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The Berth of Modern Poetry
(at rest in a vague sort of afterlife)

Ron Smith


EP

Can you believe Willyum the Wumpus
put up with me sixty years? Never
have another friend like him. Cautious, cagey.
Good listener. Got stuck in Amygism,
couldn’t yank him out of her
huge tight ass. In fairness, he tried to bow-wow
the Big One. But that Paterson, big a mess
as my Cantos—no, smaller, but still
a mess.

            We were on the Penn fencing team
together, while all our tastes were keen,
you could say. Fencing made you think
with the other fella’s head, feel
the other fella’s muscles rippling
toward a specific action. We used épées,
heavy as they were, none of that flimsy
foil slinging. He was good. But I was better,
more aggressive, good at riposte. Boxing, stunned
ol’ Champ once with a sharp counter-punch.
Bill—Bill was polite, even with a sword in his hand.

And now he’s gone. Gone. “Struck of the blade
that no man parrieth,” I said once,
about some guy I made up. They won’t let me
keep my fencing things here,
but I’ve still got ‘em,
somewhere.


WCW

Shit, I’m not gone. Sitting right here, wherever the hell
here is. Sure, I remember meeting Ez, the liveliest,
most intelligent, damndest thing
I’d ever come across. Talked poetry all night
in the dorm, nearly put my eye out
with his father’s walking cane, thinking
that was fencing. I could have spitted him.
Should have. Sombitch thought he’d defeated
the whole fencing team he couldn’t make, including
Leonardo Terrone, our coach from It’ly. Ez
was as bad a fencer as he was a dancer, cook, or carpenter.
Madox Ford said he played tennis “like an inebriated
kangaroo,” though he was the only one of us
didn’t really drink. Tennis didn’t look like tennis
Page 2 / “The Berth of Modern Poetry”
when Pound played it. He’d shout “Egad!” and wheeze,
sit down, jump up, jagged and surprising and slap-dash
as his home-made furniture. Ford did extra time jawing
in a Paris chair cause he couldn’t get out of it!

Paris’s where Ez traded lessons with Hemingway,
writing for boxing, boxing for writing, blow for blow.
Wyndam Lewis popped in and found them going at it
(Pound’s fencing gear visible in a corner), said Hem
“without undue exertion” repelled one of EP’s
“hectic assaults” after which “Pound fell back upon his settee.”
1922, the year of litrachur’s nuclear atrocities, Hem wrote
that Ez led “wit his chin” and had “the general grace
of a crayfish,” whatever that means. That snake Hemingway
flattered and coddled our wild man till my friend
pulled In Our Time out of him and bullied a publisher
into launching Mister Macho—who then allowed as how
Ez had “developed a terrific wallop” in his private Paris gym.

From the beginning I let him be village explainer
to my village idiot. I had a lot to learn and he to teach
for all his affectations. Wrote to my mother that
Ez was the essence of optimism. Well, wadn’t he?
Even in the loony bin he was the same guy
who taught me what poetry could be.
While failing history at Penn, he was making it,
even in drag in Greek drama, heaving massive breasts
in one ecstasy after another. Euripides,
that was. Genius? A genius passed through him—
a presence—from time to time.
He was a beautiful cracked pot, vase
beautifully cracked. Wit and profundity,
profundity and wit, with a huge serving
of plain bull shit.

Slow reader, never read the Rooshans, though
he still had opinions. Eliot said he knew
next to nothing about philosophy, theology,
even French literature. How to describe
his intellect? “Desultory,” he said more than once.
And intellect’s only a slice, edges in the mind.
But who has a great mind anyhow? Not me.
“Prose for the detestable; lyric for the desirable,”
something like that, he said. Eliot? Too great
for his own good, probably. Book worm.

Did he go crazy? He was always
a bit of a nut, a pure product of America,
especially the First Amendment.

Ha! When Joyce asked his opinion about that
Work in Progress, he wrote, “Nothing short
of divine vision or a new cure for the clapp
could possibly be worth all the circumambient
peripherization.” Though he helped JJ at first,
in the Bug House (and long before)
he was anti the cult of Sunny Jim.

Whadya think of this:

There, in the forest of marble,
the stone trees—out of water—
the arbours of stone—
marble leaf, over leaf,
silver, steel over steel,
silver beaks rising and crossing,
prow set against prow,
stone, ply over ply,
the gilt beams flare of an evening.

That’s the left hook Hemingway could never teach him
with gloves. That’s a Venice that can knock you out colder
than the real thing. His name means “help” in Hebrew
and he was that to all of us. Still: energy.
Ezra means energy
to me.