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Bob Perelman Feature

Alan Golding

“Time to translate modernism into a contemporary idiom”:

Pedagogy, Poetics, and Bob Perelman’s Pound

This essay originally appeared in Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 27.3 (2009), a special issue on Jewish American poetics. My thanks to Shofar editor Dan Morris for permission to reprint.


As I have argued in a number of other essays and talks, central to the work of pedagogically oriented poets from Ezra Pound to Charles Olson and beyond are continuing conflicts within avant-garde poetics: the conflict between the (public) didactic impulse and the (private) impulse toward preservation of coterie, and the conflict over the poet’s relationship to pedagogical institutions. [1] Among current poets associated with the idea of an avant-garde, namely Language writing, Bob Perelman’s career offers particular testimony that such a conflict can be as enabling for subsequent readers and poets as it is confounding. Perelman has persistently tested the uneasy boundaries among avant-garde poetics, pedagogical forms and rhetorics, and academic convention, from mid-1980s poems such as “Institutions and the Individual Application” and “Cliff Notes” (Ten to One 56–57) to hybrid essay-poems like “The Marginalization of Poetry” (139–49), first delivered as a talk at an academic conference in 1991, and the heavily and parodically annotated “A Literal Translation of Virgil’s Fourth Eclogue” (169–84), and the mixed genres of what is nominally a university-press-sponsored book of academic criticism, The Marginalization of Poetry (1996), titled after the poem that makes up its first chapter. The anxiety and hostility reported in the East Village crowd drawn to a 1997 panel discussion of The Marginalization of Poetry stands as testimony to the discomfort the book produced. As Steve Evans puts it, “there were two hundred people trying to come to terms with where the academic world ends and an alternative one begins” (qtd in Epstein 46). Formally adventurous as it is in its simultaneous analysis, historicizing, critique and enactment of avant-garde poetics, The Marginalization of Poetry still elicited from Perelman’s friend and fellow poet Ron Silliman the remark that “it is a project within and of academic critical thinking,” “a step in the long march toward tenure and an eventual full professorship” (3). [2]


Within Perelman’s ongoing consideration of the relationship between the avant-garde and pedagogy in all its forms, including but not limited to the academic, Ezra Pound has been a constant presence: as a critical subject in The Trouble with Genius (originally Perelman’s UC Berkeley dissertation) and in talks and essays such as “The First Person,” “Good and Bad / Good and Evil: Pound, Celine, and Fascism,” “Just / Like / Me” and “Pound’s Legibility Today,” and in a range of poems including recent work such as “My Pound Decoder Ring” and another conference-talk-as-poem, “Guide to Homage to Sextus Propertius” (Iflife 106–07, 82–90). Perelman’s Pound often appears in ambivalent and bleakly humorous relation to the academy. The Pound of Perelman’s essay-poem “An Alphabet of Literary History” “die[s] / in obliquity, haggling in ideograms, his / vertical sunlight shut in yellow guidebooks” (Marginalization 147) — both his own and those devoted to his work, such as Carroll Terrell’s literally yellow Companion to the Cantos of Ezra Pound. This Pound does not die in obscurity, the more common idiom, but his work risks death from its own “obliquity,” its dazzling moments and its dubious claims to instant illumination (“vertical sunlight”) equally confined in the aging, tattered (yet also essential) products of the Pound industry. In a section of Perelman’s serial poem “Fake Dreams” called “The Avant-Garde,” Pound “joked that he was president of / Ohio State” (Future 44) — some way, we might say, from the position he more likely aspired to, something closer to Whitman’s “president of regulation” (621). At the same time, however, Perelman insists on his identity “as a poet formed by the Ezraversity.” Narrating his own initial immersion as a young poet in Pound, Perelman foregrounds Pound’s pedagogical texts: “The first conscious traces were left by ABC of Reading and soon after, Guide to Kulchur. I was an aspiring poet and Pound’s panache, humor and aggression won me over completely: as Pound revealed it, poetry was a vast, learnable field, always lively, always immediate” (“Pound’s Legibility” 34–35). And that, surely, is just how Pound would have wanted it. Some of the terms and categories surrounding the idea of “pedagogy” — teaching, learning, reading, knowledge, authority, the new — will be my central concern here, particularly as they manifest themselves in Perelman’s response to Pound and in poems from his latest book, Iflife.


