David Foster Wallace Creates Lists of His Favorite Words: “Maugre,” “Tarantism,” “Ruck,” “Primapara” & More


Every­one I know has a list of least-favorite words. For var­i­ous rea­sons, “moist” always seems to make the top three. But per­haps it takes a writer—someone who savors the sounds, tex­tures, and his­to­ries of pecu­liar words—to com­pile a list of their most-favorites. A few I’ve placed in keep­sake box­es over the years—little cor­ru­gat­ed min­er­als that remind me of what words can do: “palaver,” “obdu­rate,” “crevasse,” “super­fe­cund”….

I could go on, but it’s cer­tain­ly not my list you’ve come for. You’re read­ing, I sus­pect, because you well know the con­sum­mate care and atten­tion David Fos­ter Wal­lace lav­ished on his prose—his rep­u­ta­tion as a smith of end­less cre­ativ­i­ty who, Alex Ross wrote in a series of McSweeney’s trib­utes, spent his time “keen­ly observ­ing, forg­ing acronyms, rean­i­mat­ing life­less OED entries, and cre­at­ing sen­tences that make us spit out our beer.”

Ross’s men­tion of the Oxford Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary, that ven­er­a­ble repos­i­to­ry of the vast breadth and depth of writ­ten Eng­lish (sad­ly kept behind a pay­wall), helps us appre­ci­ate Wallace’s list, which fea­tures such archa­ic adverbs as “mau­gre” (“in spite of, notwith­stand­ing”) and obscure adjec­tives as “lacinate” (“fringed”). Who has read, much less writ­ten, the Anglo-Sax­on “ruck” (“a mul­ti­tude of peo­ple mixed togeth­er”)? And while the equal­ly rock-hard, mono­syl­lab­ic “wrack” is famil­iar, I have not before encoun­tered the love­ly “prima­para” (“woman who’s preg­nant for the first time”).


Anoth­er page of Wallace’s list (above—click images to enlarge) includes such trea­sures as “taran­tism,” a “dis­or­der where you have an uncon­trol­lable need to dance,” and “sci­olism,” a “pre­ten­tious air of schol­ar­ship; super­fi­cial knowl­edga­bil­i­ty.” While it is true that Wal­lace has been accused of the lat­ter, I do not think this is a com­pe­tent judg­ment. Instead, I would describe him with anoth­er of my favorite words—“amateur”—not at all, of course, in the sense of an unpaid or unskilled begin­ner, but rather, as it meant in French, a “devot­ed lover” of the Eng­lish lan­guage.

These pages come to us from Lists of Note (and the Har­ry Ran­som Cen­ter at UT-Austin), who writes that they are “just two pages from the hun­dreds of word lists he amassed over the years.” Per­haps one day we’ll see a pub­lished edi­tion of David Fos­ter Wallace’s favorite words. For the nonce, head on over to Lists of Note to see this min­im of his lex­i­con tran­scribed.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Fos­ter Wallace’s Love of Lan­guage Revealed by the Books in His Per­son­al Library

David Fos­ter Wal­lace Breaks Down Five Com­mon Word Usage Mis­takes in Eng­lish

David Fos­ter Wallace’s 1994 Syl­labus: How to Teach Seri­ous Lit­er­a­ture with Light­weight Books

30 Free Essays & Sto­ries by David Fos­ter Wal­lace on the Web

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Sir Ian McKellen Puts on a Dazzling One-Man Shakespeare Show

Long before he played Gan­dalf or Mag­ne­to, Sir Ian McK­ellen was known as one of the finest stage actors in Eng­land. A stand out in the Roy­al Shake­speare Com­pa­ny, Sir Ian played the lead in its 1974 stag­ing of Doc­tor Faus­tus and its 1977 stag­ing of Mac­beth. He was made a Com­man­der of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1979 almost entire­ly because of his stage work.

If you want a sense of just how good Sir Ian is, watch his one-man show Act­ing Shake­speare. You can see it in its entire­ty above.

