Dr Jack Baker
My thesis, supervised by Dr Gareth Reeves, examines the impersonal modes refined by Ezra Pound and Wallace Stevens. It argues that these major poets, commonly placed at opposite ends of the spectrum of modernism, share important formal and thematic preoccupations. Each evolves an impersonal sensibility designed to free the poet from the limitations of his merely private associations and social circumstances, and to licence extraordinary ambitions: Pound’s paradiso terrestre and Stevens’ supreme fiction constitute unifying artistic responses to a shaken, fragmenting and sceptical culture. Supreme fictions are not in vogue, and both poets have been chastised for the didacticism, elitism, or even pretension latent in their poetic theories: it is argued that their reach exceeds their grasp. But this thesis is not a critique of theory; it is a study of praxis. It explores the techniques of both poets’ greatest poems, and proposes the impersonal mode as one reason for their uncanny power. Chapter I explores poetic impersonality under three headings: “Inheritance”; “Sensibility”; and “Technique”. Chapter II contrasts the irregular progression of Pound’s early verse with the eerie precision of Stevens’ Harmonium. Chapter III traces the expansion of Pound’s impersonal voice through A Draft of XXX Cantos, and argues that “The Man with the Blue Guitar” is of crucial importance to the development of Stevens’ later style. Chapter IV argues that, in the plangent and elemental forms of Cantos XLVII and XLIX, and in the rôle of the “possible poet” explored in “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction”, Pound and Stevens come closest to fulfilling their early desires for a transcendent and autonomous rhetoric. Chapter V finds each poet plunged into crisis, toppling the fleeting consolations of Canto XLVII and “Notes”, and requiring new, more urgent and more expansive poetic modes. Pound’s Pisan Cantos, in their search for an idiom newly resistant to severe external pressures, are comparable to “The Auroras of Autumn” and “An Ordinary Evening in New Haven”, which reveal Stevens’ own bout of intense creative uncertainty. Chapter VI shows how the enduringly impersonal techniques of Pound’s and Stevens’ final poems – which preserve, on their surface, a grammatical and lexical detachment – increasingly come to register deeper emotions. The effect of subduing personal experience to an impersonal aesthetic is to enhance the poignancy of the very emotions and frailties that are all but veiled. The “Afterword” discusses the legacies of impersonal poetry in the works of Charles Tomlinson and Geoffrey Hill.
Chapter in book
- Baker, Jack (Accepted). "Pound, Kandinsky and Inner Necessity". In Ezra Pound and the Arts. Preda, Roxana & Coyle, Michael Edinburgh University Press.
- Baker, Jack (2016). “‘Music is feeling, then, not sound’ Rhyme in the Development of Wallace Stevens”. The Cambridge Quarterly 45(4): 299-322.