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What I'm Reading This Week Booked Up

Booked Up

by JEFFREY ST. CLAIR


The Consequential Damages of Nuclear War: The Rongelap Report.
By Barbara Rose Johnston and Holly M. Barker. Left Coast Press. 2008

The Rongelap Report lays bare one of the cruelest chapters in modern history, where the people of the Marshall Islands were used as unwitting human guinea pigs for 67 nuclear blasts in the South Pacific, their homelands drenched by wave after wave of radioactive fallout and its deadly legacy of cancers, birth defects and infertility. Here is a disturbing and unflinching chronicle of official lies, broken promises and felonious governmental indifference to horrific human suffering, cultural genocide and environmental ruin. Yet this terrifying story is not entirely grim. Hear from these pages the defiant voices of the Marshallese people themselves, who courageously refuse to play the passive role of atomic victims. At last, Johnston and Barker have given us a transcendent tribute to the heroic resistance of these nuclear nomads and their crusade for justice.

 

The Pueblo Revolt: the Secret Rebellion That Drove the Spaniards Out of the Southwest. By David Roberts. Simon and Schuster. 2005.

In 1680, the pueblo nations of the American Southwest rose up in a unified revolt, evicting the Spanish from New Mexico. The obscure history of this successful uprising is dramatically told by David Roberts, who has also written fine histories of the Anasazi and Apache. The uprising, led by the mysterious shaman Popay, not only drove out the brutal Spanish overlords and the Franciscan priests for a decade but also secured the long-term integrity of the pueblos, their culture and religion. A fascinating and energetically written account of what is arguably the first American revolution.

 

Personae. By Ezra Pound. New Directions, 1990.

In 1926, Ezra Pound, that irascible child of Hailey, Idaho, published a collection of his shorter poems in a volume titled Personae. Those hundred or so poems, culled from the pages of Blast and Lustra, hit the literary establishment with the power of a revolutionary manifesto. Pound may have been the most gifted editor of the Twentieth Century. The much of the power and originality of "The Waste Land," for example, derives from Pound’s carvings, a debt even Eliot famously acknowledged in his dedication. Pound’s own poems are abrupt, showing evidence of radical cleavage from an editor’s knife. This is the birth of imagism, where nothing is explained, where the reader is left to fill in the blanks and impose meaning upon them. So the poems, especially the shorter ones, resonate long after the initial reading. This is the power of elision and allusion, which Empson endeavors to explain in his book Seven Types of Ambiguity. These poems represent the most radical realignment of poetry since Whitman unfurled his long, flowing lines in Leaves of Grass. Pound, of course, moved the other direction, toward concision and sharpness. Poems without ornament. Pound’s mission was nothing less than to crush the formulas strangling English poetry. He looked elsewhere for modes: the poets of China’s T’Ang Dynasty, haiku, folk songs, the beat of jazz, cubism. And in a stroke Pound and his circle (Eliot, Moore, Williams, HD, Yeats) rendered the poetry of the Victorian Age into a relic, as old and claustrophic as Crabbe. Even Matthew Arnold’s poems (written only a 25 years before Pound’s) now seem dusty and stale, while most of the Personae poems seem fresh and elusive. Here’s a short one from originally published in Blast, the great literary journal Pound edited, written in 1914:

The Encounter

All the while they were talking the new morality
Her eyes explored me.
And when I arose to go
Her fingers were like the tissue
Of a Japanese paper napkin.

JEFFREY ST. CLAIR is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature and Grand Theft Pentagon. His newest book, Born Under a Bad Sky, will be published this spring. He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net.