Friday, January 16, 2009

Poetry and Ugliness

I begin with Pound for one more reason: he is "the poet's poet." Pound ushered in the Modern era when he chopped-up T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland." Eliot dedicated that poem to Pound who he called "il miglior fabbro", or the better maker. Pound was a titan of the literary world of his day. He was friends with both Joyce and Yeats. He exerted his influence on Ernest Hemingway and William Carlos Williams, and he helped establish the reputations of Robert Frost and D.H. Lawrence. 

Pound was also an anti-Semite. During World War II he lived in Italy and began a radio broadcast called "The American Hour." He used the time to rail against the U.S. attacking Italy, monetary policy, and Jews. When Italy was finally defeated Pound was turned over to the American army and held outside Pisa. The detention ruined both his physical and mental health. He was sent back to the U.S. to stand trial and declared insane. He spent more than a decade in a mental hospital.

And here we come to my biggest question about poetry: what good is poetry if you can write it, read it--studying it deeply--and simultaneously conclude that one people is better than another? Poetry has been part and parcel of so much insanity and unequal social policy over the years--am I even wrong to find Pound's hatred incongruous with his work? I do, by the way, utterly and totally. When beauty and ugliness mix in one mind--maybe in all minds--what is poetic insight if it does not equal "real" insight?

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