Liking the Poets

Perloff and Bernstein in Conversation

Here is a draft excerpt from Charles Bernstein's "Close Listening" discussion with Marjorie Perloff - which was recorded in November of 2009. Of course these are candid, drafty remarks and we'll need to edit them for Jacket when and if we publish "Close Listening" transcripts there. And here are some remarks Marjorie sent after seeing the excerpt below: "I’m just back from London from the TS Eliot Summer School and it was WONDERFUL and restored my faith in poetry. The students were exceptional—from all over including Beijing—and knew their Eliot inside out and so I was kept on my toes. And when all is said and done, Eliot is a GREAT and amazing poet; the students this time convinced me (almost) even to admire THE FOUR QUARTETS. Do I like E’s poetry better than Stevens’s? I’m afraid yes I do. But that should be neither here nor there."

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BERNSTEIN: How about, let me shift it to Stein/Pound, who are so different, and yet you’ve obviously written a lot about and are a champion of both.

PERLOFF: Yeah, they are very different, and both wonderful in different ways. It’s certainly a different concept of what modernism is, but I do think, actually, modernism can cover them both very well, as opposed to other people, you know, for instance, now there’s this kind of Marianne Moore cult afoot. My feelings about Marianne Moore are she’s a, yes, of course, she’s a delightful poet. She always was admired, you know, it isn’t that she was neglected. Eliot loved her, Pound loved her, Williams loved her, et cetera. But she’s just, for me, not very interesting. So there are always two things. One is a kind of broad view that one can try to have and be objective, and another is, as one gets older and gets more subjective. You sort of feel that you don’t have to like everybody anymore, and, I mean, I’ve taught Marianne Moore, for instance, but—

BERNSTEIN: Was there some time in your life where you did feel like you had to like everybody. I can’t imagine that.

PERLOFF: Well, yes. Yes, certainly I did when I was a student. You had to write about whatever you were assigned to write about.

BERNSTEIN: Sure, but like everybody?

PERLOFF: Not like everybody so much, but acknowledge them. But Marianne Moore, to me, is just, it’s precious. I don’t like all those animals, you know. It’s just not my sensibility. But any of those poets, you see, for me, I would say all those poets, and still I’ll get back to Yeats in a moment, are not as great as Baudelaire, who is the great modernist poet. Rimbaud, Mallarme. Those, to me, are even greater than the Anglo-Americans. So that the fights between Stevens and Pound or Marianne Moore or H.D.—

BERNSTEIN: Are you saying the Americans are not so good as the Europeans, Marjorie?

PERLOFF: Well, just as far as, if you want poetry with a capital P. I mean, you go back and you read Baudelaire and I just can’t believe anybody could be that great a poet. Let’s put it that way. And I don’t really feel that way going back sometimes to, you know, I had to go do a lot of work on Wallace Stevens and I felt that was a good exercise. And when you said you don’t do people you don’t like, I mean, once I accepted that assignment, which came about in various ways, I really did my best to read the new Stevens scholarship. I am a scholar and I go back and read what everybody else says, and I look at what is said about Stevens, and, you know, only to a point can I really get that involved with Wallace Stevens.