Archive for the 'Imagism' Category

Jean Toomer

October 31, 2006

jean-toomer.jpg
(1894-1967)

Born to racially mixed parents: his father left soon after his birth and his mother died when he was 15, after which he lived with his grandparents
Grew up in Washington, D.C. and New Rochelle, New York
His light-skinned appearance allowed him to live alternately as a black and a white person
Attended five different colleges after high school and never received a degree
Wrote experimental poetry that was indebted to imagism, urbanism, and East Asian poetic forms
Protested against fallacious racial stereotypes
Wrote one of the classic books of American literature with “Cane”: alternates lyric poems with prose pieces and combines features of the Harlem Renaissance and the modernist movement
Many of his poems’ speakers bear witness to the difficult and often heroic struggles of an oppressed people sustained by their culture and community
After “Cane”, Toomer abandoned his racial subject matter and commenced a spiritual quest that would occupy him for the rest of his life
Became a follower of the European mysic George Gurdjieff who advocated a personal transofmation into heightened awareness
In the mid-1930’s Toomer and his wife and daughter turn from Gurdjieff to the Quaker Society of Friends
For 15 years he wrote religious treatises, autobiographies and unpublished poems

Quotations:

A cow-hoof imprint / pressed against the under-asphalt of / Fifth Avenue, sustains it
The osseous teat of an inverted cow / spurts s k y s c r a p e r s / against a cloud / racing to / dusk, / and / it / sprays / in / num / er / ab / le / blunk peaks against / the milky-way.

-Skyline (in whole)

Hair – braided chestnut, / Coiled like a lyncher’s rope / Eyes – fagots, / Lips – old scars, or the first red blisters, / Breath – the last weet scent of cane, / And her slim body, white as the ash / Of black flesh after flame.

-Portrait in Georgia (in whole)

H.D.

October 30, 2006

hd.jpg
(1886-1961)

Hilda Doolittle
First poet to publish a poem that was identified as “imagist”
Born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to an upper-middle class family: father was a professor of astronomy and mother was an artist who taught painting and music
Belonged to the Moravian faith, a Protestant denomination that seeks to recapture the original vitality of Christianity by strictly adhering to the word of the Bible: H.D. did not practice as an adult, but its mysticism effected her poetic career
Attended Bryn Mawr for three terms but left without a degree: became friends with William Carlos Williams and dated Ezra Pound
Became briefly engaged to Pound, who remained a lifelong friend
Left for Europe in 1911 with her then lover, Frances Gregg, and remained in Europe for the rest of her life
Published three poems in “Poetry” that simultaneously established her literary identity as “H.D.” and founded the imagist movement: Pound created the title “Imagiste” to attract attention to Doolittle’s work and unintentionally began the poetry movement
Married Richard Aldington, a British poet and imagist: separated from him and had an affair with Cecil Gray which produced her only child; Perdita: met Bryher who became her companion for 28 years
Poetry takes an interest in the world of antiquity and myths: wrote narrative poems that revised Greek, Egyptian, and biblical stories in a mystical, feminist way
Strove to find a new beauty
Following her separation from Bryher, Doolittle broke down and was hospitalized in a Swiss clinic
Remained in Switzerland and Italy until the end of her life: spent her last years in hotel rooms
Her gravestone lies flat in Nisky Hill Cemetary, Bethlehem, Penn., and usually has sea shells on it, left in tribute: it bears lines from her poem “Epitaph:”

“So you may say, / Greek flower; Greek ecstasy / reclaims forever / one who died / following intricate song’s / lost measure.”

Quotations:

Rose, harsh rose, / marred and with stint of petals, / meagre flower, thin, / sparse of leaf,
more precious / than a wet rose, / single on a stem- / you are caught in the drift.
Stunted, with small leaf, / you are flung on the sand, / you are lifted / in the crisp sand / that drives in the wind.
Can the spice-rose / drip such acrid fragrance / hardened in a leaf?

-Sea Rose (in whole)

All Greece hates / the still eyes in the white face, / the lustre as of olives / where she stands, / and the white hands.
All Greece reviles / the wan face when she smiles, / hating it deeper still / when it grows wan and white, / remembering past enchantments / and past ills.
Greece sees unmoved, / God’s daughter, born of love, / the beauty of cool feet / and slenderest knees, / could love indeed he maid, / only if she were laid, / white as amid funereal cypresses.