Central to that volume is the multi-sectioned poem “Guide to Homage to Sextus Propertius.” The title sets it up as a Poundian pedagogic poem, in its ironic and playful claim to cross the boundaries of poetry and criticism and offer a “reader’s guide” to Pound’s original. That is, the poem offers itself as a fake entry in the Pound industry that the poem itself invokes and queries. More precisely, however, the poem is simultaneously a “guide” that gestures toward academic guides to Pound (we might think of those by K. K. Ruthven, Peter Brooker, George Kearns, Christine Froula); [3] it is a non-guide insofar as the text itself speaks to, responds to and interprets but in no way pretends to elucidate or explain references in Pound’s original; and it alludes to (or even perhaps partially identifies with) Pound’s own propensity for writing guides, most notably the one that was crucial to Perelman as a young poet, Guide to Kulchur.


Part of Pound’s importance for Perelman in “Guide to Homage” is that his work and its reception raise significant questions about the nature of teaching and learning:


And the question is: Can the route be taught?

Taught in a poem? Taught
to many, or to only a few?

or is it that no one can simply learn
how to gain access? Pound, you learned things and

you taught. But can that which you teach
be detached from your own practice of teaching? (Iflife 88)


This sequence of free-verse couplets poses questions that are, to put it mildly, not the kind that we’re used to encountering in poetry, and they are real, not rhetorical. These questions have been central to Perelman’s thinking about Pound since his 1995 critical book The Trouble with Genius: the tensions between general address (“many”) and coterie exclusiveness (“only a few”) in Pound’s sense of audience, whether access to the mysteries of Guide to Kulchur can be learned or is simply somehow given, the relationship between Poundian method and content, between “teaching” and Pound’s propensity for passing judgment.


Section X of the poem extends from these questions about Poundian teaching to those who have in fact learned from Pound, learned Pound, and teach him — “the Pound industry,” in the familiar phrase that Perelman uses in the poem. “Do the scholiasts’ clarifications / do more than add to the rubbish at the base camps?” (Iflife 89): this couplet functions as a Poundian rhetorical question — we know what Ez would say to that one. Preceding it, the section opens with a pair of questions concerning the reception of poetry post-Pound: “Will The Cantos outlast the Pound industry? / Or have they made it so that any poetry, to be read outside its group, / must manufacture its own industry?” (Iflife 89) — pressing issues for contemporary poetics. We could say that there are poetries, individual and collective, that have not had to manufacture their own industry — Maya Angelou, Billy Collins, spoken word — though they have manufactured their own institutional networks and forms of support. Learning Pound, however, is conceived in Perelman’s poem as an “endless afternoon hike” under a hot sun up one of Basil Bunting’s Alps, “the cold peak beckoning” (89). Perelman rejects this particular walking tour of these “crags cranks climb” (Bunting 110) and, significantly, disrecommends it for others too, even while the fact that he’s already taken it is part of what makes the poem possible. Further — contra Pound addressing Whitman, while evoking that Oedipal relationship — he rejects any pact: “I won’t make a pact with you / just as you didn’t make one with Propertius” (Iflife 90).


In a recent essay, Perelman wonders “what is involved in learning to read Pound? Having learnt, what does one then know, beyond that particular expertise? More pointedly: Is learning to read Pound a long, difficult acquisition of folly?” (“Pound’s Legibility” 32) — another reference to Bunting’s well-known flyleaf commentary, where folly resides rather in taking the “long way round /… to avoid” the Cantos or in “wait[ing] for them to crumble” (Bunting 110). At the same time, Perelman leaves us in “Guide to Homage” with Pound’s championing of the new, his emphasis — in practice, rather than in theory — on writing over speech, and his resistance to “general war,” a resistance represented in “Guide” by its focus on Pound’s embrace, in “Homage to Sextus Propertius,” of eroticized lyric pleasure over “Martian generalities”: [4]


