Commentaries - June 2010

online variorum edition of Pound

Using Juxta in the digital variorum edition of Ezra Pound’s cantos. Mark Byron, University of Sydney (Australia), is building an online edition. Exciting stuff. Here's the link.

Ecopoetics here

 I’m very pleased to announce that Marcella Durand will be the CPCW Fellow in Poetics & Poetic Practice here at Penn for next year. In the spring semester she will teach a creative writing course in ecopoetics. Durand’s bio and a brief description of her course are here. Below is a photo of Marcella with John Ashbery taken a few months ago.

Photo credit: Lawrence Schwartzwald

poets walk

Last night Poets House sponsored the 15th annual poets' walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. Tina Chang, the Poet Laureate of Brooklyn, read midway on the bridge: "Brooklyn Bridge" by Vladimir Mayakovsky. Bill Murray, who's been a supporter of poetry through Poets House projects, came along for the walk. Murray read several poems to the crowd before the walk on the Manhattan end of the bridge: "Supermarket in California," Levertov's "The Rights," Ferlinghetti's "Coney Island of the Mind."

Women as baseball fans, the whole poetry

Some thoughts on the importance of women as baseball fans begin with the ironically positive effect of Charlie Finley’s otherwise usually destructive mania for marketing his Athletics. When the team resided in Kansas City, he deemed it a good stunt to hire the first woman to be part of a baseball radio team. Her name was Betty Caywood, and she spent most of her on-air time talking about happenings in the grandstands. For Finley it was “another way of keeping attention away from what was happening on the diamond” — in other words, drawing attention away from poorly played baseball. The diversionary stunt had the ironic effect of focusing listeners ever more on the whole game. By permitting Caywood’s narrative peregrinations away from the game being played on the field, Finley was not, to be sure, promoting equality of gendered perspective, nor was he expressing any kind of belief in the voice of the fan. But he was exploring the (actually quite profitable) world of words emanating directly from the fan-centered game, the convergence of baseball and language that “generate[s] excitement — / a fever in the victim,” as Marianne Moore described it in a poem called “Baseball and Writing.” Moore was a fanatical Brooklyn Dodger devotee, and her poem, which begins “Writing is exciting / and baseball is like writing,” was written not in response to a game but to “post-game broadcasts.” To whom,” she asks, does the victimhood of generated excitement apply? “Who is excited?” “[P]itcher, catcher, fielder, batter”? On the contrary: “Might it be I?” This is the poetic “I” — the speaker, but, more generally, the voice teaching us to see what should be seen. This is the “I” that observes “Carl Furillo’s . . . big gun” (which drove in four of the team’s six runs on a day remembered in the poem) but celebrates “fans dancing in delight” in response. Moore was devoted to the game but the lens of her devotion was a wandering eye that spots, for example, “the Dodger Band in [section] 8, row 1.” That motley ensemble was famously capable of improvising — for example, playing “Why Not Take All of Me?” when the local tax collector happened to walk by. As a form of expression analogous to Don Zimmer’s surprising infield dexterity (feats Moore elsewhere extolled), such extemporaneity was the whole poetry of the Dodgers.

Irving Howe's review of Ralph Ellison

"too feverish...almost hysterical"

From Irving Howe's negative review of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man:

Though immensely gifted, Ellison is not a finished craftsman. The tempo of his book is too feverish, and at times almost hysterical. Too often he tries to overwhelm the reader; but when he should be doing something other then overwhelm, when he should be persuading or suggesting or simply telling, he forces and tears. Because the book is written in the first person singular, Ellison cannot establish ironic distance between his hero and himself, or between the matured "I" telling the story and the "I" who is its victim. And because the experience is so apocalyptic and magnified, it absorbs and then dissolves the hero; every minor character comes through brilliantly, but the seeing "I" is seldom seen.

Published in The Nation May 10, 1952. Here's the whole review.