Collected Poems of John Holmes
Holmes, John A., Jr.
I missed Amy Lowell and World War I, by being too young.
A first poem in the Atlantic meant an evening at Sevenels,
A command, so I'd heard from Hillyer and Damon; accolade,
Well, I was a Boy Scout. I sold Liberty Bonds during Imagism.
Then, over-age, missed World War II.
But not Ezra Pound.
A couple of shooting and shouting wars later, Ezra landed
On Cambridge, to read some Cantos in semi-circular Sever Hall,
May, '39. Ted Spencer introduced him the Harvard way, short.
I never heard a poet say so many lines on one breath,
A phenomenon as unsuspected as his Irishy brogue for poems,
Reading from long, long pages the words in large blue type.
He looked like a lean Ben Johnson in slacks and open collar.
Next day, for a three-hour recording session, I stood by
With Packard, Professor of Speech, and Pound in the same slacks.
He read Canto XVII, "so that the vines burst from my fingers
And the bees weighted with pollen," etc. Then "Sestina Altaforte,"
The bloody sestina, he called it, and wrote Packard later
To destroy it,
It is not to be played by anyone the hell ever." He slashed his name in my copies of his books, one upside down, One dated May XII, the twelfth year of Mussolini's reign.
Then we did his "Seafarer." Packard mortgaged his soul
to the Harvard music department for a pair of kettle-drums.
What are these for!" asks Ezra idly, and Packard, ruined then,
Why, you thought yesterday drum-beats in 'The Seafarer'
Would build up the Anglo-Saxon meter, so I - so I - got drums."
Packard and I thought he meant a drum-beat at the half-line, Maybe a roll on the big F drum, or a timely touch on the C.
Ah!" says Ezra, "I never hit one till now." He hits one now,
And a great poetry reading, for our times dies right there.
But WB set up the drums, the mike, the reading stand, and Ezra,
And for an hour heard,
"Journey's jarrgon BONG how I in harrsh days
Bing harrdship endurred oft. flitter breast-cares WHAM have I Abided,
known on my keel many a caare's hold.
Sunk with elbow on knees, after a while we lifted our faces
From crossed flat hands, to wonder why we were getting "Seafarer"
And no bongs, and saw Pound conducting an Ezrean orchestra,
A drumstick in each fist; sweep, flourish, and stab.
How I, weary oft, must bide - ting - above brine. Neareth
Nightshade, snoweth from north, frost froze the land."
He was reading the poem. But now the tail of a drum-stick
Rang on the rim of either near drum.
This reminded him. Ha!
The hearrt's thought DOUBLE BONG that I on high streams
The salt-wavy tumult BONG traverse alone BING, and BONNG!"
We never published this recording, but I have a studio copy.
Sometimes I get it out and play it, just for the hell of it.