REPORT FROM THE ALA CONFERENCE IN BOSTON
Report by Lisa Banks, Sara Dunton, James Johnson and Anderson Araujo
The Ezra Pound Society sponsored two sessions at the American Literature Association (ALA) Conference in Boston. The first session, held on May 21, was entitled “Cross-Examining Convergences and Divergences in Pound and H.D.’s Works” and the second, held on May 22, was “New Trends in Ezra Pound Studies.”
Bret Keeling, who generously moderated on behalf of Demetres Tryphonopoulos, chaired the first panel. Keeling also read one of the three panel presentations on behalf of Matte Robinson, whose paper, “Full Circle: Ezra Pound in H.D.’s Mature Writing,” argues thatPound, as first “initiator” into occult ideas, returns to H.D.’s consciousness at the end of her career, at the height of her engagement with the Western esoteric tradition. Drawing together Pound’s release from St. Elizabeths, H.D.’s doctor’s interest in Pound, and her extensive journal-keeping and manuscript revision, Robinson argues that H.D. gathered her thoughts on Pound according to her syncretic occult mythos, informed by her intensive reading of occultists Robert Ambelain and Jean Chaboseau.
The second paper in the first session, presented by Sara Dunton, was entitled “‘Modern’ Frameworks for Aesthetic Formulations: H.D. and Pound Remodel Pater and Rossetti.” Dunton focuses on how H.D. and Pound, following Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Walter Pater’s models, engaged directly and indirectly with artworks to frame their thinking about the interconnectivity between literary and visual arts. She suggests that althoughH.D. and Pound’s early prose writings on aesthetics read and present themselves as modern texts—fragmented and buoyant—their structure and contents owe as much to themid-nineteenth-century as they do to the 1910s. Dunton offers cross-examinations of ideas and tenets from the Pre-Raphaelite journal, The Germ, and Pater’s The Renaissance alongside Pound’s articles “Vortex” and “The New Sculpture” and H.D.’s Notes on Thought and Vision.
The third panelist, Lisa Banks, read her paper, “ ‘To know beauty and death and despair’: H.D. and Ezra Pound, 1942-1972.” Banks parallels the late-life confinements of H.D. and Ezra Pound, beginning with Pound’s 1945 internment at the DTC and H.D.’s response to World War II in Trilogy, at the height of the London Blitz. Though geographically separated—the two poets had not been in the same room since 1939, nor would they ever meet again after the 1945 Armistice—they remained acutely aware of each other’s work. Focusing on readings of their literary output during and after the war, Banks turns her attention to the poets’ respective confinements in the 1950s, drawing extensively from H.D.’s Hirslanden Notebooks and Hermetic Definition. Pound’s response to H.D.’s death in 1961 elucidates the deep intertextual nature of the poets’ relationship.
The second session sponsored by the E. P. Society was moderated by Anderson Araujo and featured two presentations. Before the panel, Araujo called for a moment of silence in memory of Ivan Juritz, a promising doctoral student at Queen Mary, University of London, who had been selected to present his work at this session and whose untimely passing a few days before the conference came as shock to everyone in attendance. James Johnson began the session with his paper “Aesthetic Methodology, Distribution, and Ezra Pound’s Economic Thought in A Draft of XXX Cantos.” In looking at the emergence of Pound’s economic radicalism, Johnson argues that the interdependence of culture and economics in Pound’s early cantos is not only the result of Pound’s desire to incorporate into his epic the intellectual history of his day, but also the result of his poetics of syncretism. Johnson sees the opening node of Canto XVIII – a passage taken from Marco Polo’s Il Milione describing Kublai Kahn’s 1285 issuing of paper currency – as particularly representative of the way in which Pound integrates themes of economic and cultural exchange into the poem’s structural matrix. Johnson concludes that the ideological openness, which led Pound to embrace radical and unorthodox economic and cultural forms, was the same ideological openness that manifests itself in the syncretic methodology of The Cantos itself.