-Helen (in whole)

Helen was the daughter of Zeus who appeared in the guise of a swan to the mortal woman Leda and impregnated her

I have had enough. / I gasp for breath.
Every way ends, / every road, every foot-path leads at last / to the hill-crest- / then you retrace your steps, / or find the same slope on the other side, / precipitate.
I have had enough- / border-pinks, clove-pinks, wax-lilies, / herbs, sweet-cress.
O for some sharp swish of a branch – / there is no scent of resin / in this place, / no taste of bark, of coarse weeds, / aromatic, astringent – / only border on border of scented pinks.
Have you seen fruit under cover / that wanted light – / pears wadded in cloth, / protected from the frost, / melons, almost ripe, / smothered in straw?
Why not let the pears cling / to the empty branch? / All your coaxing will only make / a bitter fruit – / let them cling, ripen of themselves, / test their own worth, / nipped, shrivelled by the frost, / to fall at last but fair / with a russet coat.
Or the melon – / let it bleach yellow / in the winter light, / even tart to the taste – / it is better to taste of frost – / the exquisite frost – / than of wadding and of dead grass.
For this beauty, / beauty without strength, / chokes out life. / I want wind to break, / scatter these pink-stalks, / snap off their spiced heads, / fling them about with dead leaves – / spread the paths with twigs, / limbs broken off, / trail great pine branches, / hurled from some far wood / right across the melon-patch, / break pear and quince – / leave half-trees, torn, twisted / but showing the fight was valiant.
O to blot out this garden / to forget, to find a new beauty / in some terrible wind-tortured place.

-Sheltered Garden (in whole)

I know not what to do, / my mind is reft: / is song’s gift best? / is love’s gift loveliest? / I know not what to do, / now sleep has pressed / weight on your eyelids.
Shall I break your rest, / devouring, eager? / is love’s gift best? / nay, song’s the loveliest: / yet were you lost, / what rapture / could I take from song? / what song were left?

-Fragment Thirty-six

Walter Arensberg

October 24, 2006

walter-arensberg.jpg
(1878-1954)

Major Dadaist figure
Majored in English and philosophy at Harvard University
Arensberg and his wife, Louise, were wealthy art collectors who purchased most of the works of the avant-garde French artist Marcel Duchamp
Thought poetry should appeal to

“all those alive without formula”

Described Dada poems as being representative of

“all that is young, alive, sporting”

Quotations:

Ing? Is it possible to mean ing? / Suppose / for the termination in g / a disoriented / series / of simple fractures / in sleep / Soporific / has accordingly a value for soap / so present to / sew pieces. / And p says: Peace is. / And suppose the i / to be bing in ing / As Beginning / Then Ing is to ing / as aloud / accompanied by times / and the meaning is apossibility / of ralsis.

-Ing (in whole)

Displays Arensberg’s exuberant and inconoclastic wordplay
puns, phonic repetitions, homophones, and invented words

Else von Freytag-Loringhoven

October 24, 2006

 else-von-freytag-loringhoven.jpg
(1874-1927)

Leading Dadaist figure
Born on Polish-German border under a different, less regal name, the abused child of a stonemason
Arrived in the US. in 1909 after having lived a life filled with name changes, job changes, husbands, and lovers
Assumed her title of baroness through marriage to a man who soon left her
Lived in Greenwhich Village, New York working menial jobs, modeling for artists, and committing petty crimes
Arrived at parties wearing a birdcage or a bustle with a taillights
Produced art objects out of garbage
Improvised poems out of the words and images that chanced her way
Returned to Europe and became involved during this time in a bisexual affair with novelist Djuna Barnes, and she idolized Barnes for the remainder of her lifetime
Died in Paris when someone (it is suggested that it was a previous lover) snuck into her room and turned on the gas
Referred to in Pound’s Cantos as a woman living by

“the principle of non-acquiescence”

Mary Anne Caws describes her as

“the author of texts as bizarre as her outfits”

Quotations:

City stir- -wind on eardrum- – / dancewind : herbstained – – / flowerstained- -silken- -rustling- – / tripping- -swishing- -frolicking- – / courtesing- -careening- -brushing- – / flowing- -lying down- -bending- – / teasing- -kissing : treearms- -grass- – / limbs- -lips. / City stir on eardrum- -. / In night lonely / peers- -: / moon- -riding ! / pale- -with beauty aghast- – / too exalted to share ! / in space blue- -rides she away from mine chest- – / illumined strangely- – / appalling sister !
Herbstained- -flowerstained- – / shellscented- -seafaring- – / foresthunting- -junglewise- – / desert gazing- – / rides heart from chest- – / lashing with beauty- – / afleet- – / across chimney- – / tinfoil river- – / to meet- – / another’s dark heart- –
Bless mine feet !