Devel­oped on the road in the late ‘70s, the show is part a schol­ar­ly his­to­ry of the Bard, part an auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal yarn and part a great­est hits of Shakespeare’s speech­es. And Sir Ian is absolute­ly daz­zling. At one point, he gives a spot on imper­son­ation of Sir John Giel­gud. At anoth­er he per­forms a scene from Romeo and Juli­et play­ing both Romeo and Juli­et. He shifts effort­less­ly from giv­ing a solil­o­quy by Ham­let to deliv­er­ing a wit­ty anec­dote about life on the stage with sense of tim­ing of a vet­er­an stand-up come­di­an.

Act­ing Shake­speare is a 95-minute long sus­tained dis­play of act­ing bravu­ra. It’s pret­ty enter­tain­ing too. Seri­ous­ly, check it out.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Find Shake­speare’s Plays in Our Free eBooks and Free Audio Books Col­lec­tions

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow.

The President of Northwestern University Predicts Online Learning … in 1934!

1934 predictions

One of our most pop­u­lar posts this year cen­tered around a pre­scient set of pre­dic­tions that Isaac Asi­mov made for 2014, way back in 1964. Asi­mov, how­ev­er, wasn’t the only one whose vision of the future seems to have been real­ized.

The web site Pale­o­fu­ture fea­tures a 1934 issue of Every­day Sci­ence and Mechan­ics mag­a­zine, where North­west­ern Uni­ver­si­ty pres­i­dent Wal­ter Dill Scott made some far­sight­ed pro­nounce­ments of his own. Scott believed that the phys­i­cal col­lege cam­pus would no longer need to be a lynch­pin for edu­ca­tion, and that stu­dents could learn by way of radio and pic­tures. Fax machines and tele­vi­sions would allow stu­dents to access lec­ture mate­ri­als world­wide, and ensure that researchers could con­duct their research remote­ly. He also fig­ured that we’d all end up com­mut­ing by planes. Every­day Sci­ence and Mechan­ics wrote:

The uni­ver­si­ty of twen­ty-five years from now will be a dif­fer­ent look­ing place, says Pres­i­dent Scott of North­west­ern. Instead of con­cen­trat­ing fac­ul­ty and stu­dents around a cam­pus, they will “com­mute” by air, and the uni­ver­si­ty will be sur­round­ed by air­ports and hangars. The course will be car­ried on, to a large extent, by radio and pic­tures. Fac­sim­i­le broad­cast­ing and tele­vi­sion will enlarge great­ly the range of a library; and research may be car­ried on by schol­ars at great dis­tances.

Air­ports and hangars aside, Scott’s con­jec­tures hit pret­ty close to home. While fax machines and radio may have been sup­plant­ed by the Inter­net, the essence of our edu­ca­tion­al advance­ments is the same: uni­ver­si­ty stu­dents can often lis­ten to lec­tures and com­plete assign­ments online, spend­ing only a few short face-to-face hours in the class­room. Oth­er times, class­es may be whol­ly avail­able online, and stu­dents may nev­er step foot on cam­pus alto­geth­er. Schol­ars, too, can trawl through data­bas­es like JSTOR and PsycIN­FO with­out get­ting out of bed, con­duct­ing research as they trav­el.

In fact, today almost any­one can have access to uni­ver­si­ty knowl­edge. Feel like tak­ing a Tech­nol­o­gy Entre­pre­neur­ship class offered by Stan­ford, or learn about Walt Whit­man, cour­tesy of The Uni­ver­si­ty of Iowa? Noth­ing sim­pler! Mas­sive Open Online cours­es (MOOCs) are pro­lif­er­at­ing, and you can down­load audio & video lec­tures from top tier uni­ver­si­ties. Vis­it our col­lec­tion of 825 Free Online Cours­es to see what we mean.

In the end, it’s a good thing Scott was right. Oth­er­wise, there’d be no Open Cul­ture.

via Pale­o­fu­ture

Ilia Blin­d­er­man is a Mon­tre­al-based cul­ture and sci­ence writer. Fol­low him at @iliablinderman.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Isaac Asi­mov Pre­dicts in 1964 What the World Will Look Like Today — in 2014

Arthur C. Clarke Pre­dicts the Future in 1964 … And Kind of Nails It

Wal­ter Cronkite Imag­ines the Home of the 21st Cen­tu­ry … Back in 1967

The Inter­net Imag­ined in 1969

Mar­shall McLuhan Announces That The World is a Glob­al Vil­lage

New York’s Famous Chelsea Hotel and Its Creative Residents Revisited in a 1981 Documentary

Last year, we fea­tured a clip of Nico singing “Chelsea Girls” at the Hotel Chelsea, the much-mythol­o­gized Man­hat­tan insti­tu­tion that, at one time or anoth­er, housed a range of cul­tur­al fig­ures includ­ing Mark Twain, Bob Dylan, Dylan Thomas, Charles Bukows­ki, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Pat­ti Smith, Robert Map­plethor­pe, Allen Gins­berg, Hen­ri Carti­er-Bres­son, Iggy Pop, Gaby Hoff­mann, Sid Vicious, and Arthur Miller. “The Chelsea in the Six­ties seemed to com­bine two atmos­pheres,” writes Miller in a 1978 essay on his time there. “A scary opti­mistic chaos which pre­dict­ed the hip future, and at the same time the feel of a mas­sive, old-fash­ioned, shel­ter­ing fam­i­ly. That at least was the myth one nursed in one’s mind, but like all myths it did not alto­geth­er stand inspec­tion.” That era more than arguably marked the Chelsea’s social and cul­tur­al hey­day.

A few years lat­er, in 1981, BBC’s arts doc­u­men­tary series Are­na made its way to New York to inves­ti­gate the his­to­ry and then-cur­rent state of this ver­i­ta­ble coun­ter­cul­ture incu­ba­tor. The film spends time with cur­rent Chelsea res­i­dents, for­mer Chelsea res­i­dents, and Chelsea habitués notable, cre­ative, and oth­er­wise — the notably cre­ative Andy Warhol, William Bur­roughs, and Quentin Crisp all make appear­ances. It also talks to the hotel’s staff and fol­lows a tour guide as he leads a curi­ous group through its sto­ried cor­ri­dors. “With all my mis­giv­ings about the Chelsea,” Miller reflects, “I can nev­er enter it with­out a cer­tain quick­en­ing of my heart­beat. There is an inde­scrib­ably home­like atmos­phere which at the same time lacks a cer­tain cred­i­bil­i­ty. It is some kind of fic­tion­al place, I used to think. As in dreams things are out front that are con­cealed in oth­er hotels.”

For more, you might want to spend time with “An Oral His­to­ry of the Chelsea Hotel: Where the Walls Still Talk,” which appeared in Van­i­ty Fair last Octo­ber.

Find the doc­u­men­tary above list­ed in our col­lec­tion of 625 Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, etc.

via Dan­ger­ous Minds

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Nico Sings “Chelsea Girls” in the Famous Chelsea Hotel

Iggy Pop Con­ducts a Tour of New York’s Low­er East Side, Cir­ca 1993

Charles Bukows­ki Takes You on a Very Uncon­ven­tion­al Tour of Hol­ly­wood

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, Asia, film, lit­er­a­ture, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Student Asks Noam Chomsky for Dating Advice

Noam Chom­sky is a pret­ty unlike­ly celebri­ty. As a pre­em­i­nent anar­chist the­o­rist, his polit­i­cal writ­ing is full of pas­sion­ate inten­si­ty, but in his numer­ous pub­lic appear­ances, he con­forms much more to images asso­ci­at­ed with his day job as a pre­em­i­nent aca­d­e­m­ic and lin­guist. He’s very soft-spoken—I’ve nev­er heard him raise his voice above the reg­is­ter of polite cof­fee-shop conversation—and frumpy in that elder schol­ar kind of way: uncombed gray hair, an end­less sup­ply of sweaters and cor­duroy jack­ets…

So, yes, it’s amus­ing when, in the short clip above, a young Chom­sky fan asks the 85-year-old “father of mod­ern lin­guis­tics” for advice on how to talk to women. Chomsky’s non­plussed response is hon­est and heart­felt. He has noth­ing to offer in this regard, he says: “I got out of that busi­ness 70 years ago.” If it seems like Chomsky’s math is a lit­tle off—he was mar­ried in 1949—consider that he and his wife Car­ol met when they were both just five years old.

