A Happy Return to Poetry, Accompanied by a Surprise Professorship at a Virtual University – by Neil Baldwin

I have truly lost count of the number of times during past decades – and indeed past lives – that I have been to Miami on my various book tours as well as for meetings of the Association of American Publishers and the American Booksellers Association.

Little did I know that as a result of my being asked to serve as Literary Advisor to the five-star Betsy Hotel in South Beach (surely this is a “first” for any hotel anywhere in the world…the idea of a literary advisor…) I would reestablish my friendship with the ever-avuncular and energetic Mitch Kaplan, mastermind of the fabulous and fabled Books & Books, become immersed in the vibrant Miami arts and culture scene, and, most recently, co-host – with philanthropist-entrepreneur Tai Beauchamp – a gala and chic Poetry Dinner in the subterranean B-Bar of the Betsy, where we met and mingled with Scott Cunningham, President of the conceptual University of Wynwood, and visiting poets Ed Skoog and Gregory Pardlo.

In preparation for this heady and intoxicating literary extravaganza at the end of June, I stepped into the quiet room adjoining my third-floor study where I keep all of my poetry books and lit crit, and pulled down a well-leafed volume of Ezra Pound’s Selected Prose, 1909-1965. I had the intuition that the Master would have words of wisdom to help frame my thinking for the Miami poetry experience. And he did not let me down.

The more I read through E.P., the more I came to believe that he had mystically anticipated not only the cultural evolution and dare I say it revolution currently gripping our land…but also…he had forewarned me of the Creative Research Center ‘way back in the early 1970s when I started reading him.

Listen to this:  “Letters are a nation’s foreign office,” the young Pound declared in his essay Patria Mia, written when he was all of twenty-eight years old.  “By the arts, and by them almost alone, do nations gain for each other any understanding and intimate respect.” 

And, a few essays later, this prophetic nugget from For a New Paideuma (1938):  “This word – Paideuma – has been given the sense of the active element of the era, the complex of ideas which is in a given time germinal, reaching into the next epoch, but conditioning actively all the thought and action of its own time.”         

And this passionate 1912 clarion-call for the unity of arts and sciences, as so brilliantly exemplified in the two new CRC blogs featured elsewhere on this site:  “As the abstract mathematician is to science, so the poet is to the world’s consciousness…What the analytical geometer does for space and form, the poet does for states of consciousness.”

Is there really nothing new under the sun; or is it rather that, as the epochs parade by, we who consider ourselves “original” are in fact repurposing (now there’s a postmodern gerund) and remixing old ideas into new forms? Pound reminded me that my language may be the same as his, but my mind-structure is very different. Therein lies the novelty.

The University of Wynwood claims to have no faculty; which is why I was so deeply honored when the founder, Scott Cunningham, announced at the beginning of the Skoog and Pardlo reading that I had just been appointed Professor-at-Large. In my first official act in this capacity, I urge all CRC visitors to visit at the U of W, and check out the astonishing project they are planning for National Poetry Month, April 2011, “O Miami,” funded generously by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, during which the goal is that “every single person in Miami-Dade county will encounter a poem during that month. Mixing traditional readings with innovative poetry-in-public-places projects,” the Festival RFP announces, “our events will attempt to deliver poetry to the widest possible (and often most unsuspecting) audience.”

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