On Reading the Cantos

Ezra Pound is one of those poets who tends to intimidate people, and as I finish up reading A Draft of XXX Cantos I can certainly see why. I imagine he would have been okay with that, though. Judging from his ABC of Reading, he was what you might call a “poet’s poet.” He didn’t seem to have much patience for the lazy student of poetry, though in both the ABC and the Cantos he does help the student – the truly interested student – where he can, at least in his own way.

For example, on first opening the Cantos, one notices how there seems to be little connection between different passages. Worse, these passages tend to make use of many historical and literary figures, some well-known and some obscure, and though the primary language of the poem is English, he even throws in an assortment of other languages.

So, what the hell’s going on? First of all, don’t panic. Just read. In the ABC of Reading, Pound places more stress on what he calls “melopoeia,” the sound of the language, than on “phanopoeia,” the meaning of the language. If the reader can at least appreciate the sound of Pound’s work, then he already understands a great part of the Cantos.

As for the meaning, it helps to be widely read. The Odyssey and the Divine Commedy are referenced often. Reading Pound’s ABC of Reading is also a great primer for the Cantos, since he introduces the reader to his own philosophy of writing and reading poetry, and also gives examples of works he considers especially worthwhile in the Western literary tradition.
Luckily, all of Pound’s references can be traced to specific people and characters from history and literature, as opposed to, say, Symbolist poets who sometimes give few hints for what they’re talking about. Furthermore, whenever an idea is especially important, Pound will expound on it for a while before moving on, which at least helps hint what parts of the Cantos the reader ought to focus on, and also gives some additional material to work with.

Also of importance is what Pound refers to in ABC as the “ideogrammic method.” In short, this involves juxtaposing two or more images or ideas to convey another idea. He draws this from his study of Chinese ideograms, where more complex characters are formed by combining simpler characters.
So, in the first section of the first Canto, Pound presents a translation of the Odyssey. Why? The Odyssey is by Homer, the oldest epic poet in the Western tradition, and the section he translates was, at the time, thought to be the oldest part of the Odyssey. The ideogrammic method comes in because he translates it into Anglo-Saxon verse form, the oldest form of poetry in the English language. What’s the ideogram? That he intends to make use of the Western literary tradition in this poem, and will be going back to the oldest parts of this tradition.

See? That’s not so hard, is it?

Okay, yeah it’s still pretty tough, but that’s what annotated editions are for……

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11th Hour, 11th Day, 11th Month

On this day, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, in A.D. 1918, ended what is possibly the most catastrophic event in human history. The Great War, as those involved called it, or the First World War, involved some of the most brutal fighting mankind has yet engaged in.

The word “tragedy” is overused in describing public events, but the Great War certainly fits, because most of those involved  were scarred, emotionally if not physically, or killed through no real fault of their own. Most of the combatants were drafted, and while most of the major wars in modern history have at least some pretext, the Great War was astoundingly unnecessary and wasteful.

Though the number of living veterans is now small, the impact of the war remains. Even the war’s political ramifications – great as they are – gradually dissipate. What, then, is the Great War’s relevance to the modern world? I can think of two reasons why the war is still relevant.

First, as one of history’s best reminders that the government is not your friend.

Second, its impact on art and literature. Very few writers of the early twentieth century were unaffected by the Great War, and its impact can be felt in most major works from the years following the war. Some of the greatest poets of their generation were themselves veterans, such as Siegfried Sassoon. Others were killed in the fighting, such as Wilfred Owen. No doubt other great men died who never had any chance to develop and share their talents, whether in poetry or another field, and that is possibly the greatest tragedy of the war.…

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‘Tis Better to be Brief

One thing that I’ve learned in the last year is the power of brevity.

Now, I’ve known this, to some extent, ever since I read The Elements of Style back when I first got interested in writing in middle school, but it wasn’t until relatively recently that I realized just how condensed a written work can be. I refer you to Ezra Pound’s famous “In a Station of the Metro.”

Here’s a poem that consists only of two lines and a title. Not only that, but the two lines aren’t even a proper sentence – there’s no predicate. One can say, literally, that nothing happens in this poem. Personally, I was somewhat puzzled by this poem when I first encountered it, and remained so until last year when I had to write an essay on a work of my choice, and chose this poem.

That nothing happens is almost certainly intentional. This is an example of imagist poetry, which, as one might guess, emphasizes the importance of imagery in a poem over high-sounding, elaborate language and flowery description. “Metro” is an extreme example, but that Pound is able to convey any idea at all in a single image is remarkable.

So, what is that idea? My guess is that the poem is an ironic statement on the hectic environment of a metro station. Go to a big-city subway, and see how many people come and go. Quite frenetic, right? Yet, not only does this poem not really describe the action, but as stated above literally nothing happens. There is also a contrast between the people in the crowd and the man-made setting against the natural images used to describe them. The irony is great, and the poem ends up much more powerful and memorable than if Pound had taken the more traditional route and described the metro in longer, more elaborate verse.…

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Into the Unlearned, Uncharted

As I’ve said elsewhere, lots of people have blogs. Most of them are inactive, doing little more than taking up space on the internet. Honestly, mine has been one of those for the last nine months or so.

Up until now, this has been a blog in search of a topic. The main problem for me has been that there is little that I have to share that would be worth sharing. After all, I don’t care for personal blogs, so that idea is out. As for politics or literature or some other such topic, there are several people who know more than I, so there’s no reason for me to add what would mostly be noise to the noise/signal ratio. I am still learning about all these things.

That, then, is where I have my idea for what this blog will henceforth be about – intellectual growth. Rather than telling the world what I think, I will merely share what I’ve been learning. Hopefully others find it interesting. If not, this will at least be something for me to look back on. I’ve learned a lot in the last year about history, literature, religion… surely others can relate, and perhaps share their experiences.