Theirs was a qui­et­ly charm­ing romance. Chom­sky, who has always pos­sessed an extra­or­di­nary abil­i­ty to keep his per­son­al, polit­i­cal, and pro­fes­sion­al lives sep­a­rate, did not speak much of their mar­riage until after Carol’s death in 2008. In the excerpt above from a Big Think inter­view short­ly after, Chom­sky tells a sto­ry of group of peas­ants in South­ern Colum­bia who plant­ed a for­est in his wife’s mem­o­ry. He’s also asked to define love. This time, he has a much more inter­est­ing response than his reply to the would-be pick up artist above: “I just know it’s—has an unbreak­able grip, but I can’t tell you what it is.  It’s just life’s emp­ty with­out it.”

via Crit­i­cal The­o­ry

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Noam Chom­sky Schools 9/11 Truther; Explains the Sci­ence of Mak­ing Cred­i­ble Claims

Film­mak­er Michel Gondry Presents an Ani­mat­ed Con­ver­sa­tion with Noam Chom­sky

Noam Chom­sky Spells Out the Pur­pose of Edu­ca­tion

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Stanley Kubrick’s Annotated Copy of Stephen King’s The Shining

kubrick shining cover

The web site Over­look Hotel has post­ed pic­tures of Stan­ley Kubrick’s per­son­al copy of Stephen King’s nov­el The Shin­ing, which is nor­mal­ly kept at the Stan­ley Kubrick Archive, but has been mak­ing the rounds in a trav­el­ing exhi­bi­tion. The book is filled with high­light­ed pas­sages and large­ly illeg­i­ble notes in the margin—tantalizing clues to Kubrick’s inten­tions for the movie.

kubrick shining text 1

The site fea­tures a pic­ture of the book’s care­worn cov­er along with two spreads from the book’s inte­ri­or —pages 8–9, where Jack Tor­rance is being inter­viewed by hotel man­ag­er Mr. Ull­man, and pages 86–87 where hotel cook Dick Hal­lo­rann talks to Jack’s son Dan­ny about the tele­path­ic abil­i­ty called “shin­ing.” (Click on the images to enlarge.)

Much of the mar­gin­a­lia is mad­den­ing­ly hard to deci­pher. One of the notes I could make out reads:

Maybe just like their [sic] are peo­ple who can shine, maybe there are places that are spe­cial. Maybe it has to do with what hap­pened in them or where they were built.

Kubrick is clear­ly work­ing to trans­late King’s book into film. Oth­er notes, how­ev­er, seem whol­ly unre­lat­ed to the movie.

Any prob­lems with the kitchen – you phone me

When The Shin­ing came out, it was greet­ed with tepid and non­plussed reviews. Since then, the film’s rep­u­ta­tion has grown, and now it’s con­sid­ered a hor­ror mas­ter­piece.

kubrick shining text 2

At first view­ing, The Shin­ing over­whelms the view­er with pun­gent images that etch them­selves in the mind—those creepy twins, that rot­ting senior cit­i­zen in the bath­tub, that del­uge of blood from the ele­va­tor. Yet after the fifth or sev­enth view­ing, the film reveals itself to be far weird­er than your aver­age hor­ror flick. For instance, why is Jack Nichol­son read­ing a Play­girl mag­a­zine while wait­ing in the lob­by? What’s the deal with that guy in the bear suit at the end of the movie? Why is Dan­ny wear­ing an Apol­lo 11 sweater?