-Appalling Heart (in whole)

Kaleidoscopic text suggests a scene both urban and natural, and an interior life marked by psychic mobility

It is- -is it- – ? / heart white sheet ! / kiss it / flame beat ! / in chest midst / print teeth / bite- –  – –   – –  / this green / ponderous night.

-Is It? (in whole)

Amy Lowell

October 3, 2006

lowell_amy.jpg
(1874-1925)

Amy Lawrence Lowell
Born into a wealthy and prestigious family
Quarreled with Ezra Pound over who should lead the imagist movement: Unlike Pound, Lowell did not think that imagist poetry needed to be obscure: Pound declared her type of poetry “Amygism”
Advocated a clean poetic line, devoid of sentimentality and conventional meter
Composed volumes of translation and creative writing in Orientalism
Received a Pulitzer Prize in 1926, a year after her death
Promoted Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman for their infusion of Asian aesthetics into their poetry
Presented poetry in theatrical readings: created a cult following traveling the country
Open homosexual: wrote many love poems to her partner Ada Dwyer Russell
Wrote the longest sequence of lesbian love poetry in the U.S. before Adrienne Rich: wrote pioneering texts in the lesbian-feminist tradition

Quotations:

Across the newly-plastered wall, / The darting red dragonflies / Is like the shooting / Of blood-tipped arrows.

-In Time of War (in whole)

Translation of a Japanese poem
Completed during major Allied offensives in WWI

This afternoon was the colour of water falling through sunlight; / The trees glittered with the tumbling of leaves; / The sidewalks shone like alleys of dropped maple leaves, / And the houses ran along them laughing out of square, open windows. / Under a tree in the park, / Two little boys, lying flat on their faces, / Were carefully gathering red berries / To put in a pasteboard box. / Some day there will be no war, / Then I shall take out this afternoon / And turn it in my fingers, / And remark the sweet taste of it upon my palate, / And note the crisp variety of its flights of leaves. / To-day I can only gather it / And put it into my lunch box, / For I have time for nothing / But the endeavour to balance myself / Upon a broken world.

-September, 1918 (in whole)

September 1918 was an important period for the Allied offensive in WWI
Speaker sees the beauty in the afternoon, but won’t take pleasure in it until the war is over: questions what a poem should be like in a time of war; what is poetry’s role during war

The day is fresh-washed and fair, and there is a smell of tulips and narcissus in the air. / The sunshine pours in at the bath-room window and bores through the water in the bath-tub in lathes and planes of greenish-white. It cleaves the water into flaws like a jewel, and cracks it to bright light. / Little spots of sunshine lie on the surface of the water and dance, dance, and their relfections wobble deliciously over the ceiling; a stir of my fingers sets them whirring, reeling. I move a foot and the planes of light in the water jar. I lie back and laugh, and let the green-white water, the sun-flawed beryl water, flow over me. The day is almost too bright to bear, the green water covers me from the too bright day. I will lie here awhile and play with the water and the sun spots. The sky is blue and high. A crow flaps by the window, and there is a whiff of tulips and narcissus in the air.

– Bath (in whole)

An example of what Lowell called ‘polyphonic prose’: described as a form that makes use of all the voices of poetry (free verse, meter, assonance, conosance, alliteration, rhyme, and circular return)

I put your leaves aside, / One by one: / The stiff, broad outer leaves; / The smaller ones, / Pleasant to touch, veined with purple; / The glazed inner leaves. / One by one. / I parted you from your leaves, / Until you stood up like a white flower / Swaying slightly in the evening wind.
White flower, / Flower of wax, of jade, of unstreaked agate; / Flower with surfaces of ice, / With shadows faintly crimson. / Where in all the garden is there such a flower? / The stars crowd through the lilac leaves / To look at you. / The low moon brightens you with silver. / The bud is more than calyx. / There is nothing to equal a white bud, / Of no colour, and of all; / Burnished by moonlight, / Thrust upon by a softly-swinging wind.

-The Weathervane Points South (in whole)

An example of Lowell’s term ‘cadenced verse’: which encompassed Asian and French poetic forms
First published in Vanity Fair
Comparable to Georgia O’Keeffe’s representation of the white flower in her artwork: both women were influenced by the “Boston Orientalists” of the late 19th century

“The poets in this volume do not represent a clique. Several of them are personally unknown to the others, but they are united by certain common principles arrived at independently. These principles are not new; they have fallen into desuetude. They are the essentials of all great poetry, indeed of all great literature, and they are simple these:-
1.  To use the language of common speech, but to employ always the exact word, not the nearly-exact, nor the merely decorative word.
2.  To create new rhythms- as the expression of new moods- and not to copy old rhythms, which merely echo old moods. We do not insist upon ‘free-verse’ as the only method of writing poetry. We fight for it as for a principle of liberty. We believe that the individuality of a poet may often be better expressed in free-verse than in conventional forms. In poetry, a new cadence means a new idea.
3.  To allow absolute freedom in the choice of subject. It is not good art to write badly about aeroplanes and automobiles; nor is it necessarily bad art to write well about the past. We believe passionately in the artistic value of modern life, but we wish to point out that there is nothing so uninspiring nor so old-fashioned as an aeroplane of the year 1911.
4.  To present an image (hence the name: ‘Imagist’). We are not a school of painters, but we believe that poetry should render particulars exactly and not deal in vague generalities, however magnificent and sonorous. It is for this reason that we oppose the cosmic poet, who seems to us to shirk the real difficulties of his art.
5.  To produce poetry that is hard and clear, never blurred nor indefinite.
6.  Finally, most of us believe that concentration is of the very essence of poetry.”

-Some Imagist Poets, Preface

Ezra Pound

June 16, 2006

pound.jpg
(1885-1972)

American expatriate, poet, musician, critic, and economist
Major figure of the modernist movement in early 20th century poetry
Driving force behind several modernist movements, notably Imagism and Vorticism
Quarreled with Amy Lowell on what Imagism poetry should be
W. B. Yeats’ secretary
Largely responsible for the appearance of Imagism and Vorticism during WWI
One of the first poets to successfully employ free verse
Motto was ‘Make It New’
Introduced Provencal and Chinese poetry to English speaking audiences
Important figure for the poets of the Beat generation
Born in Hailey, Idaho but his family soon moved east, settling in a Philadelphia suburb
Father worked as an assistant assayer of the U.S. Mint: Pound’s confident individuality may have stemmed from his father’s strong support
At 15 years old, Pound entered the University of Pennsylvania where he met William Carlos Williams
Briefly courted Hilda Doolittle
Early poetry tended toward the ornate: influenced by his studies in medieval Provencal and Spanish verse
Soon rejected this early mode (later referred to his first book as ‘stale cream-puffs’)
WWI shattered Pound’s belief in modern western civilization 
Supporter of Mussolini and anti-Semitism: revisited America and lobbied U.S. congressmen in an attempt to avert the oncoming WWII, began regular shortwave radio broadcasts to America criticizing President Roosevelt and the Allied ware effort and expressing anti-Semitic views
Was indicted for treason and arrested by American authorities following the defeat of Germany and placed in the U.S. Army Disciplinary Training Center near Pisa where he was confined to a solitary steel pen exposed to the elements and suffered a physical breakdown
Was again indicted for treason but was found medically unfit to stand trial: was committed to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for the Criminally Insane where he would stay utnil 1958: was visited by many leading American poets
The efforts of Frost, Hemingway, Eliot and others led to Pound’s release and return to Italy
In later years Pound suffered frequently from depression and had long bouts of extensive silence
He once said,

“I did not enter into silence. Silence captured me.”

