- East-West Exchange and Late Modernism: Williams, Moore, Pound by Zhaoming Qian
Zhaoming Qian’s relatively slim volume East-West Exchange and Late Modernism: Williams, Moore, Pound, is in many ways a continuation of Qian’s earlier works—The Modernist Response to Chinese Art (2003) and Orientalism and Modernism (1995). By taking (as the title announces) the exploration of the East–West exchange into “late modernism,” which Qian defines as “the post-1945 renewals of early twentieth-century modernism” (1), Qian argues that interaction with “the east” enriched and revitalized the late careers of William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, and Ezra Pound. Overall, he argues that these poets are responding to postmodernism by returning to modernist ideas of “depersonalization, anti-mimesis, and interculturalism” (57). The intercultural influence, Qian argues, rejuvenates their “enthusiasm for experimentation” (11) and thereby imbues their late work—and modernism itself—with new energy.
After an introduction setting up the resurgence of modernism in the postwar period, Qian then spends two chapters on each poet in turn. First, Qian identifies previously unexplored influences on each of the authors, specifically what he calls “cross-cultural interpersonal influence” (14); his foray into exploring these personal connections leads to Marjorie Perloff ’s cover blurb that the book “breaks genuinely new ground and is also a real detective story.” Qian then explicates how the interpersonal relationships influenced specific poems, leading to his primary argument that the cross-cultural influences affected late modernism’s “heightened attention to meaning in space, increased obsession with imaginative sensibility, and augmented respect for [End Page 623] harmony between humanity and nature” (18). These aesthetics, Qian argues, are rooted in East Asian concepts that each poet strove to understand with the help of their collaborations and friendships.
In the section on Williams, Qian argues that Williams’s late-age inspiration comes from his collaboration with the younger poet David Raphael Wang (also known as Wang Shenfu and David Hsin-fu Wand). Introduced by Pound, the two poets collaborated on translations of the eighth-century poet Wang Wei, with Wang providing initial translations and the two poets pushing each other on word choice, meaning, and form. The collaboration resulted in a series of poems that Wang published after Williams’s death. In reference to the poems, Qian occasionally calls them appropriations, but does not clearly articulate what makes these particular poems appropriations and others not. Nevertheless, his use of the term calls attention to the power dynamic at work in the interpersonal relationship of Wang and Williams, in the East–West poetic traditions, and in the historical time differential. According to Qian, Wang also influenced Williams’s return to shorter forms that he was simultaneously writing. The poems that appear in Williams’s last book of verse Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems (1962), Qian argues, reflect the Chinese stop-short form of Wang Wei’s poetry, and echo the concepts of yin/yang and the “Taoist insight into the cyclical nature of life and death” (51) that Wang had elucidated for him.
Qian’s chapters on Moore begin with the assertion that Moore “acquired a more astute understanding of Chinese aesthetic than Pound and Williams” (59), although Qian’s sentence-opening adverbial commentary “surprisingly” is unexplained. Qian traces the influence on Moore to Mai-mai Sze’s 1956 translation of The Tao of Painting: A Study of the Ritual Disposition of Chinese Painting and the subsequent friendship that developed between the two women, including Sze’s decade-long gift of a subscription to the Times Literary Supplement. Although “Sze never worked together with Moore on any poems” (75), Qian argues that her influence was crucial to Moore’s “compact late style” (69) and “increased respect for harmony between nature and humanity” (87). Qian notes Sze’s influence on Moore’s 1957 speech at Mills College entitled “Tedium and Integrity in Poetry,” her 1959 book O to Be a Dragon, and her final book of poetry Tell Me, Tell Me (1966). Some of Qian’s “detective work” is...