Not that I’m unmindful of what you did there
Staging a new kind of battle of the Moderns vs. the Ancients
Playing on both sides of the net, Frigidaire patent in one hand
While issuing party invitations in translationese with the other

“though my house is not propped up by Taenarian columns from Laconia
(associated with Neptune and Cerberus)”
— that is not something someone ‘in the throes of some particular emotion’
Would actually say. It’s something you

Wrote. For pleasure

In flimsy exception
To general war. (Iflife 90)


In a well-known January 1915 letter to Harriet Monroe, Pound wrote that poetry must contain “nothing that you couldn’t, in some circumstance, in the stress of some emotion, actually say.” In Perelman’s reading, however, and in a way consistent with his own poetics, Pound’s newness or modernity, the pleasure of his work, and its political resistances, are associated with writing rather than speech.


While “Guide to Homage” is self-consciously rooted in an institutional context — it was first delivered as a talk at the Hamilton College “Pound and Education” conference in 2005 — a classic urban avant-garde scene was the site of Perelman’s own poetic education, a scene in which “it felt as if we were writing all the time, writing and reading, and talking about it”: “we were not, to reverse Mauberley’s words, ‘resuscitating the dead art of poetry’ — quite the opposite. We felt we were continually reinventing a live art, which we called writing.” [5] “While the classroom is the breeding ground of most poets and teachers,” Perelman writes, a range of other locations and circumstances are more appealing: collaboration in a stimulating urban environment, “a community full of poetry readings, talks, poets theater, magazine[s], intense discussion in bars” — “that’s where I was educated” (“Just / Like / Me”). Avant-garde scene and conventional school, that is, are two of the poles between which Perelman’s work, and his thinking about a pedagogical poetics, oscillate. Unlike Pound, however, and because he’s writing in a different historical moment, Perelman stresses that “avant-garde shock won’t get there without some sense of multiple social address” — the opposite of coterie address, and the kind of address that much of Iflife aspires to. That address includes — as Pound rarely did except in passing — the neophyte reader. Beyond his interested peers, Perelman says, “in addition my work is consciously addressed to — and I identify with this other addressee all the time — to the neophyte, the philistine, the person who doesn’t know much about poetry, or is scared of it. That figure could also be a student; and is very important” (“Interview” 533). [6]


How does this identification show up in Perelman’s work, beyond his only partially satiric citation of student and student-like writing in lines like “Next came the Romans” (from “Cliff Notes,” Ten to One 58) or “In 1947 or 1941 Henry Luce declared it to be the American century” (Iflife 29)? Here’s one example:


Do poets molt? Stupid new sounds. Molten imagination, linking skipped association, yes, we know, even if we don’t know what or how we can hear the nouns from the verbs… If sounds are allegory for social change we’re up shit creek. (Iflife 34)


This passage brilliantly ventriloquizes an imagined (or perhaps actual) student response to teacher explanations of melopoeia, parataxis, and the notion of technique as test of a man’s sincerity. Perelman constructs this skeptical neophyte reader, that is — along with a professional reader capable of formulations like “if sounds are allegory for social change” — as a tweaking of Poundian poetics and as a counter to Poundian rhetorical authority. The privileging of particular forms of poetic music especially can phase into authoritarian insistence on distinctions between “right and wrong ways to dance”:


One of Pound’s not-so-great characteristics
Was his increasing passion to police music
Odes! rectifications! Rectifications! odes!
O immutable seasons, O resource-laden castles!
O right and wrong ways to dance! (35)


Perelman tweaks Pound’s forceful promotion of Confucius’ Odes and the “resource-laden castles” of Provence poetry with deliberately imprecise diction, the antithesis of the Poundian mot juste: “not-so-great.” The satire on authority and literal (etymological) rightness (“rectification”) recalls the impulse behind another poem in Iflife, “My Pound Decoder Ring,” which inverts and rewrites the “Paradis n’est pas artificiel” passage from Canto 92 by, in Perelman’s explanation, “copy[ing] the movement of the lines and phrase rhythms closely while detourning the sad obnoxiousness of Pound’s ridiculous certainties” (“This Just In”). [7]


