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John Tytell:   Ezra  Pound:  The  solitary  Volcano.   Bloomsbury   368 pp.

ed.Barry Ahearn Selected Letters of Ezra Pound and Louis Zukofsky  Faber 255pp

 

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Pound talks like no one else. His is almost a wholly original accent, the base of American mingled with a dozen assorted "English society" and  Cockney accents  inserted  in  mockery,  French, Spanish and Greek exclamations, strange cries and  catcalls,  the  whole  very  oddly  inflected,  with dramatic pauses and diminuendos. It takes time to get used to it, es-pecially  as  the  lively and audacious mind of Pound packs his speech - as well as his writing - with undertones and allusions.

 

This was Pound described   in  London  where  he  lived  for  twelve years after arriving aged 22 from America in 1908;  the  London years, he told Charles Olson forty years later, were "the high period" of his life.

 

Tytell shapes his biography into  six  sections  corresponding to the six places Pound stayed in during his life: America ("An American Youth") 1885-1908; London ("Art for Art's Sake") 1908-1920; Paris ("The Heresy of Art") 1920-1924; Rapallo ("The Politics of Art")  1924-1945;  Washington,  St  Elizabeth's Hospital ("The Bedlam of Art") 1945-1958; Rapallo  ("The  Silent Years") 1958-1972.  Taking the average number of biography pages Tytell gives  per year of Pound's life in each of these six  location-sections,  Tytell  measures  Pound's  life  as America 1; London 11; Paris 8; Rapallo just  over 4; St Elizabeth's about three-and-a-half; and Rapallo again  -  three-quarters.  This  not  only  agrees  with Pound's own reckoning as told Olson,  but corresponds to Tytell's shaping of Pound's life as that of a tragic hero with apex  of  influence, and fall. He describes Pound, in the introduction that prefigures the course of  the book and his conclusions, as "..an overly sensitive man who in the  midst of a maelstrom had shouted terrible words, absurdly defending some  ideal  of  free  speech  from  a stage while the theater was  burning."  Pound's  wartime  Italian  Fascist  broadcasts  were "an example of what might be  called  a  negative susceptibility, a self-destructive capacity shared by a number of artists."

 

One can  disagree with Tytell's interpretation here,  but he gives you plenty of facts clearly enough for you  to  do  so  without  feeling pressured to take the author's view. Certain specifics are noted  in the development of Pound's poetic style: the important episode  in  1911  when  Pound  brought  Ford Madox Ford an advance copy of his Canzoni and Ford  literally  rolled on the floor laughing at the style with its  attempt  to  learn,  as  Pound  later recalled, "the stilted language that then passed for 'Good  English'  in  the athritic milieu that held control of the respected British  critical  circles."  A  year later as European editor of Poetry he  was writing to its main editor Harriet Monro in Chicago:-

 

Objectivity and again objectivity, and  no  expression,  no  hind-side-beforenesss, no Tennysonianness of speech - nothing, nothing, that  you  couldn't  in  some  circumstance,  in  the  stress of some emotion, actually say. Every literaryism, every book word, fritters away a scrap of the reader's patience, a scrap of his sense of your sincerity.

 

 By 1913 there was Pound's "A Few  Don'ts  by  an Imagiste" in the March issue of Poetry. Tytell writes of Imagism: “Pound realised from the start that Imagism was a finite means to improve the line as a unit in poetry, to curtail the element of discourse in the poem  as James had revised the old-fashioned omniscient narrat-ive control in the novel.”

 

 The collection  Cathay in 1915  Tytell  sees   as representing another technical advance towards the Cantos :"Cathay was  an  important step for Pound because it allowed him to  integrate  Imagist  technique  into  a  narrative structure." Of course the quoted paragraph at the opening  of  this review has relevance to the form of the Cantos - as have Pound's letters. The description of the London and  Paris  years  are packed, though not clogged, with the artists and writers whom  Pound  knew;  the book threads  the different meeting places, magazines,  rivalries.  Pound's  widespread  influence  on other writers is traced.It  was  Pound   of  course  who  persuaded  Harriet Monroe to publish Eliot's Prufrock, and who  edited  The  Waste  Land  down to the size in which it was published and  became  known;  Eliot,  on  receiving the $2000 Dial award for the poem, "felt Pound should  have received the prize as a recognition of his share in the making  of  the  poem." The acknowledgments from other poets are quoted from their own words,like  Joyce's recollection of Pound's help:

 

Ten years of my life have been consumed in  correspondence and litigation about my book Dubliners. It was rejected by 40 publishers; three times set up, and once  burnt. It cost me about 3,000 francs in postage, fees, train and boat fare, for I was in correspondence with 110 newspapers, 7 solicitors, 3 societies, 40 publishers and several men of letters about it. All refused  to aid me, except Mr. Ezra Pound. In the end it was published, in 1914, word for word as I wrote it in 1905.

