Ezra Pound

Ezra Pound
Under His Watchful Eye

Pound in the Age of the Internet

All the nonsense that has ever been written about his obscurity, pretentiousness, elititist, is quickly dispelled with the advent of the internet. Somewhere, this great poet, author of one of the great epics in literary history, is smiling on us, we might have finally figured it out, he indeed wrote this epic for future generations.

The purpose of this blog is to take a Canto at a time and read through it. Anything I don't know, understand, or find myself lost in some obscurity I will research on the internet. I don't intend to consult any of the Canto companions (Terrell, etc.).

Pound himself was a great researcher, pouring over countless historical documents in the dusky confines of libraries...he was a scholar at heart, but with a soul of a poet.

I hope you find this interesting, but I hope this great internet age of ours helps dispell the auora of sadness and perhaps even dispappointment surrounding Pound's belief that his life's work failed to deliver its message.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

99 Wins

What really is arrogance in sports? Why do we admire it and yet despise it at the same time? Growing up Mohamed Ali was despised for his arrogance, then admired, and now as he shuffles along in the aging warrior spectrum, humbled by life's afflictions, he's revered. And Achilles, the penultimate warrior, was arrogant, young brash, putting himself above all others. And Homer seemed to counter that with Odysseus, humble and putting his journey back home to his wife and son above all else. And we'll say that God seems to punish the arrogant. Mike Tyson comes to mind.
Humility these days is something perceived as weak and pathetic. In this Hip-hop gadget producing sense of self dominance, in this ultimate fighter climate is there room for the humble person, the humble celebrity? Professional Squash players are the greatest athletes on the face of the earth, they are perhaps the most humble as well. All you need to do is go up to Nick Mathew the world number 1 player or chat with Ramy Ashour, the Egyptian wunderkind, while he watches his brother Hisham play; or offer praise to David Palmer, arguably one of the greatest players in the history of the game, and have him dismiss the mere suggestion of greatness with a wry smile -- to know these men are truly humble.
So when a 14 year old student of mine who can someday be a good player proclaims herself awesome and truly believes it every time she hits a good shot, and you try to teach humility, hey, it's one shot, squash gives you that occasional shot to keep you going, but for the most part it is a most humbling experience. Those professionals know what it takes to brush against greatest and just how fleeting it is...squash success seems to reward humility and punish arrogance.
I read in ESPN magazine that the top salaries for a professional racing driver was $63 million a year, for the top squash earner, Nick Mathew, a $160,000 a year in prize money, does it suggest some tie to money? Arrogance and money and power, hmm...Donald Trump seems to be riding that wave lately and hordes of people are listening to him, which is probably worse because he doesn't really have anything to say. Yet, Larry Bird made millions playing basketball, won championships, and was very humble. Ezra Pound perhaps the greatest poetic mind (to paraphrase his proclaimation by 30 he would know more about poetry than any man alive) was humble, Christ, Gandhi all so humble. In their humility, did they accept that humankind has limitations, did they ever proclaim they were the greatest? But I go back to what Llarry Bird once said, "it aint bragging if you can do it..." Muhammed Ali , the penultimate representative of arrogance in sports, could do it and maybe, he projected an arrogance in response to what white society said he wasn't, a man worthy of a drinking from the same water fountain as a white man.
Coaching squash, I see such arrogance from every age on the squash court. It seems if you aren't arrogant you must not be high on yourself, full of yourself, it seems to mask what might be wrong with your game. My best student who has a lot of talent will proclaim he's the greatest when he wins but beats himself up when he looses...Muhammed Ali believed he was the greatest win or loose...those great squash players seem to believe more in the game, the greatness of the game, than in their own accomplishments. When David Palmer pumps his fist, it isn't because he believes he is the greatest, it seems to mean, damn, he did it, at least this time.
None of my younger students who seem to exude the media induced arrogance have walked on water. Against a weaker opponent you try and teach and foster respect and appreciation for the effort, but it seems that arrogance disdains the weaker opponent. One of my students made a disparaging remark about an opponent she just beat.
And my son, ever so humble, was blitzed in his professional debut, but said it was just one match, ahh a tough lesson to teach, but he's got it. He is so squash smart, but quite a bit awed by what Chris Walker recently taught him during a weak of training. Jim Masland, former Harvard All-American, in all his brilliance is ever so humble, he seems often awestruck by what humankind is capable of, both good and bad, on and off the squash court; I’ve seen Jim marvel at something a much lesser player does on the court with him....and then I step onto the court for a lesson, my 10th lesson in a row, with a junior ("kids say the darndest things")and the student at some point in the lesson, in frustration says "I pay you to hit the ball so don't talk", when I try to suggest something in their technique; and later blurts out "your feeds suck can't you give me a ball that is perfect to hit?"
And then early next morning there is my student Matt Levine, who has all the reason to be arrogant ,a University of Chicago law graduate tops in his class and a successful lawyer now, is so humble on the court and whatever nugget of squash knowledge I pass to him it's like a cup of cool water to a man in the hot desert.
I'm reluctant to say arrogance is a roadmap to failure because there have been some really successful athletes who were perceived as arrogant yet achieved success. Jansher Khan, the greatest squash player ever, was said to be very arrogant. Yet, in the back of my mind, I think that maybe his 100th PSA win eluded him as a lesson, no matter how great, life is bigger, squash is bigger than any person or player. It's when you can't do it anymore that seems to matter most, it's then that what you accomplished means something else, which is what you figure out before you die. At some point, hopefully, you have to love the irony -- 99 wins.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Squash and Ramadan -- The Khan Brothers