The first explicit reference to Pound in Iflife involves the issue of just such “certainties,” which in Pound connect in turn to the inseparable categories of authority and lineage. Perelman poses the simultaneously autobiographical and theoretical question “Why was I stuck for decades on Ginsberg’s obeisance toward Pound and lineage as if that cemented a straightforward line?” (Iflife 32) This view of lineage or transmission is authoritarian in its alleged self-evidence: “shining examples, papal bulls, [the] balls of light” (32) of Guide to Kulchur. The challenge is to resist hypostasizing active daily writing into the Poundian mysteries of Guide: “it’s not easy to avoid structuring the whole thing like a religion” (32), to avoid elevating — or reducing — poetry to something that (in Pound’s terms) fools will profane. Perelman reminds us, and himself, that “there are no final surfaces, on earth, in dreams, / No bright pages on which to fix the just sentences” (16) — “bright,” “fix,” “just” here are all code for “Pound.”


While Perelman participates to some extent in the privileging of particular genealogies for Language writing that are by now well-known, he also combines in his thinking on poetics an intensive focus on Pound with a striking eclecticism and a rejection of “one lineage of avant-garde moments”: “I make no distinction, in what I’m interested in reading, between the surrealists, Stein, Eliot, Langston Hughes, Stephen Crane, Hart Crane, Dre[i]ser’ (“Conversation” 533). Gesturing toward Pound in titling one subsection of an essay “ABC, of Writing,” he nevertheless makes a deeply counter-Poundian point: “’writing’ [in the early Language community] meant any model from literary history that winged in via someone’s enthusiasm” (“Self-Portrait” 80). It is this attitude that allows Perelman to write this diaristic observation presumably about preparing class, in the form of a potentially troubling rhetorical question: “Finishing Jude the Obscure. Hardy’s sentences are fantastic, crisp, tragic, elaborate, prompt and funny. Is contemporary prose, New Sentence, high theory, jumping fragments, as vivid, word by word?” (Iflife 39). On the whole, though, Perelman has an appealingly unanxious relationship to lineage and poetic transmission: “Poetry has a past that is not dead weight, but non-demonic ancestors who are alive in the present only they do not have the answers, and in fact need you to ask the questions so that they don’t keep asking the same old ones” (“Just / Like / Me”). And one such alive and non-demonic ancestor is Pound.


I will not undertake a full discussion of the thematics of lineage in Perelman’s poetry, including his Poundian lineage, but this subject shows up in the many allusions to teaching in Iflife, in the constant evocation and critical scrutiny of modernist precursors (not all of them of equal importance to Perelman), and in the posing of canonical questions about those precursors: “Why read X? and X? / But I’m X, too” (33) — so why read me? Perelman’s institutional life, his life as a teacher, is increasingly and insistently present in his work, strikingly so in the title poem “Iflife.” That poem begins with Perelman teaching the avant-garde, specifically Loy’s “Songs to Johannes,” presumably to a class at the University of Pennsylvania:


Yesterday Mina
And a world
in which she’s
print and me
explaining to young fleshly class
in Lascivious fundamental times


“Then most of the day on comments” (Iflife 29) — reading student papers, that mundane activity for which Pound would have had no patience at all. While jogging, in a parodic echo of Dave Smith and David Bottoms’ Morrow Anthology poet “who seems to jog more than to write literary criticism” (19), Perelman plans class, meditating vaguely on the differences between Robert Creeley and Richard Wilbur (referred to in a Senior Moment as “whathisname, bats in cave, metricist” [Iflife 36]) as if today’s discussion will provide a framing introduction for postwar American poetry. So, teaching, paper-grading, jogging, more teaching, and, inevitably, committee meetings: “Pilot Evaluation Committee 2–4” (37).