 

Marianne Moore and Wyndham Lewis also came into print via Pound. Friendship with Yeats, begun in London and continued  in  Paris and Rapallo, where Yeats visited Pound at home, saw the balance of  influence  tilt from the older to the younger man - though not  enough,  as  far  as  Pound  was  concerned. But Yeats's early appreciation of Pound's criticism  in  their  twenty-year relationship is quoted in a letter to Lady Gregory:-

 

He is full of the middle ages and helps  me  to  get  back  to the definite and concrete away from modern abstractions. To talk over a poem with  him  is  like  getting  you  to  put a sentence into dialect. All becomes clear and natural.

 

 In Paris Hemingway befriended Pound, and  later  wrote  that the poet taught him more about how to write than  anyone  else  in  his  life. It was Pound "who had taught me to distrust adjectives  as  I  would  later  learn to distrust certain people in certain situations." Sculptors  taken  up  by Pound included  Brancusi and Gaudier-Breszka, whose bust of  Pound  the  poet  took to Rapallo, and whose death in the Great War, Tytell implies,  contributed to that change of direction when, as Pound  recalled, "In 1918 I began an investigation of causes of war, to oppose same." This Tytell calls " the  beginning of his disastrous turn from art to the sociology of power and propaganda."

 

The fourth section of the biography  is,  like  the others, divided into smaller subsections separately titled. The  opening  subsection  title,  The Exile, both describes  Pound's separation from America and the London-Paris cultural scenes, and refers to the magazine The Exile  that  Pound launched from Rapallo in 1927. The section  describes Rapallo, the location  of Pound's house, how he organised his day; Pound's declining reputation,  his  work  on  the Cantos; the visits of Yeats and others, the arrival  of  Basil  Bunting  to  set  up house nearby; the letters, three a day or  more  as  the  years  passed, literally thousands being written from Rapallo during  the  Thirties:  the  increasing obsession with C.H. Douglas's theory of social credit,  the increasing anti-semitism, the increasing commitment to fascism.

 

Different aspects of the development  of  this  are previously recorded: Pound's father and grandfather's involvement  in  the  physical  making  of money; anti- semitism in Pound's childhood home  town,  Wyncote; the anti-semitism of writers like Eliot, Lewis, Charles Maurras, or of important patrons like the lawyer John Quinn; the racial theories of  Leo  Frobenius;  Pound's  friendship in 1923 with

Lincoln Steffens, who transmitted to Pound his own  enthusiasm for Mussolini. The extent  of  Pound's  racialism  and  commitment  to  Fascism  is  made quite clear.His meeting with Mussolini  (eulogised  in  the Cantos) his correspondence both with Mussolini and with economic  advisers  to Hitler; his work for fascist newspapers in Italy, England, Japan -  one  article  having the title "The Jews, Disease Incarnate"; his use of the fascist  calendar in his letters, signing one such letter (to James Laughlin) "Heil Hitler"; his polemical talks on Rome Radio during the war; his refusal  to  change  his  views  when taken back to America, though disguising these from those who would  have had him executed for treason; his relationships from hospital with  people  in  the "Aryan League of America", and   with the  American  neo-Nazi   John  Kasper,  who affectionately addressed Pound in his letters as "Dear  Boss.";  his   giving  the  Fascist salute - as a full-page photograph shows -  as  the  ship  taking  him  back  to Italy in 1958 approached harbour; his appearance  at the  head  of a neo-Nazi demonstration in Milan as late as 1962, the year of his 77th birthday.

 

William Carlos Williams - who first met  Pound  at  college in 1903 - was enough influenced by  Pound's advocacy  of  C.H.  Douglas's  "Social  Credit" scheme to speak approvingly of it in 1936  (  see "Revolutions Revalued" in A Recognisable Image: William Carlos Williams  on  Art  and  Artists  New Directions 1978); but fascist racialism was not for  W.C.W.   Tytell,  stating that Williams's thirty- five years in medicine had made him a  sharp judge of character, quotes a letter written by Williams to James Laughlin in 1939:

 

The man is sunk, in my opinion, unless he can shake  the  fog of fascism out of his brain during the next few years, which I seriously doubt that  he  can  do.  The  logicality of fascist rationalisation is soon going to kill him.  You  can't  argue  away  wanton  slaughter  of  innocent  women  and  children by the neoscholasticism of a controlled economy program. To hell with  a Hitler who lauds the work of his airmen in Spain and so to hell with Pound too if he can't stand up and face his questioners on that point.

