November 22, 2014

Poetry and apocalypse

A few weeks back when the movie Ouija was being advertised, I became curious where the word came from. Apparently, ouija (which I grew up pronouncing as wee-gee for some reason and can't not say it like that) has the improbable etymology of either ancient Egyptian for "good luck" or a combination of French "yes" and German "yes".

While scanning the Wikipedia article, I saw that the poet James Merrill wrote a three-part epic apocalyptic poem, generated from ouija board seances, called The Changing Light at Sandover. The three books, published in 1976, 1978, and 1980, span 560 pages. They were published together with a short coda in 1982 and won the National Book Critics Circle Award the next year. My last attempt at long difficult reading, Joyce's Ulysses, failed, but I had to get this. I have not yet started.

Somewhere I saw Sandover compared to T. S. Eliot's apocalyptic 1922 poem The Waste Land so I ordered the Michael North edited version when I ordered Sandover. I've so far read this short, barely 15-page poem three times and have started picking through the 300 pages of reference material including Baudelaire, James Frazier, Aldous Huxley, and Herman Hesse. Dedicated to Ezra Pound, it reads like infinitely more accessible Pound. I've read a few sections out loud and felt that added much. One connection that bubbled up while taking in Eliot's bleak imagery was Godspeed You! Black Emperor's album F# A# Infinity. I listened to this back in July 2010 and may need to revisit.

File under synchrony: since purchasing The Waste Land, I've been barraged by random references to Eliot and Pound.

posted by sstrader at 10:41 AM in Language & Literature | permalink