Leslie Scalapino: First Loves
My first knowledge of poetry, in junior high and high school, was Homer and Shakespeare; and Greek tragedies, which are also poetry. I went to Reed College, where I took a poetry course from Kenneth Hansen in which we read Williams, Moore, Eliot, Stevens and Pound. I remember loving the poems of Williams, Stevens, and Moore.
We were all required to write a twenty-page paper on Pound's Cantos. Reading the Cantos, beautiful, was for me also to feel the effect of Pound's fascist mind, not simply to connect with the information that he had in fact been a fascist.
Wrestling with this authoritarian perception of reality caused a chasm to open up, a maelstrom to occur. I couldn't write the paper; finally went to the dean to say that I had to drop out of school; was sent by the dean to speak to Professor Hansen who merely said, "Not everyone likes Pound. You can write on something else."
Yet this very young grappling with Pound's Cantos introduced me to poetry being thought or apprehension as interior conflict arising from or being the social. So I'd designate as "my first love" the first page of the Cantos (especially since it's also Homer).
Originally published in Crossroads, Spring 1998.
More First Loves
W. S. Merwin: First Loves
One great stroke of luck for me, as I came to realize much later, was growing up hearing poetry read aloud from the Bible after breakfast—my parents reading to us, that is, before my sister or I had learned to read. The practice never developed much momentum, and it tailed off like the keeping of most journals, but it left in my ear the sound of my mother's voice (I knew my father's from church) reading psalms. The voice was the same that she used for everything but it was refracted by this remote, resonant, lingering language. I loved that more than I knew at first.