Commentaries - May 2011

Tony Green: Big mug vodka maker

Readers here might remember that I've admired Tony Green's poem-object "Big Mug Vodka Maker" from afar - from Philly to Auckland, to be specific. And as I've also mentioned here, Tony Green visited Philly, the first time in 20 years, and gave a presentation at the Writers House. We did an interview for the PennSound podcast series. He read some poems, and he also read several of his poem-objects. He bought along the one I especially admired and gave it to me. It now sits prominently on display in my office at the Writers House. Best of all, we now have for our archive a video of Tony showing this object and reading it/reading from it.

Copenhagen & Oslo readings/conference

Caroline Bergvall, Christian Bök and I will be reading in Copenhagen and Oslo in the next weeks.

Through fogged and fumbling shallows

Stephen Ross on All the Whiskey in Heaven in "The Wolf"

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'Don't use such an expression as "dim lands of peace". It dulls the image. It mixes an abstraction with the concrete. It comes from the writer's not realizing that the natural object is always the adequate symbol. Go in fear of abstractions.' - Ezra Pound, 'A Few Don'ts' (1913)

'Go in search of abstractions', Pound might have written had he really had his finger on the American pulse. For over a century now, a major strain of American poetry has flourished precisely by ignoring Pound's directive; in fact, by doing its opposite. Turning to specific practitioners, one thinks of John Ashbery, who throughout his career has found his 'dim land of peace' in places like 'the mooring of starting out' and 'the delta of living into everything'. Or T.S. Eliot, who wrote so stirringly in his youth of 'the conscience of a blackened street/ Impatient to assume the world'. Or Wallace Stevens, with his 'complacencies of the peignoir’ and ‘green freedom of a cockatoo'. One could play this sort of trick with almost any American poet. The apparition of these faces?

Which is not to sell short the clinching astuteness of Pound's avant-guerre pronouncements on the dos and don’ts of modern poetry. After all, every student of modernism knows why the disgraced phrase 'dim lands of peace' is weak. But how many know where it comes from? In fact, it comes from the pen of Pound's sometime mentor, Ford Madox Ford:

Past all the windings of these grey, forgotten valleys,
To west, past clouds that close on one dim rift
The golden plains; the infinite, glimpsing distances,
The eternal silences; dim lands of peace.

Like all true doggerel, these lines from ‘On a Marsh Road (Winter Nightfall)’ might be forgotten but their spirit lingers on. Charles Bernstein, for one, has made a career of mining the experimental potential embedded in this kind of bad writing. Indeed, Ford’s much-maligned ‘dim lands of peace’ offer a handy organizing conceit for a study of Bernstein, the undisputed master of atmospheric doggerel. . . .

The Wolf 24, March 2009