Ezra Pound
New Selected Poems and Translations
Richard Sieburth, Editor
(New Directions)
"When a rapper jumps on a beat, he adds his own rhythm," said the noted critic Jay-Z.

    Sometimes you stay in the pocket of the beat and just let the rhymes land on the square so that the beat and flow become one. But sometimes the flow chops up the beat, breaks the beat into smaller units, forces the multiple syllables and repeated sounds and internal rhymes, or hangs a drunken leg over the last bap and keeps going sneaks out of that bitch.

This all appeared in a recent New Yorker, along with a quote from Professor Adam Bradley. No matter what we may think of it, he says, rap is the poetry "that is being heard throughout the world." It is, as Ezra Pound would have it, "the news that stays news."

Bradley observes, "Thanks to the engines of global commerce, rap is now the most widely disseminated poetry in the history of the world." He quotes from Rakim, Jay-Z, Tupac, points out that "they deserve consideration alongside the giants of American poetry. We ignore them at our own expense." Walt Whitman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams ... take heed. Ezra Pound: you too.

Outside the Library of America behemoth Ezra Pound --- Poems and Translations, this New Selected Poems and Translations is probably going to be all you need if you want to desert Jay-Z and revisit one of the old mavens. And by rereading many of his most famous poems, it was all I needed to prove to myself that Pound was and is vastly overrated, and that fatuous was his middle name, solipsistic obscurity his deepest love. Rap this ain't:

    That your eyes come forth from their caves
         & light then
              as the holly-leaf
           qui laborat, orat
    Thus Undine came to the rock
                by Cicero
    and the stone eyes again looking seaward
       Thus Apollonius
           (if it was Apollonius)
    & Helen of Tyre
          by Pithagoras
          by Ocellus
    pilot fish, et libidnis expers, of Tyre,
    Justinian, Theodora
              from brown leaf and twig

etc, etc, blah-blah yawn gleep. We offer a ten years subscription, free, to anyone who can, in simple English, translate this fol-de-rol, make it sensible, much less sensitive.

As F. Scott Fitzgerald was a one-novel man (The Great Gatsby), Ruggero Leoncavallo a one-opera composer (Pagliacci), William Van Alen a one-edifice architect (the Chrysler Building) ... so, for many of us, Pound is a one-shot poet: "The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter."

And it's not even his. It's a translation from the Chinese original by Rihaku.

All the rest, as far as we can figure, is nothing but gibberish.

Elegant gibberish, but gibberish nonetheless.

--- A. W. Allworthy
Send us e-mail


Go Home

Go to the most recent RALPH