While Stephen King has had dozens of his books adapt­ed for the screen (many are flat out ter­ri­ble), of all the adap­ta­tions, this is one that King active­ly dis­likes.

“I would do every thing dif­fer­ent,” com­plained King about the movie to Amer­i­can Film Mag­a­zine in 1986. “The real prob­lem is that Kubrick set out to make a hor­ror pic­ture with no appar­ent under­stand­ing of the genre.” King lat­er made his own screen ver­sion of his book. By all accounts, it’s nowhere as good as Kubrick’s.

Per­haps the rea­son King loathed Kubrick’s adap­ta­tion so much is that the famous­ly secre­tive and con­trol­ling direc­tor packed the movie with so many odd signs, like Danny’s Apol­lo sweater, that seem to point to a mean­ing beyond a tale of an alco­holic writer who descends into mad­ness and mur­der. The Shin­ing is a semi­otic puz­zle about …what?

Crit­ic after crit­ic has attempt­ed to crack the film’s hid­den mean­ing. Jour­nal­ist Bill Blake­more argued in his essay “The Fam­i­ly of Man” that The Shin­ing is actu­al­ly about the geno­cide of the Native Amer­i­cans. His­to­ri­an Geof­frey Cocks sug­gests that the movie is about the Holo­caust. And con­spir­a­cy guru Jay Wei­d­ner has argued pas­sion­ate­ly that the movie is in fact Kubrick’s cod­ed con­fes­sion for his role in stag­ing the Apol­lo 11 moon land­ing. (On a relat­ed note, see Dark Side of the Moon: A Mock­u­men­tary on Stan­ley Kubrick and the Moon Land­ing Hoax.)

Rod­ney Ascher’s 2012 doc­u­men­tary Room 237 jux­ta­pos­es all of these wild­ly diver­gent read­ings, bril­liant­ly show­ing just how dense and mul­ti­va­lent The Shin­ing is. You can see the trail­er for the doc­u­men­tary above.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mak­ing The Shin­ing

The Mak­ing of Stan­ley Kubrick’s The Shin­ing (As Told by Those Who Helped Him Make It)

Room 237: New Doc­u­men­tary Explores Stan­ley Kubrick’s The Shin­ing and Those It Obsess­es

Rare 1960s Audio: Stan­ley Kubrick’s Big Inter­view with The New York­er

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow.

Read Ezra Pound’s List of 23 “Don’ts” For Writing Poetry (1913)

1922 image by Alvin Lang­don Coburn, via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Ezra Pound was a key fig­ure in 20th cen­tu­ry poet­ry. Not only did he demon­strate impres­sive poet­ic skill in his Can­tos; he also proved to be a cru­cial ear­ly sup­port­er of sev­er­al famous con­tem­po­raries, cham­pi­oning the likes of Robert Frost, T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, Ernest Hem­ing­way, and H.D.. Before deserved­ly being con­demned for his fas­cist pol­i­tics and anti­semitism, Pound estab­lished him­self as one of the lead­ing lit­er­ary crit­ics of his time. David Perkins, in A His­to­ry of Mod­ern Poet­ry, wrote, “Dur­ing a cru­cial decade in the his­to­ry of mod­ern lit­er­a­ture, approx­i­mate­ly 1912–1922, Pound was the most influ­en­tial and in some ways the best crit­ic of poet­ry in Eng­land or Amer­i­ca.”

Ear­ly in the 20th cen­tu­ry, Pound helped found the Imag­ist poet­ry move­ment, which abid­ed by three key laws:

1. Direct treat­ment of the “thing” whether sub­jec­tive or objec­tive.

2. To use absolute­ly no word that does not con­tribute to the pre­sen­ta­tion.

3. As regard­ing rhythm: to com­pose in the sequence of the musi­cal phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.

In 1913, Pound wrote an essay enti­tled “A Few Don’ts.” Its rules, enu­mer­at­ed below, pro­vide young poets with a much-need­ed reminder to reign in their egos and apply them­selves assid­u­ous­ly to their craft.