In “Pound and Imaginary Histories: China, Japan and the VOU Group Correspondence of Katue Kitasono,” Michael Davis broadly traces the development of Pound’s interest in Asia from his encounter with John Luther Long’s short story “Madame Butterfly” (1898) to his correspondence with Kitasono Katue, a Japanese poet and editor of the avant-garde magazine Vou. Drawing on Pound’s extensive thirty-year correspondence with Kitasono, his prose, and his poetry, Davis presents Pound’s translations of the Vou poets, which appeared between 1938 and 1939 in the Townsman and New Directions. Pound’s involvement with the Vou Club and his translation of their work, observes Davis, can be seen to have been born out of his earlier engagement with Chinese and Japanese literature, and to his appropriation of Chinese historical materials in The Cantos.
Two other panels of interest to Poundians and modernist scholars were “Elizabeth Bishop and Marianne Moore,” and “Late H.D. and After,” which were organized by the H.D. International Society. At the Bishop/Moore panel, Katie Piper Greulich of Michigan State University, offered a close reading of Moore’s “The Mind is an Enchanting Thing” examining the presence of the neural sublime in her work, which Greulich describes as “the feeling of a mind stretched to a breaking point.” She considers Moore’s interest in how language might stimulate neurovascular responses, with an intent to discover, perhaps, how the mind could “construct” sublimity. The second paper, presented by Yangsoon Kim (Korea University), was entitled “Elizabeth Bishop’s Love Poems and Letters: Degrees of Distance and Intimacy.” Kim offered a detailed analysis of Bishop’s various correspondences with partners over her lifetime, highlighting the self-exploratory aspects of Bishop’s writing and connecting these to her poetic praxis. Finally, Celena Kusch (University of South Carolina Upstate) discussed Moore’s contributions and engagements with transatlantic modernist magazines, particularly Life and Letters Today. Kusch argues that although Moore was seen as socially and politically engaged in the 1930s, the poet was not particularly radical until she became involved with Life and Letters, when she connected with the magazine’s emphatic resistance to provincialism, and responded by revising her poems to produce portrayals of the United Kingdom tailored to enlighten American readers to dissolve transatlantic boundaries.
In “Late H.D. and After” four panelists presented papers offering a divergent range of approaches to reading H.D.’s late work. In his presentation, “The Muse in the Museum: Aesthetic Experience in H.D.’s Trilogy,” Frank Capogna of Northeastern University, examined H.D.’s engagements with museum culture during and between both wars, her particular “consumption” of art objects, and her ultimate representation of the museum as a site of empowerment. Sumita Chakraborty (Emory University), in her paper, offered an ecocritical reading of H.D.’s deployment of colour, pattern, images of nature, beginning with Sea Garden and continuing into Trilogy and The Sword Went Out to Sea. Chakraborty explores H.D.’s manipulation of these traditional motifs to evoke the underlying violence of ecological systems and reinforce the themes of her wartime poetics. The third presenter, Sanna Melin Schyllert, from the University of Westminster, discussed the concept of sacrifice as a catalyst of transformation. Citing H.D’s Within the Walls and What Do I Love? Schyllert posits that H.D. envisions such transformation as the dispersal of the soul, followed by projection into the non-material fourth dimension. In the final paper of the panel, “Duncan Re(Writing) H.D.” Bret Keeling (Northeastern University) reads Robert Duncan’s understanding of H.D.’s creation of multiple identities, and his response to these through his own poetics. Keeling’s close reading of Duncan’s “Doves” and “Epilogos” exposes H.D.’s influences and Duncan’s indebtedness to her thinking about the creation/re-creation of artistic selves.
Anderson Araujo. Professor of English at University of British Columbia.
Lisa Banks. Received her MA at the University of New Brunswick and is now a doctoral student at McGill University.
Michael Davis. Senior Researcher on The Dead Sea Scrolls Project at Princeton Theological Seminar and co-editor of Ezra Pound and 'Globe' Magazine: The Complete Correspondence (Bloomsbury 2015).
Sara Dunton. PhD candidate at the University of New Brunswick.
James Johnson. MA graduate of the University of New Brunswick, and doctoral student at the U of Toronto.
Bret Keeling. Northeastern University.
Matte Robinson. Assistant Professor of English Language and Literature at St. Thomas University and co-editor of the recently published Hirslanden Notebooks (ELS Editions 2015).
Demetres Tryphonopoulos. Dean at Brandon University and Secretary of the Ezra Pound Society.
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