Ezra Pound photographed in 1913 by Alvin Langdon Coburn
The “difficult pleasures” is a phrase not of my own making. It belongs to Harold Bloom, but I have chosen it anyhow, because it so nicely encapsulates my own experience with much of the literature that most people seem to find—as far as I can tell—arcane, remote, and even tedious.
Bloom’s formulation is both paradoxical and a little snobby. Paradoxical for the obvious reason that we don’t ordinarily think of pleasures as difficult; we expect them to be, well, pleasurable. Snobby in the positive sense, because it is rooted in Bloom’s faith—a faith I happen to share—in the value of studying the recently much-maligned “Western Canon”, that (in)famous parade of so-called Dead White Males, from Plato to NATO, which has been castigated for at least several decades by the very same Learned Academies that had hitherto striven so long to preserve it.
In my first year at the University of Winnipeg, I read the early 20th century poet Ezra Pound—most of whose work is most definitely a difficult pleasure.
Though his auspicious beginnings were later marred when he became bitterly and publicly anti-Semitic, Pound’s place in the Western Canon is by now assured. Ironically it was a canon he continually railed against, and which he also managed to bolster and transform. His importance cannot be underestimated: his aesthetic, even more than his poetry, helped to define what we now call Modernism.
Pound wrote an early essay which I never forgot, and which I dug up on the internet just today. It reads:
Three years ago in Paris I got out of a “metro” train at La Concorde, and saw suddenly a beautiful face, and then another and another, and then a beautiful child’s face, and then another beautiful woman, and I tried all that day to find words for what this had meant to me, and I could not find any words that seemed to me worthy, or as lovely as that sudden emotion…
(from Gaudier-Brzeska, 1916)
Pound goes on to say that he tried all day to work out a way of saying what he had felt, but without result. Eventually—he does not say when—he wrote a poem of 30 lines; but, unhappy with the results, he made a second attempt, some 6 months later, and cut it down to 15 lines. A year later still, he had boiled it down to a single couplet:
“The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals, on a wet, black bough.”
The title Pound provides for this couplet—“In A Station of the Metro”—gives the reader a place to put the image, and completes the work.
Pound wrote many volumes of verse that were vastly more “difficult” pleasures than this terse but extraordinary poem. However, “In A Station of the Metro” was by no means dashed off in a moment of inspiration, and it powerfully indicates his devotion to reworking this material over and over until it had become as compressed as his initial “sudden emotion.” This is the kind of persistency that marks the mind of one who wishes to encounter the complex simplicity of the difficult pleasures.
May we relish them together in Difficult Pleasures to come.
CRASH TEST DUMMIES
Pound’s words are quoted on 05 May 2016 at http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/m_r/pound/metro.htm,
DIFFICULT PLEASURES IS A LYRICIST’S DIARY, copyright 2016
All spelling and grammatical errors are owing to the malignant forces of a vast conspiracy, and not the fault of said diarist.
My best guest spot on any record had to be Joe Jackson’s 7 Deadly Sins record, where I sang the part of Sloth on “Bud and a Slice”. Joe is one of the few great acts out there who can combine pop music with the symphonic tradition. He was delighted to hear that I like Shostakovich–no other pop musician ever shared my taste in that department! Check out his (relatively) new record. A must hear.
Five years after my herniated disc, and many hours of yoga later, I have returned to the road: and, well, bless my soul! it’s already treating me very well–nay, better–like an old friend! And I have another old friend with me, Mr. Stewart Cameron, who is in my view the greatest acoustic guitar player in Canada–and among a handful of gifted players internationally. He can interpret a fully orchestrated track and boil it down to its essentials. And he does all of this with only a minimal knowledge of theory–indeed, I certainly know more theory than he does–but I’ll never be able to play guitar that in his league. I hope some of you readers will join us in the Canadian Maritime Provinces, as well as in Southern Ontario, come the end of May and first two weeks of June. The dates are posted everywhere so I won’t repeat them ad nauseous. But please do come! I give you my personal guarantee that you’ll be most happy. I long for the fresh sea air of Halifax, but for now I must breath the rancid stench of NYC. Best, Bard
Who doesn’t love a high rise?
Hey Everyone: If you can’t come to the USA for my new shows, you can watch me stream online at –
Just click on the icon for live shows, and you can buy a ticket.
The show is live only! You can only watch it in real time.
If it turns out well, I might purchase and release it.
All for now,
Hey everyone: new show just got added: It’s on Sept 21st at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton. To buy tix, see
See ticket links below.
We also play:
Tupelo Music Hall on Sunday, September 20th in Londonderry, NH, USA
Stage One on Saturday, September 26 Fairfield CT, USA – ticket links TBA
World Café Live at Philly September 22nd
Jammin’ Java September 23rd
Daryl’s House September 24/15 Pawling, NY
Hey Everyone: Brad Roberts – that’s me! – is going on tour again after a 5 year break. See our tour dropdown menu for dates in the Eastern United States. More dates will continue to come in for both the USA and Canada. Hope to see you out there – somewhere!
I went uptown today – a big deal pour moi, as I rarely go above 14th street. Visited my agent, and we both agreed it’s time for me to go back to work. Though I have no desire to record any music at this time, I do feel like doing some casual touring, and I can’t live on MMM MMM MMM MMM royalties forever…. As I am the only Dummy left that wants to tour, I’ll be going out with my long-time friend and outrageously smokin’ guitar player, Stuart Cameron. Dates will likely start in June, and pick up as the year progresses. As I am happily married, I won’t be sharing my fabulous, yoga-sculpted body with anyone but myself. Do I have my head up my ass? Dunno yet….
the chair is now just shy of its sweet 16th b-day party!
My broken arm is finally healed enough that I’m able to practice yoga again. Looks like I might play some shows this summer, but not sure of dates yet. Will keep you posted. Am also able to take pictures again, so hoping to snap some shops of my neighborhood here in Soho, which is sadly being sold out to big corporations and has barely any charm left. One of the few commercial operations that is left is my wife’s store, Michele Varian Inc., which you can check out on the net at michelevarian.com. Hope to get to some of my messages soon, too. Apologies for the lag-time!
All the best,