Twice today, I have encountered references to T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” which is arguably one of the greatest poems in the English Language. As someone who maintains a duality of being both a visual artist and a poet, I often find myself transferring the philosophies of each practice to the other. T.S. Eliot produced a fairly small volume of poetry in his lifetime compared to someone like Ezra Pound who was much more prolific. The work Eliot produced surely earned him a place in the Poetry Canon.
Recently I sat in on a discussion with high school-aged members of a Youth Advisory Board at 826CHI, about what merits a work being part of the literary canon. It was suggested that typically, writing that becomes part of the Literary Canon must feature most of the following qualities:
-significant as documentation of the time
-frequently referenced in conversation
-ground-breaking at the time when written/ innovative
-inspires change a change in the direction of literature.
While Eliot produced a limited amount of poetry, he created it with the intent of making great poetry. He had no desire to create mediocre poetry. Should the same idea be applied to art? Should the artist’s intention always be to create a masterpiece? Eliot’s poems were meticulously crafted. “The Waste Land”, originally titled “He Do the Police in Different Voices”, was radically altered by the editorial influences by Ezra Pound. First published in 1922, it has demonstrated staying power. Had the poem been left in its original state, it likely would not have held the same importance. Good ideas are worth revision, time and careful attention to craft. While today’s concept driven art is existing in the present, it’s long term effect can only be enhanced when concept is matched with attention to quality.
“I will show you fear in a handful of dust”-The Waste Land
Eliot's original opening of "The Wast Land" with Pound's Editorial interventions: