Saturday, August 8, 2009
TC: Poetic Encounters
When Robert Lowell's Life Studies came out in 1959 it became for me not so much the occasion of a life study (I was too young for that) as a growth-stunting life-changer. I bent myself out of shape ransacking every nook and cranny of my limited personal experiential materium for sources of jagged discomfort to inflate along Lowellian lines, and ambled slowly past the house where old man Hemingway (Ernie's dad) had committed suicide, reciting to myself in my tender unformed mind Lowell's poem about his dad's deathbed bathos. "I don't feel so good," was not that the classic anticlimax of all time?
Hung with him as a faithful follower through Imitations. Baudelaire, Montale, Rimbaud, Pasternak Heine, who didn't sound exactly like Lowell in Lowell's brilliant waspish hands? Fell away sometime around For the Union Dead...
Happened at the height of my Lowell devotion to encounter Robert Frost, who told of a recent meeting with Cal. Keep in mind to RF Lowell appeared a part of a Yankee lineage that involved a burden and a responsibility. RF did not believe that In dreams begin responsibilities, he saw it 'tother way round. If that.
The snowy haired elder spoke with great disgust. "I saw Cal last week. Awfully drunk, hmm. He was lying on his back on the floor weeping, talking about his stigmata. Balderdash! I told him to get up and he did. And he grabbed my necktie and pinned me against the wall and said, 'Who's a better poet, Dick Wilbur or me?!'"
RF asked me what poet interested me. I said Pound. He said, "I'll bet you can't tell me one line he ever wrote!"
I said The apparition of these faces in the crowd, petals on a wet black bough. (Two for the price of one.)
The crusty old coot exploded, "Haarumph!"
He then said, "When I went to London Ezra Pound was sitting in his bathtub. All the Americans who had just got off the boat from home, they were all sitting in a circle around the bathtub. Ezra would dictate their poems to them. Hah! That's what they called Imagism!"
Robert Frost: U.S. stamp, issued 26 March 1974
Robert Traill Spence Lowell IV: photo from Harvard Square Library
Ezra Pound: mug shot taken by U.S. armed forces in Italy, 26 May, 1945