In a nut­shell, the rules state that each verse should be lean and pur­pose­ful, with no frills or filler to pro­vide padding. They also empha­size the impor­tance of pos­sess­ing an aware­ness of the work of pre­vi­ous poets, and of using this under­stand­ing in the cre­ation of new work.

  1. Pay no atten­tion to the crit­i­cism of men who have nev­er them­selves writ­ten a notable work. Con­sid­er the dis­crep­an­cies between the actu­al writ­ing of the Greek poets and drama­tists, and the the­o­ries of the Grae­co-Roman gram­mar­i­ans, con­coct­ed to explain their metres.
  2. Use no super­flu­ous word, no adjec­tive which does not reveal some­thing.
  3. Don’t use such an expres­sion as ‘dim lands of peace’. It dulls the image. It mix­es an abstrac­tion with the con­crete. It comes from the writer’s not real­iz­ing that the nat­ur­al object is always the ade­quate sym­bol.
  4. Go in fear of abstrac­tions. Do not retell in mediocre verse what has already been done in good prose. Don’t think any intel­li­gent per­son is going to be deceived when you try to shirk all the dif­fi­cul­ties of the unspeak­ably dif­fi­cult art of good prose by chop­ping your com­po­si­tion into line lengths.
  5. What the expert is tired of today the pub­lic will be tired of tomor­row. Don’t imag­ine that the art of poet­ry is any sim­pler than the art of music, or that you can please the expert before you have spent at least as much effort on the art of verse as an aver­age piano teacher spends on the art of music.
  6. Be influ­enced by as many great artists as you can, but have the decen­cy either to acknowl­edge the debt out­right, or to try to con­ceal it. Don’t allow ‘influ­ence’ to mean mere­ly that you mop up the par­tic­u­lar dec­o­ra­tive vocab­u­lary of some one or two poets whom you hap­pen to admire. A Turk­ish war cor­re­spon­dent was recent­ly caught red-hand­ed bab­bling in his dis­patch­es of ‘dove-grey’ hills, or else it was ‘pearl-pale’, I can not remem­ber.
  7. Use either no orna­ment or good orna­ment.
  8. Let the can­di­date fill his mind with the finest cadences he can dis­cov­er, prefer­ably in a for­eign lan­guage, so that the mean­ing of the words may be less like­ly to divert his atten­tion from the move­ment; e.g. Sax­on charms, Hebridean Folk Songs, the verse of Dante, and the lyrics of Shake­speare — if he can dis­so­ci­ate the vocab­u­lary from the cadence. Let him dis­sect the lyrics of Goethe cold­ly into their com­po­nent sound val­ues, syl­la­bles long and short, stressed and unstressed, into vow­els and con­so­nants.
  9. It is not nec­es­sary that a poem should rely on its music, but if it does rely on its music that music must be such as will delight the expert.
  10. Let the neo­phyte know asso­nance and allit­er­a­tion, rhyme imme­di­ate and delayed, sim­ple and poly­phon­ic, as a musi­cian would expect to know har­mo­ny and coun­ter­point and all the minu­ti­ae of his craft. No time is too great to give to these mat­ters or to any one of them, even if the artist sel­dom have need of them.
  11. Don’t imag­ine that a thing will ‘go’ in verse just because it’s too dull to go in prose.
  12. Don’t be ‘viewy’ — leave that to the writ­ers of pret­ty lit­tle philo­soph­ic essays. Don’t be descrip­tive; remem­ber that the painter can describe a land­scape much bet­ter than you can, and that he has to know a deal more about it.