In this poem, Perelman contemplates the possibility of a wide-ranging, all-inclusive teaching, in juxtaposition with one of his own models of poetic teaching, “Pound the news broadcaster” (49). He writes, “Can’t teach everybody, not everybody wants it. But deep down incorrigible thinking that I have to: poetry is Homeric, something everybody hears. As opposed to what? Administer your branch” (49). The alternative to a quixotic desire for epic range is mere administration, hardly appealing and even dystopic, but equally unappealing is the split within Pound the news broadcaster, who “broadcasts news” of Paris, China and Japan in his work but “when he’s finally behind an actual microphone he’s a paranoid hysteric” (49). And we might recall the question that I quoted earlier from “Guide to Homage to Sextus Propertius,” “Can the route be taught?” For learning can seem as opaque a process as teaching: “so there’s no way to learn anything? / just drift around on lacy jags of meant stuff / and see who you meet?” (51). [8] Learning from Pound in particular is an exercise in necessary pedagogical negativity: “You taught us / to read with our backs. / Our backs to you, that is” (97).


Such negativity, however, can be central to the promotion of the new, that central category in Poundian pedagogy in relation to which teaching is, for Perelman as for Pound, always “behind.” Teaching and avant-gardism seem on the surface to be in direct conflict: as Perelman argues in a 2003 talk, “controlling extension is fundamental to avant-garde self-fashioning. But extending the circulation of new writing is fundamental to teaching (“The New” 14). Teaching involves persistent “generational reproduction,” whereas “if the new reproduces it’s not new” (1, 12). More precisely, however, avant-gardism conflicts with actual pedagogy while forming the basis of an ideal pedagogy for both Perelman and Pound: “The new does fit awkwardly into the actual, bureaucratic-inertial, market-tormented pedagogic situations that we find ourselves in, though it plays a larger role in the imagined pedagogic situations we might like to create” (2). Teaching should aspire to the qualities of the avant-garde, the literary “new”: “The present facts of contemporary writing, outside the classroom, have the function of a necessary avant-garde or whatever you want to call it, towards which pedagogy should strive” (12). The essay “Just Like Me” moves similarly back and forth between classroom and an idealized non-classroom scene-based learning, what Perelman calls his “happy art childhood,” between the desire “to propose an active poetic scene as the best pedagogical situation” and the awareness that “school is an extremely powerful agent of cultural change,” a site where foundational individual learning and collective narratives meet. Actual teaching involves institutions; ideal teaching doesn’t — it takes place, however, in an avant-garde learning scene that is impossible to replicate.


In San Francisco in the late 1970s, this learning scene included articulating “connections between [political] pressures and… polemics against the poetic self,” connections that “were often asserted with impatient simplification and were a major source of writing energy” (“Self-Portrait” 80). It included, that is, the combination of literary and political judgment that Pound considered a fundamental critical responsibility. Structurally, this coming together around judgment is one familiar feature of avant-garde self-constitution, the ongoing construction of an alternative tradition. At one level it is nothing more controversial or surprising than Frank O’Hara and LeRoi Jones agreeing over lunch in O’Hara’s “Personal Poem” that “we don’t like Lionel Trilling / we decide, we like Don Allen we don’t like / Henry James so much, we like Herman Melville” (335–36). Judgment here is immediate, casual, a moment of social bonding, possibly throwaway too, but crucial to shaping contemporary writing: “writing of any kind, if it aspires to be new, must activate the social processes of judgment as widely and vividly as possible” (Perelman, “The New” 17).


Questions of critical judgment are intimately related to questions of participation in the group, network or community: as Perelman says in a 1998 interview, “how would anyone from the outside know that language writing is any ‘good?’” (“Conversation” 526). Behind this question is the tension between exclusionary and universalizing coterie judgment and democratic inclusiveness that, in his critical work, Perelman identifies so acutely in Pound. The same tension makes itself felt in Perelman’s thinking about his own avant-garde scene of instruction. On the one hand, “it’s problematic: the notion of value goes against the aspiration to community, the ideology of community… The traditional sense of value — it’s scarce, there are only a few great composers, painters, etc [Pound’s inventors and masters] — is a problematic model for an art community to constitute itself around” (526). On the other hand, the Language community did constitute itself, as most avant-gardes do, around energetic debates over value, and around exclusionary value judgments, as is evident in the energetic discussion in the “Talks” issue of Hills and in Perelman’s edited version of that in Writing/Talks, and as Perelman describes in the second episode of The Grand Piano:


One of the characteristics that was so lively and occasionally daunting about our scene for me was the instantaneity of judgment, and the violence of that. Suddenly certain poems and poets were pronounced to be awful. There were also enthusiasms, of equal intensity. It was compelling, watching these ferocious judgments being hurled. Ah, this was what it was like to live in the present. One could, in collaboration, be a writer in the actual world one lived in. (84–85).


This ideal scene of collaborative teaching and learning was necessarily temporary, however. “The actual world one lived in” soon tended toward more strictly institutional pedagogical spaces. I want to suggest, then, that Perelman’s recent work is dedicated to a very Poundian project: finding a renewed place for poetics within institutionalized pedagogy, and expanding the possibilities for poetry in the process. It’s the kind of aspiration expressed by the English poet Robert Sheppard in a March 2007 talk. In Sheppard’s argument, poetics, or “’speculative writerly discourse,’” “a paradoxical theory of practice and practice of theory,” is a third term uniting the notions of “purpose and project,” and he is quite explicit about its importance: “Poetics should be at the heart of creative writing, which in turn should be at the heart of a reoriented English Literature, which might rediscover questions of literary value and resistances to what Derek Attridge calls ‘instrumentalist’ readings of literature.” This shift would enable “a conjectural and primary investigation into the nature of writing.”


In the context of these utopian aspirations, how might we start to summarize the basis for Pound’s appeal and power for Perelman? Perelman addresses this question in a 1986 essay that eventually formed part of The Trouble with Genius: “Pound’s work… present[s] a model for a writing that takes on a significant portion of experience and tries to change it,” even while that work “is a Mistake in unusually pure form. This is valuable in that contemporary writing often can’t even be bothered to address the problem that might result in such a mistake.” Pound is a model, that is, for a poetry like “Language writing [that] often assume[s] social change,” because he “does pose a necessary question: ‘What other way can you think of it?” (“Good and Bad” 24–25). Perelman learned from Pound “that poetry was valuable to the extent that it connected with an ambitious sense of its communal usefulness” (“Pound’s Legibility” 34), so that for all the bleakness of his own politics, Pound is a crucial model both for a pedagogical and a political poetry: “’Homage to Sextus Propertius,’ with its serious, playful aggression towards the classics, demonstrated an oblique but passionate sense of civic-aesthetic responsibility that most readers didn’t catch for many decades” (Trouble 30).


Pound’s “sense of civic-aesthetic responsibility” and of pedagogical authority phased all too easily into Fascist authoritarianism, and the complex problems raised by this slippage are of course especially acute for the Jewish poet. Hitler and Mussolini against Propertius and Cathay, Mussolini lurking within Wilfred Scawen Blunt in Perelman’s re-citing of the Cantos (Iflife 42–43): these are the now-familiar poles of Poundian criticism that Perelman’s “Iflife” invokes. “To have, with decency, knocked / That a Blunt should open,” Pound writes in Canto 81. “To have, with enthusiasm, knocked / That a Mussolini would open” is Perelman’s variation, and the substitution of the Italian Fascist leader for the anti-imperialist activist poet opens up Perelman’s ambivalence, the negative side of which he tells himself off for persistently invoking:


‘Only H[itler]. and M[ussolini]. did anything of interest.’
Do you have to connect that up with Propertius or Cathay?
Or with the editorial and literary interventions?
Didn’t Pound do ‘things of interest’ besides making a fascist
                     and a fool out of himself?
Aren’t there lines to be drawn? (Iflife 42)


The point, of course, is the difficulty of drawing such lines, and this is part of Pound’s ongoing fascination for Perelman — as for many of Pound’s readers. Pound embodies contradiction and opposition, as, in fully self-aware fashion, does his institutionally embedded avant-gardist descendent, “back from [a poetry conference at] Orono,” giving or listening to a somewhat bumbling academic talk (“Williams, Thomas Hart Benton. Stein,… rhythm… rhyme (microphone too low)”), losing parts of his own academic talk-in-progress on the computer (“Erased: but it had to do with the line in Pollock”), but sitting down to read “Williams article so I can write Pollock WCW piece” (42–43) — much of this self-consciously the language of academic water-cooler chat.