The Khan brothers of LA Fitness Squash in Lake Success couldn't be two more different players and personalities. Haadi is the younger brother, tempermental, very talented, technically getting better each month, a fierce competitor, very smart squash wise, but his physical ability hasn't caught up with his squash intelletual ability. He often gets frustrated, yells at himself on court, and has on occassion directed his ire towards his coach. I've written before how he often seems to be battling some demon in his head and easily looses focus on the match at hand. Fayaz, his older brother, a second year student at St. John's University, is an aspiring lawyer and will talk anyone's head off about politics, religion, Entourage, his mind thinks in express mode and his mouth matches his head. He doesn't have the same skills as Haadi on the court, but he is as fierce a warrior as there is. He's been accused of giving up, being lazy, and not really working hard at his squash. But these days he's been so motivated and seems to relish the hard court drills I put him through. He knows at the end of those drills are his rewards to play points.
The two brothers are impossible to have on court during the same session, they can drive you crazy with their constant sibling rivalries. It's hard to work through this and focus on a lesson when every five minutes they're cursing and swiping balls at each other. And Fayaz does have a temper and has broken rackets, I'm told out of anger, but he'll only admitt he never knows how they break.
But this month is the holy Muslem holiday, Ramadan. A month of fasting from sun up to sun down. What has impressed me with these two young squash warriors is how they are at the squash courts 6 a.m. to train and play when they are fasting from food and water. They seem inspired more than usual and they never seem to lose their cool or tempers during these sessions. During these holy days they are to reflect on patience, God, and the positive energy in life. There are no demons to battle, no tempers to control, no slamming rackets or berating themselves -- this is a time for inner peace, and on the squash court it translates into a warrior like approach to the game. They are all business, they are focused, the ball and racket are the center of their hour, they transcend thirst when running court sprints, they transcend hunger when doing star drills, they transcend dissension when playing rallies. At LA Fitness there are many observers of this holy holiday, and the squash players all seem to work squash into their fasting schedule, but nothing like these Khan brothers, who inspire me and whom I admire for their dedication and discipline...they are afterall Khans, descendents of great warriors, and while not related to the Hashim and Roshan tree of squash champions, in their own way they are their own tree of squash players who bring together their love of squash and honor to their religion and culture -- a most profound purpose anywhere whether it's on court or off court.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Canto I