  13. When Shake­speare talks of the ‘Dawn in rus­set man­tle clad’ he presents some­thing which the painter does not present. There is in this line of his noth­ing that one can call descrip­tion; he presents.
  14. Con­sid­er the way of the sci­en­tists rather than the way of an adver­tis­ing agent for a new soap. The sci­en­tist does not expect to be acclaimed as a great sci­en­tist until he has dis­cov­ered some­thing. He begins by learn­ing what has been dis­cov­ered already. He goes from that point onward. He does not bank on being a charm­ing fel­low per­son­al­ly. He does not expect his friends to applaud the results of his fresh­man class work. Fresh­men in poet­ry are unfor­tu­nate­ly not con­fined to a def­i­nite and rec­og­niz­able class room. They are ‘all over the shop’. Is it any won­der ‘the pub­lic is indif­fer­ent to poet­ry?’
  15. Don’t chop your stuff into sep­a­rate iambs. Don’t make each line stop dead at the end and then begin every next line with a heave. Let the begin­ning of the next line catch the rise of the rhythm wave, unless you want a def­i­nite longish pause. In short, behave as a musi­cian, a good musi­cian, when deal­ing with that phase of your art which has exact par­al­lels in music. The same laws gov­ern, and you are bound by no oth­ers.
  16. Nat­u­ral­ly, your rhyth­mic struc­ture should not destroy the shape of your words, or their nat­ur­al sound, or their mean­ing. It is improb­a­ble that, at the start, you will he able to get a rhythm-struc­ture strong enough to affect them very much, though you may fall a vic­tim to all sorts of false stop­ping due to line ends, and caesurae.
  17. The Musi­cian can rely on pitch and the vol­ume of the orches­tra. You can not. The term har­mo­ny is mis­ap­plied in poet­ry; it refers to simul­ta­ne­ous sounds of dif­fer­ent pitch. There is, how­ev­er, in the best verse a sort of residue of sound which remains in the ear of the hear­er and acts more or less as an organ-base.
  18. A rhyme must have in it some slight ele­ment of sur­prise if it is to give plea­sure, it need not be bizarre or curi­ous, but it must be well used if used at all.
  19. That part of your poet­ry which strikes upon the imag­i­na­tive eye of the read­er will lose noth­ing by trans­la­tion into a for­eign tongue; that which appeals to the ear can reach only those who take it in the orig­i­nal.
  20. Con­sid­er the def­i­nite­ness of Dan­te’s pre­sen­ta­tion, as com­pared with Mil­ton’s rhetoric. Read as much of Wordsworth as does not seem too unut­ter­ably dull. If you want the gist of the mat­ter go to Sap­pho, Cat­ul­lus, Vil­lon, Heine when he is in the vein, Gau­ti­er when he is not too frigid; or, if you have not the tongues, seek out the leisure­ly Chaucer. Good prose will do you no harm, and there is good dis­ci­pline to be had by try­ing to write it.
  21. Trans­la­tion is like­wise good train­ing, if you find that your orig­i­nal mat­ter ‘wob­bles’ when you try to rewrite it. The mean­ing of the poem to be trans­lat­ed can not ‘wob­ble’.
  22. If you are using a sym­met­ri­cal form, don’t put in what you want to say and then fill up the remain­ing vac­u­ums with slush.
  23. Don’t mess up the per­cep­tion of one sense by try­ing to define it in terms of anoth­er. This is usu­al­ly only the result of being too lazy to find the exact word. To this clause there are pos­si­bly excep­tions.