If it is indeed “time to translate modernism into a contemporary idiom” — “now if ever,” as Perelman’s “Guide to Homage” urgently begins — that translation must involve the question of what it means to read Pound now. For Perelman, it means attention to the nexus of issues I’ve touched on here: teaching, learning, reading, knowledge, the new, institutionalization. Pound is the precursor point at which all these concerns meet and from which they emanate, the central site for Perelman’s exploration of — and perhaps anxiety about — the nature of poetic learning and poetic knowledge, and for the relationship of that knowledge to poetics and to institutions. Pound himself offers a subject rhyme between epic hero and scholar-poet. In Canto 3, “my Cid rode up to Burgos”; in Canto 20, “that year I went up to Freiburg,” to meet with Prof. Emanuel Levy in one of the Cantos’ many scenes of instruction: personal, purposive yet improvised, extra-institutional. Those values informed the Ezuversity, which is why a later scholar-poet like Perelman can write of his own reading of Pound that in his experience of the Ezuversity, “learning… was anti-systematic, intuitive, instantaneous; in fact, perhaps it wasn’t learning at all, but recognition. I enrolled immediately” (34). [9]

Works Cited

Bunting, Basil. Collected Poems. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1978.

Epstein, Andrew. “Verse vs. Verse.” Lingua Franca 10.6 (September 2000): 45–54.

O’Hara, Frank. The Collected Poems of Frank O’Hara. Ed. Donald Allen. Berkeley: U of California P, 1995.

Perelman, Bob. “A Conversation with Bob Perelman.” With Peter Nicholls. Textual Practice 12.3 (1998): 525–43.

———. The Future of Memory. New York: Roof, 1998.

———. “Good and Bad / Good and Evil: Pound, Celine, and Fascism.” Poetics Journal 6 (1986): 6–25.

——— et al. The Grand Piano. An Experiment in Collective Autobiography San Francisco, 1975–1980. 8 vols. to date. Detroit: Mode A, 2006- .

———. Iflife. New York: Roof, 2006.

———. “’ Just / Like / Me.’” 30 Nov. 2006

———. The Marginalization of Poetry: Language Writing and Literary History. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1996.

———. “The New and Its Reproductive Practices.” TEXT 8.1 (April 2004). 25 Nov. 2008

———. “Pound’s Legibility Today: Pedagogy and / or Imitation.” Ezra Pound and Referentiality. Ed. Helene Aji. Paris: Presses de l’Universite de Paris-Sorbonne, 2003. 31–41.

———. “Self-Portrait with Language Writing.” Iowa Review 32:1 (spring 2002): 80–89.

———. Ten to One: Selected Poems. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan UP / UP of New England, 1999.

———. “This Just In: Past Haunts Lip Service.” Jacket 22 (May 2003). 4 Dec. 2008

———. The Trouble with Genius: Reading Pound, Joyce, Stein, and Zukofsky. Berkeley: U of California P, 1994.

Pound, Ezra. The Cantos. London: Faber & Faber, 1987.

Sheppard, Robert. “Poetics as Conjecture and Provocation.” New Writing: The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing 5.1 (2008): 3-26.

Silliman, Ron. “The Marginalization of Poetry by Bob Perelman.” The Impercipient Lecture Series 1:4 (1997): 1–13.

Smith, Dave, and David Bottoms, eds. The Morrow Anthology of Younger American Poets. New York: Quill, 1985.

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass and Other Writings. Ed. Michael Moon. New York: W. W. Norton, 2002.


[1] See Alan Golding, “From Pound to Olson: The Avant-Gardist as Pedagogue,” Ezra Pound and Education, ed. Michael Coyle and Steven Yao (Orono, ME: National Poetry Foundation, forthcoming); Charles Bernstein and Professional Avant-Gardism,” Talisman 36/37 (fall 2008/winter 2009): 28–42; “‘Isn’t the avant-garde always pedagogical’: Experimental Poetics and / as Pedagogy,” Poetry and Pedagogy: The Challenge of the Contemporary, ed. Juliana Spahr and Joan Retallack (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 13–29; “American Poet-Teachers and the Academy,” A Concise Companion to Twentieth-Century American Poetry, ed. Stephen Fredman (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005), 55–74.

