August 22, 2008

Ezra Pound's Bel Esprit

Thanks to all those people who answered the call I sent out in my last post and contributed dedications. Have a look at the comments, everyone! I liked Moocho's leap into the realm of poetry which started me thinking about how back during the snows of yesteryear entire poems were dedications, "To Lucasta, going to the wars", the noble Lovelace's riddle, or the gorgeous ripe fruit which is Andrew Marvell’s “To his coy mistress”, with that once-in-a-lifetime line “Had we but world enough, and time”.

That revolutionary poet TS Eliot loved classical citations and the epigraph Moocho quotes from "The Waste Land" is from the Satyricon. It is followed by a simple “to Ezra Pound, il miglior fabbro”. This phrase from Dante's Purgatory does not mean “the better craftsman” as I have seen in notes. It means “The best craftsman” .

You can view Pound's enormous contribution to the Ars Wastelandia by requesting The Waste Land: a facsimile and transcript of the original drafts including the annotations of Ezra Pound from the library. The reproduction is so good that it's almost spooky to hold it in your hands, especially my copy, which I was able to get at a library bargain book sale because of its coffee stains. "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons" it whispers to me.

I am one of the many who prefer Eliot to Pound as a poet, although I want a dedicated minority of Pound fanatics, just like I want there to be Mac users around. For personality, Pound has it all over Eliot. In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway’s belles-lettres memoir about being young and poor and eager in Paris in the 1920’s, there is a great piece about Pound founding Bel Esprit, in partnership with an American expat who has a little Greek temple in her garden. Through Bel Esprit, Pound is going to solicit money from artistic souls in order to spring "Mr Eliot" from his job at the bank so he can concentrate on writing poetry.

Hemingway campaigns enthusiastically for Bel Esprit because it is so important to Ezra, although, with that streak of meanness noted by many of his contemporaries (but not Ezra), he makes a point of annoying Ezra by pretending to confuse Mr Eliot the poet with Major Eliot, a radical economist Pound admired. Then Eliot unexpectedly wins a literary prize and gets out of the bank by himself. Hemingway writes tenderly “It was always a disappointment to me that we had not been able to get the Major out of the bank by Bel Esprit alone, as in my dreams I had pictured him as coming, perhaps, to live in the small Greek temple and that maybe I could go with Ezra when we would drop in to crown him with laurel.”

Ezra Pound’s grave, which I saw in the San Michele Cemetery in Venice, is marked by a slab of marble with nothing on it but his name in a plain Roman font. Ivy grows all around and visitors have left arrangements of pebbles, possibly representing the stepping stones in Japanese gardens. It would be good to place a rice cake there too, and a nightingale singing above.

"I wrapped my tears in an ellum leaf
and left them under a stone
And now men call me mad because I have thrown
all folly from me, putting it aside
To leave the old barren ways of man."

August 05, 2008

Dedicated to the one I love

syndetics-lc syndetics-lc

I had an unexpected treat last night when I stopped off to pick up my reserves before leaving the library and found that two spanking new books were waiting for me: James Keldon’s Kieron Smith, boy, and Pilcrow by Adam Mars-Jones.

It was the first time I had ever reserved books from reading reviews in the TLS and there was something serendipitous in the way they arrived together, both British, both hefty, both beige, one announcing “the greatest British novelist of our times” and the other “twice named one of Granta’s best of young British novelists”, and both tales about boyhood. It was like having two new friends drop round, sent by some old and distinguished acquaintance but who promised a certain raffishness for all of that.

I puzzled therefore when I started turning the pages of James Kelman’s book and something seemed wrong. I had to look twice. No dedication!! I hastily grabbed Pilcrow. Surely Adam Mars-Jones with that portentous name, at once biblical and mythological, will have something good!

"Dedicated to the Patient Ones, Holly, Keith and Lisa”. Having heard Mars-Jones described as waspish, not to mention brilliant and gay, I don’t believe that this is a variation on that most boring of all dedications used by so many male authors "To my wife, who put up with my – slot in two cute things-- far longer than anyone should have". But if not that, what? A clue, we need a clue!

Don't these people realise how important dedications are? Even if authors' livelihoods don't depend on them anymore, a dedication is an artistic ritual. It’s a drop of blood, a distillation of something important, which the author invites us – poised on the brink – to imagine, and if we’re so inclined, even to share. Here are two of my cult dedications:

from Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey 

"To my mother and father-
 Who told me songs were for the birds
Then taught me all the tunes I know
 And a good deal of the words."

and this from The Motorcycle Betrayal Poems by Diane Wakoski 

"This book is dedicated to all those men who betrayed me at one time or another, in hopes they will fall off their motorcycles and break their necks."

How many of you out there have a dedication or two locked away in your heart of bibliohearts? This is dedicated to you.

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