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Poetry in a Small Town
One of my main links with the literary world is via my mailman Ray. Ray collects defunct literary magazines, mostly gotten from Ebay. So far he’s loaned me a complete set of Hound & Horn, published at Harvard in the late 20’s and early 30’s, and some more recent TransAtlantic Reviews.
For the past couple of months I’ve had all of The Dial from the 1920’s sitting on my table. Many of the issues were edited by Marianne Moore, but the most poem eternal I’ve found predates Moore’s tenure. In the June 1924 issue are four Yeats poems, including “Leda and the Swan.”
This leads me in two directions. One is wondering about Yeats’ mailing the poem off, did he have the same bashful pride in it as the rest of us, same fear of humiliation? I know there is a biographical answer to this question—maybe the editor solicited him, as the editor must have solicited Pablo Picasso and Pierre Bonnard, who have drawings and a painting, respectively, reproduced in the issue—as well as to the question of whether, when he finished the poem, he heard the little trumpet announcing that he’d written the poem eternal?
The reason I’m more interested in the speculative answers to these questions than the definitive historical ones is that my own speculations allow me to actually become William B.—I like to be him in the moments of jittery tentativeness, going: thighs…buys…cries…I like to mold him with the same neuroses as me. I don’t want to be Yeats, I don’t covet the historical importance of Yeats, but I want to make him me as a way of proving to myself that my insecurities are universal and therefore a normal part of human nature. The therapeutic imperative.
Then there is my speculation about the place of this artifact, the magazine, which has no connection to the poem, which has been released to live its own life. Surely the forces of the marketplace will drive poetry ever more toward the electrons, while paper will become increasingly a place of privilege, as opposed to the digital sludge (though the paper-poem will have its correspondences and replication in the sludge). Paper journals are already mostly funded by the legacies of wealthy people, wealth that was gained (yes?) in dishonorable ways. Foundations and estates. Even now, the printing of poetry on paper is driven by death.
Paper will become a rare technology, I think, surely, like those plastic doohickeys we inserted into the center of 45 rpm records to hold them on the spindle (why didn’t they just make the hole smaller?) Will there still be thrift store discoveries in the future? Ray says that when you go into Goodwill now, people are combing through the book section with their laptops hooked up to the ether.