Friday, December 14, 2007

Secret Life

Poetry has decided to put all of its poems on-line. So you, too, can enjoy this one by Li-Young Lee, "Secret Life," a nice companion to David Orr's "Daniel," which I posted a note about yesterday.

Lee's poem wonderfully captures how children will get completely absorbed in what they are doing—but as soon as they do not know where their parents are, then the absorption will disappear, making "the one who hears the dove more alone."

I read Lee's The Book of My Nights on a train from Kalamazoo to Chicago in October, 2002, and I was transported not only by the train but also by the book. "Secret Life" also creates the special effect of Lee's best work, which I am at a loss to characterize right now. Looking through that book, I found the phrase "a terrifying and abundant yes" (from the poem "The Well"). That will do nicely for now. (That phrase was cited by William Logan in his review of the book in The New Criterion as "moony silliness" and "beautiful mush." Oh well.)


There are some other superb childhood poems in the same issue of Poetry, in the selection of contemporary Italian poems guest edited by Geoffrey Brock: "Slide," by Umberto Fiori (trans. by Brock), "For My Daughter," by Antonella Anedda (trans. by Sarah Arvio), and "Night Visit," by Swiss poet Fabio Pusterla (trans. by Brock).

My other favorite from that selection—one definitely not about children—is the sly and startling "Hygiene," by Raffaello Baldini (trans. by Adria Bernardi).


Also worthy of note is "The Arrow Has Not Two Points," Clive James's dismantling of Ezra Pound and the Cantos. James writes from an interesting perspective: he once loved the Cantos (almost fifty years ago), then he later decided they were bunk. But now, he has reread them, to see if they really are bunk. His conclusion: they are bunk. His never fully stated implication: people who think they are brilliant are, like his younger self, too easily impressed by Pound's statements about his own work, as well as statements made by others, so they end up not looking closely at what Pound actually wrote, which is a bunch of tedious nonsense interspersed with "Imagist" passages that turn out to be as insipid, unspecific, or nonsensical as they are supposed to be original, grounded, and meaningful.

Now I'm waiting for Silliman's shredding of James ...


ADDENDUM (thanks Swiss Lounge): Check out the archival material on Pound at the Poetry website, especially the fantastic slideshow of Poetry's publication of various Cantos over the years (see the bottom of the archive page for the link). It's worth looking at just for the Tables of Contents of the issues with Cantos in them!

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