And then went down to the ship,
Set keel to breakers, forth on the godly sea, and
We set up mast and sail on that swart ship,
Bore sheep aboard her, and our bodies also
Heavy with weeping, and winds from sternward
Bore us onward with bellying canvas,
Crice's this craft, the trim-coifed goddess.
Then sat we amidships, wind jamming the tiller,
Thus with stretched sail, we went over sea till day's end.
Sun to his slumber, shadows o'er all the ocean,
Came we then to the bounds of deepest water,
To the Kimmerian lands, and peopled cities
Covered with close-webbed mist, unpierced ever
With glitter of sun-rays
Nor with stars stretched, nor looking back from heaven
Swartest night stretched over wreteched men there.
The ocean flowing backward, came we then to the place
Aforesaid by Circe.
Here did they rites, Perimedes and Eurylochus,
And drawing sword from my hipI dug the ell-square pitkin;
Poured we libations unto each the dead,
First mead and then sweet wine, water mixed with white flour
Then prayed I many a prayer to the sickly death's-heads;
As set in Ithaca, sterile bulls of the best
For sacrifice, heaping the pyre with goods,
A sheep to Tiresias only, black and a bell-sheep.
Dark blood flowed in the fosse,
Souls out of Erebus, cadaverous dead, of brides
Of youths and of the old who had borne much;
Souls stained with recent tears, girls tender,
Men many, mauled with bronze lance heads,
Battle spoil, bearing yet dreory arms,
These many crowded about me; with shouting,
Pallor upon me, cried to my men for more beasts;
Slaughtered the herds, sheep slain of bronze;
Poured ointment, cried to the gods,
To Pluto the strong, and praised Proserpine;
Unsheathed the narrow sword,
I sat to keep off the impetuous impotent dead,
Till I should hear Tiresias.
But first Elpenor came, our friend Elpenor,
Unburied, cast on the wide earth,
Limbs that we left in the house of Circe,
Unwept, unwrapped in the sepulchre, since toils urged other.
Pitiful spirit. And I cried in hurried speech:
"Elpenor, how art thou come to this dark coast?
"Cam'st thou afoot, outstripping seamen?"
And he in heavy speech:
"Ill fate and abundant wine. I slept in Crice's ingle.
"Going down the long ladder unguarded,
"I fell against the buttress,
"Shattered the nape-nerve, the soul sought Avernus.
"But thou, O King, I bid remember me, unwept, unburied,
"Heap up mine arms, be tomb by sea-bord, and inscribed:
"A man of no fortune, and with a name to come.
"And set my oar up, that I swung mid fellows.
"And Anticlea came, whom I beat off, and then Tiresias Theban,
Holding his golden wand, knew me, and spoke first:
"A second time? why? man of ill star,
"Facing the sunless dead and this joyless region?
"Stand from the fosse, leave me my bloody bever"
For soothsay.
"And I stepped back,
And he strong with the blood, said then: "Odysseus"Shalt return through spiteful Neptune, over dark seas,"Lose all companions." Then Anticlea came.Lie quiet Divus. I mean, that is Andreas Divus,In officina Wecheli, 1538, out of Homer.And he sailed, by Sirens and thence outwards and away
And unto Crice.Venerandam,
In the Cretan's phrase, with the golden crown, Aphrodite,
Cypri munimenta sortita est, mirthful, oricalchi, with golden
Girdle and breat bands, thou with dark eyelids
Bearing the golden bough of Argicidia. So that:

Pound Amidst The Ruins -- My First Recollection

It seems appropriate that my first exposure to Ezra Pound and the Cantos was when I was a teenager living and studying in a small New England town and our family was left homeless due to a devasting fire that burnt our Greek Revival Main Street "mansion", aptly called 4 Columns, to the ground. The local industrial magnate donated the use of one of his houses in town, which we called the "Brown House", because of its ugly brown shingles, for us to live. In that fire I lost all my poetry, plays and stories, including a number of stories I wrote from the time of 10 years old about all of my baseball heros. I was an avid reader and at the time was reading Patterson (W.C. Williams) and the line "fire is the first law..." always rang clear. I had few possessions, mainly things salvaged from the rubble of that fire. When we moved into the "Brown House" I took the upstairs room. I can remember so vividly the image of my first meeting with Pound, as I moved my paltry things into the upstairs room, I shut the door and there tacked to it was the NY Times Magazine Obituary of Pound, his photo I've added to the blog, along with "Pull Down Thy Vanity" from the Pisan Canto 81. I read the article, and that yellowed copy of the Times obituary remained on my door -- it would be years later that in the stacks of the NC State University library that I would read the Pisan Cantos. In between that time I seemed to do everything the master demanded studied Greek and Latin and Old English . I studied poetry extensively, ironically, in all the courses I took Pound was never even an after thought-- semmingly banned from the hallowed halls of academia.
I don't know whatever happened to that old clipping, I'd like to think that just as Pound would have liked it, some other poet occupied that room (that house still stands having been moved a half a mile from where it originally stood), and maybe began an Odyssean like voyage through the choppy and fragmented seas of the Cantos to arrive finally a better poet and human being -- "to be men not destroyers..."