To read Pound’s com­plete essay, along­side sev­er­al oth­er works of his crit­i­cism, head over to Poet­ry Foun­da­tion.

Texts and read­ings by Pound can be found in our Free eBooks and Free Audio Books col­lec­tions.

Ilia Blin­d­er­man is a Mon­tre­al-based cul­ture and sci­ence writer. Fol­low him at @iliablinderman.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Ezra Pound Read From His “Can­tos,” Some of the Great Poet­ic Works of the 20th Cen­tu­ry

Ezra Pound’s Fiery 1939 Read­ing of His Ear­ly Poem, ‘Ses­ti­na: Altaforte’

Pier Pao­lo Pasoli­ni Talks and Reads Poet­ry with Ezra Pound (1967)

Ernest Hem­ing­way Writes of His Fas­cist Friend Ezra Pound: “He Deserves Pun­ish­ment and Dis­grace” (1943)

Watch and Search Newly Digitized Conversations with 148 People Who Witnessed the Great Depression


In March of 1992, many years after pho­tog­ra­ph­er Dorothea Lange’s 1936 image of a migrant moth­er in Cal­i­for­nia (above) became one of the most icon­ic images from the Great Depres­sion, a cam­era crew sat down with two daugh­ters of the sub­ject of Lange’s pho­to. For about 40 min­utes, Nor­ma Rydlews­ki and Kather­ine McIn­tosh shared their sto­ries with Black­side, Inc., a com­pa­ny found­ed by award-win­ning film­mak­er Hen­ry Hamp­ton. In the footage and tran­script of that con­ver­sa­tion, acces­si­ble for the first time along with many more such inter­views through Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Libraries, the family’s dai­ly chal­lenges come to life. The sis­ters describe not only their strong, beau­ti­ful moth­er but every­thing from field work and play­ing with dirt clods as chil­dren to ear­ly union meet­ings and the eco­nom­i­cal “sav­ing grace” that was World War II.

When The Great Depres­sion, Blackside’s sev­en-part doc­u­men­tary series, debuted on PBS in Octo­ber of 1993, the pro­gram wove togeth­er short seg­ments from exten­sive inter­views with 148 peo­ple who expe­ri­enced the Great Depres­sion, includ­ing Rydlews­ki and McIn­tosh. As illu­mi­nat­ing as the doc­u­men­tary is in its own right, the many addi­tion­al hours of oral his­to­ry that Black­side record­ed in the process of cre­at­ing it are a trea­sure trove of pri­ma­ry source material—all of it now view­able, brows­able, and search­able online through the efforts of WU Libraries’ Visu­al Media Research Lab and Dig­i­tal Library Ser­vices (DLS).

The diverse range of indi­vid­u­als whose reflec­tions on the 1930s are now eas­i­ly acces­si­ble include a grand­son of Franklin D. and Eleanor Roo­sevelt, cel­e­brat­ed authors Maya Angelou and Gore Vidal, long­time New York Times polit­i­cal reporter War­ren Moscow, actors Karen Mor­ley and Ossie Davis, Mor­ton New­man, who worked on the Upton Sin­clair cam­paign for gov­er­nor in Cal­i­for­nia, and many more from all walks of life. The mul­ti­cul­tur­al, mul­ti­re­gion­al approach brings need­ed depth and col­or to an era that is often remem­bered and depict­ed as a mono­lith­ic event drag­ging the nation down for a decade, says Spe­cial Col­lec­tions assis­tant Ali­son Car­rick, who man­aged the work­flow of the dig­i­ti­za­tion project.

“When we think about the Great Depres­sion, images of the dust bowl and bread­lines imme­di­ate­ly come to mind,” Car­rick says. “And that is part of the his­to­ry Black­side cov­ered with this series, but they also revealed com­plex and live­ly sto­ries that are often overlooked—from union strug­gles, to heat­ed polit­i­cal cam­paigns, Works Progress Admin­is­tra­tion projects, the New Deal, and more. What Black­side man­aged to do with this series and these inter­views was to bring that peri­od of his­to­ry back to life in a vivid, engag­ing way.”

The intent behind The Great Depres­sion Inter­views project is to pro­vide a seam­less, pow­er­ful tool with much poten­tial for inter­dis­ci­pli­nary research.

“One of the best fea­tures of the site, thanks to DLS, is that it is text/keyword search­able,” Car­rick says. “This cre­ates a way for users to pin­point a sub­ject, name, or event and quick­ly look to see where it occurs in each tran­script. Our hope is that this fea­ture will lead users to oth­er tran­scripts they might not have thought con­tained sim­i­lar sub­ject mat­ter.”

This post was writ­ten by Evie Hemphill (@evhemphill), a writer and pho­tog­ra­ph­er for Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty Libraries in St. Louis.

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