Monday, March 30, 2009

Modernism is 100 years old?

Ron Silliman includes a link at the start of his blog to a recent Guardian article. The Silliman link is Modernism is 100 years old” and the Guardian article in question is “Enthusiasts mark centenary of modern poetry” by Mark Brown, arts correspondent. The article is enthusiastic about its related enthusiasts, but is it correct? I am surprised that such an eminent blog with Modernist credentials has not scrutinised the article. I am less surprised that the UK has muddled its history of poetics.

According to the article, on March 25th, 1909, a group of poets met at the Café Tour d’Eiffel, London, and these “fledgling imagists” (small i?) initiated Modernism. The suggestion made by Mark Brown is that this date saw a radical change in poetry, one that changed the “face of poetry for good.”

Hardly. The face of poetry in 1909 was still shrouded in Victorian fog. Yes, in the month of March, Flint, Storer and Hulme met. They were later joined by Pound, in April. But Modernism, as Imagism, hardly began here. The narrative, as told by the Guardian article, suggests a great meeting of minds and a new cosmos. Pound visited the café under the guidance of Florence Farr. She was, as David Moody observes in his biography of Pound, an actress and friend of Yeats. She was also a leading light in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (as was Yeats). A fair amount of murkiness hung over the meetings at the café, an ectoplasm that had little to do with visual Imagism. Reading the article, the usual impression is given that this birth was born from a unity of mind and purpose. Not so. In 1909, Hulme had created a philosophy of the Image: one that talked of an embodied poetics in disembodied terms. Exactly what Imagism is not. Pound, in 1909, was barely beyond The Spirit of Romance, fascinated with music and the image within the ear.

Also misleading is the picture of the Imagists in one café and the Vorticists in another. That would have required a time-machine, something even more radical than The Cantos. Some 5 years divide events in the Café Tour d’Eiffel and the Vienna Café.

Modernism and the Image erupted in 1912-13, in Ripostes, Lustra, and finally, as a living poetic form in Cantos I-III. The poetic tourism related in the Guardian has little to do with fact. The enthusiasts have come to the party too early, but that, I guess, is the nature of enthusiasm.


BarbaraS said...

Oh they always do that: try to pin something down to a date after the fact(s), and make a hash of it... as you rightly point out, it really isn't that simple.

Eshuneutics said...

At this time, EP was busy chasing Ireland and Yeats.