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April is Poetry Month! My Own Poet: A Modern Case for Poetry

abstract:Donna Pierce, librarian-turned public administrator-turned diplomat reflects on poetry's place in the information age, and her personal relationship with a certain Mr. Pound.


April 18, 2006

Though it brands me as out of step with the Information Age, I love poetry and have many poems and verses by heart (in itself a lovely phrase) which well up in my mind at any given moment and offer me comfort, or amusement, or a wry sense of deja vue.  Or that catch me up in a sudden perception of beauty, or pain, or poignant feeling; amazed (yet again) that lines fifty, a hundred, five hundred years old express so perfectly my experience in that moment—as though I recognize this brand new experience.

Poetry is the literary opposite of the factoid. Ever try to skim a poem?  Usually it is an exercise in futility.  A good poem does not yield itself up to the quick, casual perusal that is demanded of us if we are to keep up with even our chosen bits of the contemporary onslaught of information.  A poem demands that you meet it on its own terms, that you come away with it, surrender to its rhythms, its unique use of language, even to make an intuitive leap to apprehend its meaning.  (“Intuitive” here is as Carl Jung uses the term—a perception combining and transcending both intellect and feeling.)  Hurtling along in a world changing at an ever-accelerating pace, meaning, which requires time, becomes ever more elusive. ‘We don’t need more information,” my husband (a news junkie) frequently complains, “we need more meaning.”   That’s how he says it.  This is how the poet, David Whyte, says it:

This is not

the age of information.


This is not

the age of information.

Forget the news,

and the radio,

and the blurred screen.


This is the time

of loaves

and fishes.


People are hungry,

and one good word is bread

for a thousand.                                       

  “Loaves and Fishes”  from The House of Belonging by David Whyte, Many Rivers Press  1999

Poetry connects words, ideas, and images in unexpected ways; it has its own rhythm; it is distilled to the “right words in the right order,” it resonates. If it strikes deep, and especially if it is loved, it echoes forever in the mind. And then you have it: to savor, to ponder, to draw forth its secrets, its nuanced meaning, over time, as life is also unfolding.  There is one poet (no, I take it back, two, but the other is Shakespeare) who resonates in my mind and heart more than any other, Ezra Pound. Why? The closest I can come is just to say that Pound can speak directly to my core being like no other.

Pound is arguably the greatest poet of the 20th century (roll over, T.S. Eliot) but not the most politically correct, as Pound, living as an expatriate in Italy before and during World War II, became enamored of the ideas of Mussolini. In fact, after the war, he was arrested for making broadcasts on Italian radio and imprisoned in a cage (outdoors) in the American Detention Camp at Pisa for some months. He was about 60 years old. While he was there, he wrote the Pisan Cantos.  He was then taken to the U.S. to stand trial for treason, found unfit, and committed to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for the criminally insane.  Subsequently, the Pisan Cantos were awarded the Bollingen prize for poetry by the Library of Congress. 

But I will let Ezra Pound speak for himself; here are some lines from the Cantos:

                                                                                  … the sage

delighteth in water

         the humane man has amity with the hills

…as he was standing below the altars

             of the spirits of rain

   “When every hollow is full

             it moves forward”

to the phantom mountain above the cloud.

But in the caged panther’s eyes:

                                                    “Nothing. Nothing that you can do…”

green pool, under green of jungle,

caged: “Nothing. Nothing that you can do.”

Dryad, your eyes are like the clouds

Nor can he who has passed a month in the death cells

            believe in capital punishment

No man who has passed a month in the death cells

             believes in cages for beasts.

Dryad, your eyes are like the clouds over Taishan

    When some of the rain has fallen

     and half remains yet to fall.

With clouds over Taishan-Chorcorue

          when the blackberry ripens

and now the new moon faces Taishan

one must count by the dawn star

       Dryad, thy peace is like water

There is September sun on the pools.

This breath wholly covers the mountains

        It shines and divides

It nourishes by its rectitude

Does no injury

Overstanding the earth, it fills the nine fields

                To heaven.

                                                         from Canto LXXXIII

I have brought the great ball of crystal;

                              who can lift it?

Can you enter the great acorn of light?

             But the beauty is not the madness

Tho’ my errors and wrecks lie about me.

And  I am not a demi-god,

I cannot make it cohere.

If love be not in the house there is nothing.

To confess wrong without losing rightness:

Charity I have had sometimes,

                      I cannot make it flow through.

A little light, like a rushlight

                                    to lead back to splendor.

                                                                                from Canto CXVI

                                                        Nothing matters but the quality

of the affection—

in the end—that has carved the trace in the mind

dove sta memora  (where memory liveth)

                                                                                from Canto LXXVI

Demeter has lain in my furrow…

Wisdom lies next thee,

        simply, past metaphor.

Where I lie let the thyme rise

                                                   and basilicum

                   let the herbs rise in April abundant.                                      

The Cantos of Ezra Pound,New Directions  1972

This article is not a case for Pound; he is merely my poet.  You have one, too.  If you haven't embarked already, I wish you the joy of that journey of discovery.



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