 

The shift in Pound's focus from his arrival  at  Rapallo is at the centre of the new anthology in Faber's series  of  Pound's  letters, those between himself and Louis Zukofsky. The young  Marxist  Jewish  American  (aged  23,  Pound 19 years older) sent his "Poem  Beginning  'The'"  to  Pound  in  Rapallo in 1927. "First cheering mss. I have recvd. in weeks,  or  months, or something or other," Pound wrote back. The poem duly appeared  in  the  third  issue of The Exile, an issue which also included Yeats's "Sailing to Byzantium".

 

Pound decided, all the way from Italy, that  it was time to organise a new young set of writers in New York:

 

I suggest that you form some  sort  of  gang  to  INSIST  on  interesting  stuff (books) being pubd promptly, and distributed properly.

2. simultaneous attacks in as many papers as poss. on abuses definitely damaging la vie intellectuelle.

 

Pound even offered to help pay  for  the  meals  of those who couldn't afford to meet in a cheap restaurant, which  is  where   he suggested the new group should best  meet up:

 

restaurant is best, better than studio where complication of host-guest relation arises. Nacherly O.K. to go down to Bill's once or twice if he'll have you.

  as also the gordarm marital ammosphere of N.Y. Poesy Socierty !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Dont be a society. Dont have officers and by laws. (not that I think this exhortation necessary ...)

You've got to have a busy man; lacking one busy  by nature, some more contemplative spirit has to take on some of the functions.

 

"Bill" was Williams. Though Pound was a  bit  out of  touch with what was  going on in literary New York, his having  Zukofsky and Williams meet up had important results: Zukofsky began helping  Williams  edit  his  poems,  notably those that appeared  in  the  collection  "The   Wedge"   of  1944  (the  collection  whose introduction speaks of a poem as "a machine made of words").

 

Five years after Pound had  been  trying  to  organise a literary movement round Zukofsky in New York, he had become  finally disinterested in such schemes. When Zukofsky wrote in 1933 proposing the  formation  of a group Writers Extant (that became in fact the Objectivist Press) Pound dismissed this curtlly: “Le personnel manque// fer yr/  proposed organisation. You ought to read C.H. Douglas.”

 

But before becoming thus disinterested  he  had,  in 1931, obtained for Zukofsky the guest editorship  of  the  Spring  1931  issue  of  Harriet Monroe's Poetry: Pound's excited response on  hearing  the  news,  and  the  torrent of advice he poured on Zukofsky -  - a bit  too  much by the occasional crackle in Zukofsky's response - forms a letter sequence that  is  a highlight of the book (pp.45-59). As with all the best  of  Pound's  letters,  something of that flamboyant verbal character described in 1916 leaps off the  page. Most of his correspondents felt driven feebly to emulate it in reply  at  some point; again, some Black Mountain writers, in their use of  capital  letters  for  instance,  have turned what was energy into a cliché. But the original remains original.

 

 Dear Zuk:

 

 Wonners will nevuHH cease. I have  just  recd. nooz from Harriet [Monroe] that she is puttin you at the wheel for the Spring cruise.

                                                   I   dunno    whether    in   L'annonce fait a L.Z. she mentioned the foreflying occasions????

 

At any rate since it was a  letter  from  donal  mckenzie that smoked me up into writing Harriet the letter that awoke in her noble booZUMM the fire of enthusiasm that led her to let you aboard

   I

      wd. appreciate it if you wd. invite mckenzie to do one of the prose articles  for  the  number  and  state  his  convictions  as  forcibly  as possibl....

                                             after which I see no reason

why you shdnt. add a editorial note saying why you disagree.   

      Poetry has never had enUFF disagreement INSIDE into own wall.

 

 In the middle of a lively series  of  collocated points that includes what Pound sees as the difference  between  Zukofsky's  position  in  1931  and that of the Imagist group of 1913, he writes:

 

I do not think contributions from ANYone over 40 shd.  be included; and preferably it shd. be confined to those under 30.

