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This review is taken from PN Review 209, Volume 39 Number 3, January - February 2013.

Small Nouns Crying Faith michael heller, This Constellation Is A Name: Collected Poems 1965-2010 (Nightboat Books) $22.95
michael heller, Speaking the Estranged: Essays on the Work of George Oppen Shearsman Books) £10.95

How should one prepare to be a poet? What should your line on adjectives be? Can their function be usurped entirely by verbs? What role does the image play? What rhythms should you compose by, the metronome's or that of the musical phrase? And why should the copula be avoided in any tightly written verse?

These look like preliminary questions, and yet you could search hard through the plethora of books on how to write poetry these days to find them addressed with anything like coherence. They were certainly all addressed in the movement known as Imagism, and in the writings of its most vigorous exponent, Ezra Pound. Pound was a born pedagogue. Gertrude Stein captured this side of him with affectionate exasperation: 'There is something of the village explainer about Ezra. If you are a village, fine. If not, not.'

Pound took many of his cues from Ernest Fenollosa, whose study of Chinese verse led him to some radical conclusions about its English equivalent. And so we get the famous formulations. The image should be directly presented. Not a single unnecessary word should be employed. All vague, post-symbolist phrasing is to be outlawed. Pound explained why 'The misty lands of peace' is a terrible line. His analysis was shrewd and pithy, and surely as relevant now as it was then. Self-regarding emotionalism, and the ceaseless caressing of one's tremulous sensibilities, followed inevitably by yet one more lyric rehearsal of sincerity: this is the sort ...


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