first French word so if anyone knows what Pound did say I'd be grateful for the correct/ion reference...


I thought I might perhaps indulge myself in a few irrelevant words before going on with the reading,  then I’ll read you some poems as a reward for listening to it. It’s because I think this is the last time that I’m likely to address a London audience,  by this time next year I’ll be over eighty and even more reluctant than I am now to travel away from Northumberland.

So I’d like to take the liberty of telling you a few things before I go on to read these other short poems. 
You know that my friends are dead for the most part: Yeats, and Pound, Zukofsky, Carlos-Williams, and the other day Hugh MacDiarmid and perhaps you think I belong to a dead generation that knew nothing that this generation need listen to.  However, my friends are not as dead as all that. It’s not wise to ignore what they had to say and quite daft to try to go behind them to the moribund poetry that they superseded.

I’ve noticed in the past few years a darker reaction than any I remember except at the beginning of the 1930s, In all things, In politics, social morals, in literature. To be sure, there are always of course wild men to be laughed at, not pelted, by people who refrain from making rash experiments in order to follow recipes that have been tried before and didn’t work. Which is the wilder road I’ll leave you to say; no names, no pack drill.  But I do find a ridiculous number of young men who are, as Pound said of Dante, (?diablement?)  dans les idée’s recu, ideas of long ago, unburied though rotten.

Of course, I’m thinking chiefly of poetic techniques, but there’s also a great rush to throw reason overboard and trust in one magic or another; to achieve wisdom without toil by practising the rites of some church or other or stilling the argumentative parts of your brain with drugs. Those who have neither gone Buddhist nor Psychedelic are apt still to desert God for the church, which exists by concealing God and which is partly responsible for the revival of censorship by irresponsible police or customs men, for blasphemy prosecutions and laws against undefined obscenity, for all that Mrs. Whitehouse symbolizes.  

Friday, April 19, 2013

Basil Bunting on poetry...and writing it

This is a transcription from a part of a talk Bunting gave in London, in Keats house,  in 1979.  I have taken it from "The Recordings of Basil Bunting" and as always my thanks to Richard Swigg who looks after "The Bunting tapes".

My extract starts at 3.54...after it ends there is applause, a pause and then he reads: "Now we have no hope..." Punctuation is obviously mine, and doesn't do justice to the measured rhythm of his speech.

Poetry hampers itself when it undertakes advocacy, however indirectly. I would have maintained that, even against my much loved Hugh MacDiarmid,  whose advocacy was mostly against unreason, for thought and tolerance and renewal.  But poetry that advocates obscurantism, or, on the other hand, advocates naïve slogans of liberalism, is a nuisance to everybody who can read.

What I have tried to do is to make something that can stand by itself and last a little while without having to be propped by metaphysics or ideology or anything from outside itself, something that might give people pleasure without nagging them to pay their dues to the party or say their prayers, without implying the stifling deference so many people in this country still show to a Cambridge degree or a Kensington accent.

It’s's brought me just what I expected from the first; Nothing. If I set aside the handful of people who over praise  my verses and the few who take the trouble to run them down,  I think nobody takes any notice of them. Even my publisher hasn’t bothered to let me know, for all but a year, whether any copies of my collected poems have been sold or not, and I’ve never seen the book on sale in a book shop. I live on two small pensions, which together amount to somewhat less than the usual old age pension, in a house which is not mine  where Northern Arts allows me to stay in part of  new town planned for the greatest  possible density of population, in short an intentional slum.

I’m not complaining but describing conditions an honest poet must expect.  And they will get worse not better. Yet I think something is wrong where Arts Administrators draw salaries immeasurably more generous than any income that they find appropriate for an originating artist. Though they can be quite generous to performers.

And I think it’s unfortunate, for England, as well as for myself, that after sixty years of fairly good work without pay, I haven’t even a house of my own to die in.

Well, I’ll put that away, you’ve put up with it  and, well...….[Applause]

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Basil Bunting: March 1st 1900-April 17th 1985

Bunting looking back on his life:
Once upon a time I was a poet; not a very industrious one, not at all an influential one; unread and almost unheard of, but good enough in a small way to interest my friends, whose names have become familiar: Pound and Zukofsky first, Carlos-Williams, Hugh MacDairmid, David Jones, few indeed, but enough to make me think my work was not wasted.

(From Peter Bell's excellent short film about him: which comes as an extra with the equally excellent Bloodaxe edition of Briggflatts.)

 It’s called Litotes or perhaps meiosis. I know this because these terms were  hammered into me, as a sixth former studying ‘Poetry”, gagging on Keats and Milton and learning to spell paronomasia years before this film was made.  But if you listen carefully to the way he says it, there’s a sly undercutting in the pauses, the very slight pauses, between ‘friends’ and “whose names have become familiar”.

Tom Pickard's "Spring Tide" is a fine salutation, but the thing that rings in my head is Bunting's words as preface to a poetry reading in Keats' House in London in 1979, describing the conditions an "honest poet" should expect:

After sixty years of fairly good work, without pay, I haven't even a house of my own to die in.   

and the fact his audience seems to giggle in response...