Sunday, December 3, 2017

On reading the Cantos

"When we read late Pound we wade through a river of allusion which runs hard on a love story beneath.

This is the grand tension of this impossible poem. Capaciousness – the welcoming in of all sorts of voices, sources, modes and interference – is the Cantos’ great gift to poetry, but it is equally its damage. It is so tempting to read only for those fine lyrical refrains, and to overlook the bitty, argumentative interference: to read, that is, as magpies, picking at the pieces; but we may not. For the Cantos do not permit a simple opposition between poetry and history, or beauty and politics, or between reading as a poet and reading as an academic.  Instead, we must ferret out the footnotes, must consult the guides and speak with the scholars, before we can make any sense of them. The Cantos ask of us this care: that we expend our time in their unpacking.

This is, however, a trap. For the Cantos are an artwork which demands forty years of attention – many have devoted their working life to precisely this – and once a reader has expended such care , he or she is bound to assume that its object has been worthwile. It is the care which ennobles the subject, and this is how Pound converts literary critics into disciples. It is not possible to be a casual reader of the Cantos. 

It is perhaps, not possible to read them as a poem".

Daniel Swift, The Bughouse p. 240