[2] For greater detail on this exchange, see Golding, “’Isn’t the avant-garde always pedagogical’” 17–20.

[3] K. K. Ruthven, A Guide to Ezra Pound’s Personae, 1926 (Berkeley: U of California P, 1969); Peter Brooker, A Student’s Guide to the Selected Poems of Ezra Pound (London: Faber & Faber, 1979); George Kearns, Guide to Ezra Pound’s Selected Cantos (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP,1980); Christine Froula, A Guide to Ezra Pound’s SELECTED POEMS (New York: New Directions, 1983). It’s worth noting that the last three of these texts are guides to already institutionalized selections of Pound’s work, maintaining the ‘industry’ by appearing in marketable conjunction with those selections.

[4] Part of the relevant context that I have elided in my emphasis on pedagogical issues is that “Guide to Homage” is, among many other things, a direct response to the Iraq war.

[5] “In my experience we weren’t a gathering of writing that grew ultimately out of the don’t soil of Pound” (Grand Piano 3:73), writes Perelman. The issue of authority was one site at which Perelman (and other Language writers) deviated from Pound toward an “authority showing itself to be nonauthoritative” (74) in the figures of, for example, Williams and Robert Grenier (“as much of a pedagogue as I had been willing to accept” [72]).

[6] On this identification with the neophyte, see Perelman’s reference to the Talks series that he and his wife Francie Shaw hosted for the San Francisco poetry community in the late 1970s, in his entry in The Grand Piano, part 4: “The circumstances were Utopia for the self-made neophyte who always talked when I didn’t understand something and often enough when I thought I did.” He adds “a feature of utopian scenes of instruction: no prerequisites” (123).

[7] Perelman first published “My Pound Decoder Ring” as an appendix to his essay on Bruce Andrews, “This Just In”; these comments on the poem derive from that publication, and are not included when he reprints it, in revised form, in Iflife. His detournement replaces the imperial male (Pound’s “that was in Caesar’s time”) with the lesbian avant-gardist (“that was in the Stein Era,” pointedly not Hugh Kenner’s “Pound Era”), and replaces Pound’s phobic association of homosexuality and economic malfeasance (“who was buggar’d / and the coin ceased to be holy”) with a celebratory association of lesbian sexuality and alternative meaning-making (“who had great sex / and new sense started making sense”) (Iflife 106–07). This momentary celebration of Stein, rather than Pound, as making it new, however, is immediately modified by the assimilation of “new sense” into the educational bureaucracy: “but, of course, / they re-ordered the anthologies” (107).

[8] Characteristically, this passage questions the learning process via an allusion to another poet-teacher, the Whitman of “Song of Myself,” who simultaneously avowed and disavowed his own pedagogical authority. The reference specifically is to section 52 of “Song of Myself”: “I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags” (77).

[9] Perelman reads the photos of an aged Pound and Olga Rudge in the first issue of Barrett Watten’s This magazine in similar “anti-systematic” terms, as projecting the possibility of casual encounter with Pound “outside the tortuous routines of institutional criticism” (Marginalization 41).

Alan Golding

Alan Golding

Alan Golding is Professor of English at the University of Louisville, where he teaches American literature and twentieth-century poetry and poetics. He is the author of From Outlaw to Classic: Canons in American Poetry (University of Wisconsin Press, 1995), which won a CHOICE Best Academic Book Award, and of numerous essays on modernist and contemporary poetry. He has two book projects in progress: Written Into the Future: New American Poetries from The Dial to the Digital, under contract with the University of Alabama Press, and “Isn’t the Avant-Garde Always Pedagogical,” a book on experimental poetics and pedagogy. He serves on the editorial boards of Contemporary Literature, Twentieth-Century Literature and the Univ. of Alabama Modern and Contemporary Poetics Series, and co-edits the Iowa Series on Contemporary North American Poetry with Lynn Keller and Dee Morris.

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