Monday, March 25, 2013

Kenner on the difference between Pound and Yeats

Hugh Kenner, A Colder Eye p164:

Writing of Yeats;  “Lost in his dream of rural Ireland and Faeries he’d misjudged grey Dublin’s theatre goers. It was in the vicinity of the theatre now that day by day he could see what little effect his work was having. The man of print can believe, as did Pound for decades, in an ideal readership however small or scattered, a saving remnant to command a might y posterity. The man of the play house knew differently.”

Is that what saved Yeats the poet: his daily dose of disappointment?  “Willie Yeats” facing the jeers and indifference of The Abbey audiences,  the senator butting against the realities of a brutal politics, left no room for the man who dreamed of fairies. Does it go someway to explain the later style and the resolute durability of some of those poems? 

As Bunting said, Eliot and Pound made the mistake of thinking people lived in libraries: it was a mistake the later Yeats never made. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Shock Media review in wake of Drown saga!

In a strange sequel to the Saga of Drown, who is still at large, the new owner of Channel Sniff has sacked several of their pretty young things for incompetence.

“Their frequent use of ‘indescribable’, ‘unimaginable”,  ‘beyond belief’ and similar words and phrases, as well as the frequent use of the related syntagem “I can’t begin to tell you/describe what’s happening here” are public confessions of professional incompetence and therefore we have sacked them. “

At the press conference, the new owner outlined her guidelines for reporting. There would be no editorializing. Facts would be checked. Only eye witnesses who had seen something relevant would be included. Reports about murder, rape and other violent crime would no longer pander to the prurient interest of the public but would spare the feeling of victims, survivors and their relatives.  The use of adjectives and adverbs, clichés, euphemisms and stock epithets would be avoided. When a senior Sniff editor asked “at all costs” he too was immediately fired for his inability to understand English. 
An insider at Sniff said she was concerned, deeply concerned,  for her future, which she said is now under a cloud. a dark cloud  When asked if she thought she might be sacked for her trademark use of “horrific”  to describe everything from a hair style to acts of genocide she said, off the record: “No, Who’s going to watch a news that is factual? The station will go broke in weeks.”

The owners of the Journalism cliché generator (who continue to deny the existence of the service) are not concerned. “Look, if sniff, in their wisdom, decide to ditch us and from this moment on, go straight, the bottom line, in this day and age, in the here and now, is something along the lines of who in their right mind is going to understand what’s terrible and what’s not if reporters don’t spell it out for them in black and white. Do you honestly think your average Joe Soap can tell if the death of a young person is sad or not? And of course punters want the gory details. Believe you me, my lad, Sniff will be out of business in a matter of months, quick as a flash, no time at all. Believe me mate, the bottom line is that there’s no escaping the cliché generator. Just listen to the pollies..where would they be without us to do their thinking for them?”

And then I woke up and it was St. Patrick's day and we were being arrested for playing The Concerto at an indecent speed....

Monday, March 18, 2013

Soldiers' Songs and Slang: more joys of slang dictionaries

So I found this after listening to Geoffrey Hill’s lecture on poetry and war:

Like Sir Geoffrey I was fascinated by the observation:

Swearing was so common that "If the Sergeant said: 'Get your ___ rifles!' it was understood as a matter of routine', but "if he said 'Get your Rifles' there was an immediate implication of urgency and danger".

So words mean nothing except in use, and historical slang dictionaries are one way of watching them slithering around.  I didn’t know “fed up” first appeared as WW1 slang. One of the three terrible words the editors dare not write out, “the filthiest in origin’ recently featured in an Australian TV Advertising campaign and while it was obviously totally unacceptable to write ‘bugger’ in the 1930s,  words which make us flinch now could be casually thrown into a definition.

As the editors point out, most of the 600 entries in their glossary are not new words, but words given (sometimes radically) different meanings: two of their examples are ‘Landowner’ (someone who is dead), and ‘Eye wash’ (official deceit or pretentiousness). By the 1960s the latter had become a faintly archaic sounding but politer option for bullshit.

English, they write, is Probably the most imaginative and sensuously exact language of all. It is continually unfolding springs of metaphor within itself.  An English word is never content to do as it is told. Its marriages are not often arranged. It prefers romantic elopements with some other word for which the purists never intended it. ‘Push Up” will couple with the ineligible ‘daisies’, and so form a new phase, a new metaphor, and enrich the English consciousness by an illuminating flash of sardonic humor.

And who are those purists who the words are trying to escape?

The editors foot note a song called “I wore a tunic”…’Note the rough approximations that serve for rhymes-clothes, knows: foe, road-due to the slovenly pronunciation of the working classes’.  It’s the ‘slovenly’ that gives them away.  The idea that a word has a ‘proper’ pronunciation and any variation on this is a falling away, a sign of improper usage, reveals class snobbishness masquerading as linguistics.  For the singers the words rhymed.

I would be the first to agree that historical English slang is far more imaginative than its current American descendant,  but the metaphors are illuminating.  There is no human agency in the section in italics above. Words simply escape the confines of the purists' attempts to define them and go off coupling promiscuously in a way the editors are desperate to suggest no English speaking soldier ever did. ‘Push up” ‘clicks’ with ‘daisies’ for a bit of etymological ‘jig a jig’ (an onomatopoeic word says our editors) and the bastard offspring is the sardonic humor of ‘Pushing up daisies’ (dead). 
While I like the idea of words roaming restlessly, adverbs setting up brief but essentially indecent liaisons with nouns, an adverb and adjective settling down for some quiet hanky-panky, the idea of language as something with a life of its own, in which humans are somehow irrelevant, has become very popular in Theory world, but remains fundamentally idiotic.  And that, considered in terms of the three terrible words the editor dared not print in this 1930 edition, is for later.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Pound's 'Make it New' and what he should have said...

Pound’s Make it New! could be the explicit statement of the most damaging trend in the history of 20th Century poetry.  Like children who never bother to learn how to use the toys they have, but ditch them for the next new toy, the century has lurched from one set of “experiments’ and “new movements” in poetry to another. The attitude “make it new”,  has underwritten the blurb writer’s rhetoric of ‘originality” and “innovation” and justified so much unreadable or instantly forgettable print.

A critic like Marjorie Perloff may hold forth against the workshop poem or the first person lyric, might praise a book consisting of the transcripts of traffic reports (Kenneth Goldsmith’s ‘traffic’), but at the end of the day the innovative and the experimental is just as formulaic and dull as the worst first person lyric. Genuinely “original” work is still rare as rocking horse droppings and can’t be copied or repeated or reduced to a formula and taught.

Make it New side steps the question of quality by establishing a criteria that the writer of Ecclesiastes could have told EP was invalid.

What EP should have said was: Make it good!  

Don’t justify the poem by appealing to movements or fashions.  Don’t bore the reader with your overt conceptualizing:  A dead rat with two bunt sticks up its arse is not a searing indictment of late capitalist heteronormative patriarchal discourse. It’s a dead rat with two burnt sticks up its arse.
Follow Willie Yeats or BB’s examples,  EP should continue: Make it good, make it something that stands on its own (metaphorical) legs without the justification of your name or your allegiance, your party credentials or your ability to trot out the proscribed slogans. (But then he’d be sounding like Robert Graves and later Bunting).

Make something that will walk abroad in the daylight and give readers something to value.  Otherwise keep your experiments where they belong, in the file marked “experiments” close to the bin marked ‘rubbish’.  And while we’re at it, ban all blurb writers and critics from using the words innovative, original, daring etc or from claiming the poet extends, refines or purifies language,  unless critic or blurb writer can demonstrate, conclusively, how the poet does this.