I will find out.…

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The Art of the Obvious

Today, here’s a little original poem inspired by a real classmate of mine. You’ve probably met someone similar in any discussion-heavy classes you’ve taken.

The Art of the Obvious

There’s an art to stating the obvious.
You’ve got to make it long;
You’ve got to make the point.
You’ve got to do it often;
You’ve got to time it right.
You’ve got to give proper credit;
You’ve got to take what’s yours.
You’ve got to know the fact;
You’ve got to know it don’t matter.
You’ve got to keep it relevant;
You’ve got to roam around.
You’ve got to sit up front;
You’ve got to know your place.
You’ve got to make sure the world notices.…

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On the Flipside

You know something that should really be banned? Dual-sided DVDs.

Seriously, I can never tell which side is which. There’s usualy a label on one side saying something like “Widescreen” or “Side A.” What really makes these things so bush league is that there’s usually no way of telling whether the widescreen version is the side with the label, or the reverse, since that’s the side that’ll be read by the DVD player. Even worse, I encountered one disc today that had the label “Fullscreen” followed, on the same label, with “Widescreen (flipside).”

“Hey, thanks,” I thought when I saw that. So, I put the “flipside” face-down, and found that the label lied to me.

Actually, this problem could be mostly solved if we could get a ban of fullscreen edition movies. Why would anyone prefer that to widescreen? Do there exist people who like to have the edges of the screen lopped off to fit standard television screen ratio? Get it together, people.…

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Summer’s End

Ladies and gentlemen, my eyes have lost the glimmer of youth.

For me, the betrayal of my childhood has been a slow process, one that began in high school when I took a part-time job. Income leads to money, which leads to responsibility like paying for one’s own entertainment, in addition to gas money.

The second event that led to the end of my childhood was college. Now, that’s an external force, not treason, and in any case is only dangerous in combination with other forces. In my case, getting to school requires a car, which in turn requires I keep that part-time job. Between school and work, I no longer have any hobbies. That’s what it feels like, anyway.
So, the only time left for being childlike (or childish) for extended periods is summer vacation, and that is where the final blow has been struck by a summer class.

Now, summer is supposed to be a time for doing nothing, but instead I’m taking exams, reading textbooks, and, as mentioned previously, writing critiques. My summer is a season of drudgery!

Man, that post was depressing. I’m sorry for being so out-of-character. Here, have a Jill sandwich (NSFW) to cheer you up.…

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On Critiquing Live Music

So, right now I’m trying to write a critique of a live concert by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra for a class I’m taking.

The problem is, all I can really say about it is that I enjoyed it, though it suffered from some problems to be expected from an outdoor concert. Somewhat unclear sound, sirens from a passing fire engine, and some other miscellaneous distractions. However, I made the critical mistake of not taking notes at the concert. Even driving home from the event, I could scarecly have said much about the early pieces performed (out of seven or so total). Since I got home a bit late and had to wake up early the next morning, I made another mistake in not writing anything down before going to bed.

Lesson learned for the next assignment, though.…

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How to Claim a Landmark Post

A while back, I wrote this little article on how to claim a landmark post in a message board. It was intended for users of the Megatokyo forums, “Story Discussions” in particular, but since it can apply to most other boards and it was located in a somewhat obscure place, I’m moving it here, with a few minor changes.

Corrections and suggestions are welcome.


{Cue obnoxious tutorial mode music}

A common ritual on the Megatokyo Forums, and many other boards, for that matter, is owning landmark posts. This simply means that a particular person has the honor of having, for example, a forum’s thousandth post, an individual’s 500th post, or something else of that nature. This page is concerned with the second example, and there are three methods by which one may “claim” a post:

First, a person receives ownership if he is quoted in the landmark. For example, if MajorGeneral quotes Todd P. in his 500th post, Todd receives that post. If Major also quotes Pokeball, then both Pokeball and Todd receive partial ownership. This is the oldest and most widely accepted method of receiving ownership of a post.

Second, a person may give his landmark to someone as a gift. For example, if WyndyDay reaches her 500th post she has the option of giving it to a particular person or putting it up for grabs. The first simply involves saying either within or shortly after the landmark that it’s given to a particular person, perhaps a friend or as an exchange for a favor. By the second option, whoever asks for the landmark first receives ownership. If two people claim it, the person who posted first receives it, unless he decides to be nice and let the second person have it. Disputes are settled by the poster of the landmark. This method is newer and less accepted than the first, and should generally be used only if nobody is quoted in the landmark, or if the person who is quoted doesn’t care about such things.

Third, a landmark may be given to someone in advance of its posting. If Palad1n notices that he is approaching post number 500, he may offer it to whomever he wishes. This is the newest and least accepted method, and takes some of the fun out of it. Do this, and _Ocelot will hunt you like a wumpus, so don’t do it, foo’.

Finally, what constitutes a landmark post? A few things:

First, posts that are multiples of 100. Special value is given to posts that are multiples of 500 and 1,000. As one would expect, higher numbered posts are the most valued.

Second, posts that have numbers in some way considered cool. For example, posts allowing a change in title, post number 12,345, or 1337, etc. This isn’t an exact science, though – any number could be considered a landmark for almost any reason, but it’s best to be conservative.

Third, multiples of smaller numbers. In a small forum, or if a person is not prolific, one may consider a multiple of 50 or even 25 a landmark. Again, be conservative about this – past post 200 or so, it’s best to stop considering these multiples to be landmarks.


Note: This information is based primarily on personal observation, but also with comments from Izuko and SpyderGreywolf over at MT.…

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