Was stimulated into speech by a visit from Allen Ginsbergand at that time apologized for his earlier anti-Semitism as ‘that stupid, suburban prejudice’
Died in Venice at the age of eighty-seven
Quotations:

While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead / I played about the front gate, pulling flowers. / You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse, / You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums. / And we went on living in the village of Chokan: / Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.
At fourteen I married My Lord you. / I never laughed, being bashful. / Lowering my head, I looked at the wall. / Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.
At fifteen I stopped scowling, / I desired my dust to be mingled with yours / Forever and forever and forever. / Why should I climb the lookout?
At sixteen you departed, / You went into far Ku-to-en, by the river of swirling eddies, / And you have been gone five months. / The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.
You dragged your feet when you went out. / By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses, / Too deep to clear them away! / The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind. / The paired butterflies are already yellow with August / Over the grass in the West garden; / They hurt me. I grow older. / If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang, / Please let me know beforehand, / And I will come out to meet you
As far as Cho-fo-Sa.
-Rihaku (Li T’ai Po), eighth century A.D.

-The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter (in whole)

The tree has entered my hands, / The sap has ascended my arms, / The tree has grown in my breast- / Downward, / The branches grow out of me, like arms.
Tree you are, / Moss you are, / You are violets with wind above them. / A child – so high – you are, / And all this is folly to the world.

-A Girl (in whole)

No, no! Go from me. I have left her lately. I will not spoil my sheath with lesser brightness, / For my surrounding air hath a new lightness; / Slight are her arms, yet they have bound me straightly / And left me cloaked as with a gauze of aether; / As with sweet leaves; as with subtle clearness. / Oh, I have picked up magic in her nearness / To sheathe me half in half the things that sheathe her. / No, no! Go from me. I have still the flavour, / Soft as spring wind that’s come from birchen bowers. / Green come the shoots, aye April in the branches, / As winter’s wound with her sleight hand she staunches, / Hath of the trees a likeness of the savour: / As white as their bark, so white this lady’s hours.

-A Virginal (in whole)

Title refers to the plucked keyboard instrument on which such a song as this might have been accompanied

I make a pact with you, Walt Whitman- / I have detested you long enough. / I come to you as a grown child / Who has had a pig-headed father; / I am old enough now to make friends. / It was you that broke the new wood, / Now is a time for carving. / We have one sap and one root- / Let there be commerce between us.

-A Pact (in whole)

Initially resisted Whitman’s influence until 1909 when he wrote from Europe that “I am for the first time able to read Whitman… I see him as America’s poet. He is America.”

“An ‘Image’ is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time. I use the term ‘complex’ rather in the technical sense employed by the newer psychologists, such as Hart, though we might not agree absolutely in our application.
It is the presentation of such a ‘complex’ instantaneiously wich gives that sense of sudden liberation; that sense of freedom from time limits and space limits; that sense of sudden growth, which we experience in the presence of the greatest works of art.
It is better to present one Image in a lifetime than to produce voluminous works.
All this, however, some may consider open to debate. The immediate necessity is to tabulate A LIST OF DON’TS for those beginning to write verses. But I can not put all of them into Mosaic negative.
To begin with, consider the tree rules recorded by Mr. Flint, not as dogma 0 never consider anything as dogma- but as the result of long contemplation, which, even if it is some one else’s contemplation, may be worth consideration.
Pay no attention to the criticism of men who have never themselves written a notable work. Consider the discrepancies between the actual writing of the Greek poets and dramatists, and the theories of the Graeco-Roman grammarians, concocted to explain their metres.

-A Few Dos and Don’ts

The vortex is the point of maximum energy.
It represents, in mechanics, the greatest efficience.
We use the words ‘greatest efficiency’ in the precise sense- as they would be used in a text book of MECHANICS.
You may think of a man as that toward which perception moves. You may think of him as the TOY of circumstance, as the plastic substance RECEIVING impressions.
OR you may think of him as DIRECTING  a certain fluid force against circumstance, as CONCEIVING instead of merely observing and reflecting.

-Vortex

The Cantos (1922)

Incomplete poem in 120 sections
Themes of economics, governance, and culture
Includes Chinese characters as well as quotations in European languages

In a Station of the Metro (1926)

“A poem of this sort one is trying to record the precise instant when a thing outward and objective transforms itself, or darts into a thing inward and subjective.”

“Three years ago in Paris I got out of a “metro” train at La Concorde, and saw suddenly a beautiful face, and then another and another, and then a beautiful child’s face, and then another beautiful woman, and I tried all that day to find words for what this had meant to me, and I could not find any words that seemed to me worthy, or as lovely as that sudden emotion. And that evening I found, suddenly, the expression. I do not mean that I found words, but there came an equation… not in speech, but in little splotches of colour…”

Quotations:

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