Sunday, November 16, 2008

your PennSound daily

Mike Hennessey, PennSound's Managing Editor, daily composes your PennSound daily. That's Mike, looking at us on the right. Just go to the main PennSound page and you'll read Mike's thoughts on selected new recordings. You can subscribe using your favorite RSS reader.

In the latest daily, Mike turned his attention to the new episode of PoemTalk - the one on Pound's early poem, "Cantico del Sole." Here's what he says:

Listeners eagerly awaiting the latest installment of the PoemTalk podcast series need wait no longer — host Al Filreis is back with a new episode, the twelfth in the series. Joining Filreis this time, for a discussion of Ezra Pound's "Cantico del Sole," are his PennSound co-director, Charles Bernstein, Rachel Levitsky (this year's CPCW Fellow in Poetics and Poetic Practice) and Joshua Schuster (a longtime member of the UPenn community and an architect of the Kelly Writers House).

Bernstein begins by citing the differences in tone between the two recordings presented in the program — while the 1939 version is introspective, the 1958 rendition plays up the poem's satirical edge — a distinction Levitsky elides to depict the speaker's ambivalence. Filreis recalls that Pound studied the classics at UPenn, and that the poet translated Francis of Assisi's "Hymn of the Sun," which gives Pound's poem its name, as part of his masters thesis. This fact, taken together with a contemporary legal decision that the classics should be exempted from obscenity laws, since (as Pound reprints in the essay originally accompanying the poem) they "usually appeal to a comparatively limited number of readers," forms the context for the poem as both a lament for America's disinterest in classical (or any serious) literature, and also a glimpse towards a society in which the opposite were true.

Schuster is quick to point out that it's not a staid pedagogy rooted solely in the past that Pound is aiming for, but rather the "24-hour experimental poet world that the classics kinda suggest were in existence back then." Indeed, a society as receptive to the classics would be equally receptive to the contemporary avant-garde, and Schuster notes that, in Pound's time, certain notions of the avant-garde were precisely tied to revisiting the classics (H.D., for example).

Bernstein makes another connection, to the Canticle of Simeon (a devout Jew who was promised he'd live to see the coming savior), which raises the issue of the poem's sacrilegious tone as well as Pound's later anti-Semitism, and how one navigates that facet of his history in light of his work overall. He also points out how incompletely the allusions to both Assisi and Simeon are integrated within the multi-vocal palimpsest, which adds to both the poem's tensions — including the contradictions between its anti-Phillistine and elitist voices.

Filreis brings the conversation to a close by introducing the writings of Peter Wilson, who discusses the differences between the avant-garde's relation to mainstream society in the contemporary era (in which poets can more easily find an audience) versus Pound's time (where the Modernist ideal trended towards isolation and exclusivity). Schuster expands this notion to consider implications of medium and availability, suggesting that in the present, the avant-garde is not rereading the classics, but rather fully embracing and exploiting technological means to develop and share new ideas, a rubric into which sites such as this one neatly fit (and be sure to listen through to the end, where Bernstein parodies Pound's parody, by sharing how "the thought of what America would be like if PennSound had a wide circulation" troubles his sleep).

PoemTalk's next episode will see the show go on the road, to New York City, where Filreis, along with Bernstein, Nada Gordon and Lawrence Joseph will discuss a late poem by Wallace Stevens. In the meantime, be sure to visit PoemTalk's homepage, where you can download the first dozen episodes and find more information about the poems and panelists, along with listener comments.