Monday, March 3, 2014

The Naive Narrator: A Writer in Search

In your bookshelves, there are at least two collections of poetry from Ezra Pound, who, by some force of logic, you ought to detest on principle because of his attitudes to the cultural group from which you come and in which group you have by now long, tangled roots.

A you write this, tectonic plates are shifting under continents, some like waiters and bus boys removing table cloths in restaurants to make places for new servings.  Poetry is changing as well, whisking forms out from under you, substituting new ones, making of anapests and spondees and dactyls the equivalent of genuine Persian or Navajo rugs woven in China and, indeed, genuine Chinese rugs loomed in the Philippines.

Some years ago--it must have been many, because he was dead by 1987--you got into a discussion about Pound with the British poet, Peter Whigham, who, among other things, was surprised not only that you'd read his translations of the poems of Catullus but as well because you did not confuse his Catullus with the Roman Catulus, who among other things, had only one l.  Whigham was impressed that you could quote from both poets, an ability enhanced when and if you happen to be drinking.  

Disclosure:  At the time you were reading such poets as the Catullus/Catulus and Pound, you were doing a good deal of drinking.  At the moment of writing, you still have five bottles remaining from a six-pack of Sierra Nevada pale ale given you as a gift.  But there is the vestige of curiosity about how much drinking you'd have to do in order to remember such poetry.

Whigham is brought into this conversation because of his belief that the thing preventing Pound from being considered great is the fact of readers not taking the trouble to memorize lines of his.  You promptly responded:

"All things are a flowing,
Sage Heraclitus says;
But a tawdry cheapness
Shall reign throughout our days..."

You added several other bits and pieces from Pound's work, each one causing Whigham to say "Jesus" with increased intensity until, finally, by way of getting you to stop, he handed you a glass with a few inches of some amber liquid.  After one taste, you knew the liquid was not a single-malt whisky.  After another, you had a thought that the liquid might be some drug store or house brand bourbon.  You also recalled another line from Pound.

Whigham said "Jesus" again.  Then he said "All right."

The stuff Whigham poured was not all that bad, and your conversation soon drifted away from what you could remember of Pound's poetry to one of the specifics of why you liked his work and, indeed, the work of the poet, Kenneth Rexroth, who'd introduced you to Whigham.  

You knew Rexroth, and quite liked him, ever since the time you and he had got into a contest one evening while sitting on the deck of the Vedanta Temple, of seeing who could remember the most sexually oriented limericks.  His translations of Japanese and Chinese poets give you goose bumps and tics of reflexive response because of their poignancy.

The intended theme here is shifting and changing, which you have done in many ways by thinking of that one mention of Heraclitus, then attaching some of Pound's conflating the vision of change with the imagery of merchandise moving over the landscape like a tsunami wave. 

You were in a huge store today, seeking a new waste basket for your former, which had begun to speak to you as a poster child for entropy as it changed from an orderly, well-woven, even pleasing form into a chaos of tangles and jutting strands.  The waste basket pleased you at one time; it was a pleasure to toss things into it.  In recent weeks, you'd begun closing your eyes before tossing, thus missing more often than not, defeating the tangible purpose of a waste basked.

Somewhere along your way of changing from the earlier versions of you into the present one, you'd begun to realize how much story is about change.  Some characters change, particularly in longer stories.  Relationships change.  They become more comfortable, more knowing.  Or they become less comfortable, causing some of the participants to wonder in amazement at the previously hidden or unseen aspects of a partner.

Reflecting about change and its effects on your vision brings yet another metaphoric wave swirling about you, leaving deposits of silt as waves will do.  Moving close to a first-year anniversary, you are aware of the times you catch yourself reading newsprint and text without wearing reading glasses.  This is the result of what passes for surgery related to having the lenses you were issued at birth replaced with some new technology in which your vision is more acute.  Your once dominant eye delights in what it sees, yet is shouted down with some frequency by the formerly less aggressive eye to the point where you find yourself indulging the game of closing the dominant eye, making up for what the then weaker may have missed.

With your new vision, you find yourself focusing on small details, noting the contexts in which they stop you in your tracks with heart thumping and skin tingling at the excitement of things you may have missed before or things you are finally coming to see on your own, not so much with the new lenses of technology as with the lenses of your own education.

Some years ago, you began receiving phone calls and notes from your Alma Mater, suggesting you were at an age where you were at the peak of your earning curve and wouldn't you like to remember the place that made it possible for you?  This opened a fearsome and cynical portal for you.  To your credit, you took these solicitations with good humor.  Because they were funny and because you were able to see it.

The matter is always funnier when the target is you.  You learned from a master.  When you discuss point of view in a classroom or workshop setting, you can't help winking at yourself when you get to the naive and innocent narrator.

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