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William Logan on Medium and Message

(Note: For anyone who’s been missing them, I plan to return to sharing insights from Tozer over the coming weeks.)

Any review of The Cantos‘ visual form, intimately involved with Pound’s acquisition of a typewriter during 1913 or 1914, cannot proceed without examining the letters in their library caches. In the interest of economy, the editors of his letters have “standardized” Pound’s idiosyncratic spacings and indentations. Only a facsimile edition could indicate where the habits of expression accorded with habits of mind, where they had been tested in the letters before tried in The Cantos. Is it only in art that the appearance of the message is assumed to be part of the message? Pound was fortunate such editors did not “standardize” The Cantos as well.

Apart from a few poems well known as exemplars of Imagism, I have found the work Ezra Pound to be quite difficult. In order to work up to a minimally informed reading of his most ambitious work, The Cantos, I am consulting a few resources, one of which is poet/critic William Logan’s essay (excerpted above), “Pound at the Post Office”, which is collected in his book, Desperate Measures. Therein, Logan suggests that Pound’s various correspondences are extremely illuminating to understanding The Cantos, both in content and technique.

As an example of the latter, Logan cites, as you have read, peculiarities of “spacing and indentation” present in both the letters and the poems. Realizing that the intent of such peculiarities is more easily recognized in the simpler, informal context of correspondence, one can estimate the benefit in comprehension the reader of (the original versions of) those letters reaps when reading the poems, which, of course, are more complex.

What struck me, however, when reading the excerpt above, is Logan’s unquestioning assumption that the appearance (or form) is intended to convey meaning, indeed, is a part of the poem’s full meaning itself.

This is a basic axiom of art.

About David Oestreich

David Oestreich lives in northwest Ohio with his wife and three children. He is a maker of poems, photographs, fishing flies, and Saturday afternoon semi-haute cuisine. His poetry has appeared in various venues, both print and online.