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Burt Hatlen <[log in to unmask]>
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Ezra Pound discussion list of the University of Maine <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 29 Jan 1998 10:47:47 -0500
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Dear Jeff,
Like you, I just read them. In my case, it happened when I was 19 years
old.  The year was 1955, so at that time there were no guidebooks, etc.
 (Kenner's first book had been published, but I didn't know that.)
However, I did know Bill Vasse, who was the teaching assistant in a
class that I took at the University of California, and who was perhaps
already at work on the first guide to the Cantos.  Tom  Parkinson, who
taught the class, was perhaps another influence.  I remember Tom saying
in class that Pound doesn't necessarily assume that his readers have
read the Adams/Jefferson letters, but that he IS telling us that we
SHOULD go and read them.  And after class, I went to the library, and
checked out the Adams/Jefferson  letters, and read them.
So I think you're right: we need to get rid of the assumption that you
need some sort of critical guide before you can read the Cantos. (I
would say the same of Ulysses, which I read that same year, also in
total innocence of THE CRITICS.) EP demands of us that we come to terms
with a radically new way of engaging language and the sensory world.
We need to approach The Cantos as a poem, not as a code, to be
deciphered.  I very much doubt that anyone will keep on reading The
Cantos, unless they respond in some way, directly and immediately, to
the language.  If you (like Zukofsky and Duncan and lots of other
intelligent readers) fall in love with the language, then you'll keep
going.  If not, then not. And nothing that any teacher or critic can do
will change that state of affairs.
But in the years since 1955, along with rereading The Cantos a good
many times, I've also read a fair amount of critical and biographical
commentary on Pound. Some of this reading has helped me to understand
WHY I found and find the language of EP's poetry so compelling.  Some
of it has also helped me to understand how a poet whose work I find so
energizing could have slid into personal and political attitudes that I
find so repellent.  And the best of it has helped me to think through
that contradiction between the poetry and the politics.
Burt Hatlen