While I was at the bookstore, I picked up the September issue of Poetry magazine on the strength of several poems (like “On the Metro“) by C.K. Williams, with his wonderful long lines, and a long essay about Richard Wilbur, one of my favorite living poets, by Phyllis Rose. But at the moment I’m going to quote one of the sections of Michael Hofmann‘s “Sing Softer: A Notebook”:
I think I’ve probably always been drawn to the foreign in English. When I first came across the strange and lovely word “macaronics,” I wanted to use it for a title. There’s a kind of joyful hopscotch, a cavalierism, a dandyishness, an enrichment, about alien presences in English, which otherwise remains for me a chewed, utilitarian, mercantile language. These importations are the making of Shakespeare. They are there in Walt Whitman, that quintessentially American poet, even if Henry James (of all people!), complained about his predilection for “the other languages.” They are there in Stevens, who claimed English and French were one language, and in Pound, who wrote Chinese in English, and Provençal in English, and Latin in English. I sometimes think the only Eliot I really like are the two French poems. These importations are in Lowell, even though he’s as heavily monoglot as a linebacker; in one of his Montale versions in Imitations it says: “The scirocco gunned the dead stucco with sand”—neither Italianate noun in Montale’s original! (Imitations was a huge act of will on the part of Lowell to internationalize and modernize himself by his bootstraps.)
I don’t understand the “chewed, utilitarian, mercantile” bit (what, Beowulf? after that it’s all alien presences) or “monoglot as a linebacker,” but I like the bit about Lowell and Montale. Anybody know which Montale poem Lowell was reworking? I don’t have Imitations.