Exile’s Letter

I was reading ‘My Heroin Christmas’, one of the essays in Terry Castle’s excellent The Professor and Other Writings, and an aside took me to this astonishingly beautiful poem by Ezra Pound, a ‘translation’ from the Chinese of Li Po.

Widely considered the greatest poet of China, Li Po wrote the poem in about 760 AD whilst in exile. It takes the form of a letter to the Hereditary War-Councillor of Sho, “recollecting former companionship.”

Read ‘Exile’s Letter’ by Ezra Pound

Pound knew ittle Chinese himself, and the translation is based on notes on the original poem made by Ernest Fenellosa, an American scholar who studied Chinese poetry while living in Japan.

The poem first appeared in ‘Cathay’, published in 1915, and containing, according to its title page ‘translations by Ezra Pound for the most part from the Chinese of Rihaku.’ However, it is not a good idea to look at the poems as literal translations – in fact, as the prominent Pound scholar Hugh Kenner argued, to do so is to miss the point.

Pound sought to produce innovative English poems using the ancient Chinese texts as an inspirational springboard, not a constraining template

… maximizing three criteria at once, criteria hitherto developed separately: the vers-libre principle, that the single line is the unit of composition; the Imagist principle, that a poem may build its effects out of things it sets before the mind’s eye by naming them; and the lyrical principle, that words or names, being ordered in time, are bound together and recalled into each other’s presence by recurrent sounds.

Also included in Cathay was Pound’s ‘translation’ of the Anglo-Saxon poem ‘The Seafarer’, written in roughly the same historical period and, thematically, very similar. In the ABC Of Reading (New Directions, 1960) Pound wrote that he considered ‘Exile’s Letter’ and ‘The Seafarer’ the two greatest poems of the eighth century.

Art Pepper (and/or his wife with whom he wrote the book) used the lines

What is the use of talking, and there is no end of talking,
There is no end of things in the heart.

as the epigraph for his autobiography ‘Straight Life.’

Read ‘Exile’s Letter’ by Ezra Pound

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These Poems, She Said

I had known of Robert Bringhurst only as a typographer and author of the excellent ‘Elements of Typographic Style.’ But he is also a wonderful poet, as the sharp, witty and penetrating  These Poems, She Said demonstrates.

Love means love

of the thing sung, not of the song or the singing.

Read the poem here. It is from Selected Poems by Robert Bringhurst.

50 up

We have just published the 50th issue of Tears in the Fence, magazine of poetry and prose.

Published 3 times a year, we have editorial bases in England, France, Australia and the USA and subscribers around the world. David Caddy is the Editor, with associates Sarah Hopkins and Tom Chivers; I am responsible for the design and production.

At 164 pages, the 50th issue is the largest yet and features poetry and fiction by, amongst many others, Elizabeth Cook, John Welch, John Kinsella, Peter Riley, Sarah Connor, Alexis Lykiard, Pansy Maurer-Alvarez, Todd Swift, Rupert M Loydell, Lucy Lepchani, Jeremy Reed, Juliet Cook, Adam Horovitz, Gerald Locklin, Lynne Wycherley, Donna Hilbert, Martin Stannard and Iain Sinclair.

There is also a ‘hand’ from Loose Packed by Lee Harwood and John Hall. Loose Packed is a set of 52 related fragments, with no fixed order for their reading. They are planned for publication as a pack of playing cards by Acts of Language,  and have been exhibited in 52 different 6 x 4 inch frames, in four differently coloured suits.

Here’s a bit from ‘Take Stock Now…’ in the latest TITF:

Under a vast sky

This restless house

That road

(these tiny objects)

Things to cling on to

For more information and subscriptions, see (and join) Tears in the Fence on Facebook.

50th issue celebration

To celebrate the 50th issue there is a free event on Saturday 5th September, 3.00pm – 8.00pm at The Bell, Middlesex Street, London E1 7EX.

Confirmed readers include Elizabeth Cook, Brian Hinton, George Ttoouli, Sarah Hopkins, Todd Swift, Ian Brinton, Hannah Silva, Vahni Capildeo, Ketaki Kushari Dyson, James Wilkes, Tom Chivers, David Caddy.

This event is in association with Penned in the Margins.

Be drunk

‘You have to be always drunk’ wrote Baudelaire, and how right he was. Right now, I’m drunk on this frozen landscape, and drunk on trying to capture its beauty and the play of light in the crisp, rosy dawn.

Drink in the moment. Cold pastoral!

Be Drunk

You have to be always drunk. That’s all there is to it—it’s the only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.

But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk.

And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: “It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish.”

by Charles Baudelaire
Translated by Louis Simpson

Cold stream