Thursday, June 30, 2016

The World IS too Much with Us

Somewhere during the early 1980s, you met the poet, Peter Whigham, a soft-spoken, red-haired Englishman, a few years your senior, who taught at UCSB along with Kenneth Rexroth.
Whigham was opinionated, which you admired, even though you did not always support his opinions. The thing you liked most about him was the fact of his being opinionated without being contentious.

One of his first opinions you encountered was his belief that a poet's worth relied to some degree on the prospects of his or her poetry being kept alive in the memory of readers. Whigham had begun his theorizing after you'd spoken of "The world is too much with us, late and soon," nodding his approval at Wordsworth for having composed that line, you for recalling it, and himself for being able, as a result, to elevate Wordsworth to greatness because he wrote the kinds of poems persons such as you tend to commit to memory.

He also came to approve of you because you also had stashed away a few lines here and there of William Butler Yeats, but you could see where Whigham's sentiments were going when you mentioned, not merely as a favored poet but an elevated if, in your own words "crazy-ass" sort, Ezra Pound.

Whigham shook his head. "No one," he said, raising his voice a decibel or so, "NO ONE, is able to quote Pound from memory."

"The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals on a wet, black bough," you said.

"Well, yes, that's so," Whigham said, "but that's scarcely more than a crumb, isn't it?"

"A rather nice crumb," you said. "But nevertheless: 'The eyes of this dead lady speak to me/For here was love, was not to be drowned out./And here was desire, not to be kissed away./The eyes of this dead lady speak to me."

"Well, I suppose that's different," Whigham said.

"Canto Number one," you said.
"And then went down to the ship,
Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and
We set up mast and sail on that swart ship,
Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also
Heavy with weeping, and winds from sternward
Bore us onward with bellying canvas,
Crice's this craft, the trim-coiffed goddess."

"I'm thinking," Whigham said, "we'd better have a drink."

"That will only make it worse," you said, confessing that drinks often cause you to remember poems you thought you'd forgotten.

In spite of your best efforts to not remember or unremember Ezra Pound, because of his crazed anti-Semitism, his equally uninformed fondness for Il Fascismo, and his suggestions of the Donald Trump to come, you're able to stay on track because of the things he says about poetry, about persons in love, and persons trying to find the ways of self-expression.

True enough, you were able to dine with Rexroth, get into naughty limerick contests with him, get drunk at his parties and, according to his wife, come out only to gorge yourself on his banquet of olives. But Rexroth had his own idiosyncrasies, although nowhere near Pound's.

Most of the poets you find stored away in your memory were outliers, men and women of the margins. Why else would they become poets? Why else would you care?

Whigham's one book you know of is a translation of some of the poems of Catullus. While you were indeed having drinks with him, the spiritus fermenti did in fact cause you a rumble.

"You're a big, burly fellow,
"And yet people say,
"You act toward your friends
"In an unusual way.
"In spite of your size, sir,
"I very much fancy,
"The right name for you
"Is not Naso, but Nancy."

"Who put you up to this?" Whigham said.

"That's the trouble, isn't it?" you said. 



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