Pound, in 1956, to a BBC interviewer: “You cannot have literature without curiosity, and when a writer’s curiosity dies out he is finished—he can do all the tricks you like, but without curiosity you get no literature with any life in it.” (Pound’s next remark—mandatory reading for the insistently egregious purveyors of dopey labels: “Confusion is caused by package words. You call a man a Manichaean or a Bolshevik, or something or other, and never find out what he is driving at. The technique of infamy is to start two lies at once and get people arguing which is the truth.” Two lies like “School of Quietude” and “post-avant”…)I love Pound’s term “package words.” Having arrived gasping on shore after the long scrotum-shriveling swim through the most mendacious, pander-filled election season in recent memory—a desert wilderness (to mix metaphors) of “package words”—it’s a relief to return to poetry. Tomas Tranströmer*, for example, writing about Schubert:
We squeeze together at the piano and play with four hands in F minor, two coachmenPoetry like Tranströmer’s, too, is not for these people, who only respond to package words….
on the same coach, it looks a little ridiculous.
The hands seem to be moving resonant weights to and fro, as if we were tampering
with the counterweights
in an effort to disturb the great scale arm’s terrible balance: joy and suffering
weighing exactly the same.
Annie said, “This music is so heroic,” and she’s right.
But those whose eyes enviously follow men of action, who secretly despise themselves
for not being murderers,
don’t recognize themselves here,
and the many who buy and sell people and believe that everyone can be bought,
don’t recognize themselves here.
Not their music.
*Translated by Robin Fulton, from The Great Enigma: New and Collected Poems.