 

 Three letters  poured  forth  from  Rapallo  in  two  days.  Zukofsky,  after  a comparatively flat reply to the sustained  barrage  of advice, responded item by numbered item to 39 of the points Pound raised. Regarding the prospective age of the contributors, and referring ("H &  H")  to  Pound's recent appearance in the magazine Hound and Horn, he replied:

 

28. Think I'll have as good a "movement" as that of  the premiers imagistes - point is Wm. C. W. of today is not what he was in 1913, neither are you if you're willing to contribute - if I'm going to show what's going on today, you'll have to. The older generation  is  not  the  older generation if it's alive & up - Can't see why you shd. appear in the H &  H  alive  with  3  Cantos & not show that you are the (younger) generation in "Poetry." What's age to do with verbal  manifestation, what's history to do with it, - good  gord lets disassociate ijees - I want to show  the  poetry that's being written today - whether the poets are of masturbating age or the father of families don't matter.

 

In the  letters  the  discussion  on  technical  literary  matters  focusses  on Zukofsky's defence of his major poem "A",  and his evident irritation at Pound's failure to appreciate  it  (pp.112-113).  But  the  reader  looking for detailed explication will not find it: Zukofsky wanted Pound to take the lead in detailed criticism, and Pound refused: “Certain things can be remedied more or less by procedures known to yr/venbl/frien' but it wd. even better to remedy them by procedures evolved by L.Z. ipsissimo.”

 

 What is interesting is that as early  as 1930 Zukofsky perceived the basic shape of a poem which he did not finish until 44 years later:

 

Yes, as far as I'm concerned right now "A" will be  life-work. I don't see how else, if it's going to be 2 movements a summer and 17 more to go to complete the "epic" 24!

 

That it was a life-work,  Pound  disagreed.  He  thought  the poem at that stage ("A" 1-7) needed a "top  dressing"  of  influences  removed.  He also repeatedly criticised what he saw as a  lack  of  lucidity  in  Zukofsky's style, and a too literal conception of the poem as a standard  musical form in words. Yet by 1936 he wrote that he had enjoyed reading  "A"-8,  and when Zukofsky visited Pound in St Elizabeth's hospital in 1954 and  presented  him  with a copy of the sequence Anew, Pound wrote to him that he  thought Zukofsky had shaken off the influences of Eliot and Pound himself at  last,  and  though  "Zuk.  on his own. not ALWAYS comprehensible" nonetheless "damn all I think yu have got yr/ own idiom/".

 

Certainly he had, and one that was profoundly to influence Creeley among others. But the men who met in 1954 were  not the regular correspondents of twenty years earlier. The exchange of letters  had been forcibly stopped during the war years never really to pick up again; and  prior  to its cessation in 1940 the dialogue had become dominated by Pound's attitudes to race and economics.

 

As the Thirties  progressed  Zukofsky,  despite  occasional  racial insults from Pound, tried to argue rationally on economics.  In 1936 he wrote:-

 

"Jewish internationalism" - there ain't no such thing & exists only in yr. mind tainted by Nazi bigotry - or some  other  infernal  silliness  beyond  yr.  sensible  control.  Might  as  well  speak of Italian internationalism or French or whatever.  Bankers  internationalism  is  another  matter  - but that ain't confined to nations or dispersed nations: that exists, & that's what you want to wipe out.

 

Yet two years later, in a letter  dated according to the Fascist calendar, Pound was asking Zukofsky if he would  accept,  along  with Bunting, the dedication of Guide to Kulchur. Zukofsky told him  if  he  wanted  to  dedicate his book to "a communist (me) and  a  British-conservative-antifascist-imperialist  (Basil)" he could go ahead. A year later again and   Zukofsky was reduced to asking Pound to drop politics altogether from his  letters.  But  his  basic loyalty to Pound he made clear:

 

...there is no use, the way I'm made up,  reasoning  with  your  convictions as they are now. If I'm good enough, I'll reach more fruitful ground. In your case, the best I can do is shut up. That does not mean I don't respect yr. integrity. I've gone on respecting it ever since you got yourself drowned in the batter of credit economics - at a loss   of  every  practical  & helpful contact in U.S. & Europe. I don't regret it. From point of practical politics, I'm  not  ready and never will be to attack you before the public. Can't help it, if I  start  with  a  feeling  like  integrity. There are some things that are personal, & one can't build right, on them, as if they were not.

...I cannot see - tho I have made every attempt to  understand social credit - that any good can come out of thinking that involves itself in a  mess  of  "incarnation"  etc such as Douglas has recently involved himself...

I enclose the first two stanzas of a canzone - knowing what you know about poetry is more than most of us know I'm not ashamed to send you uncompleted work, if  you care to be bothered. The local small fry would no doubt accuse me of being a fascist for having lived  with  the Guido as basis day in & day out for the last two years. You will probably see how far gone I am on the Marx side of it, & attribute all my faults to the influence of his unenlightened use of  language.  But  no matter if there's poetry in , you'll still see it, I believe. Some insight a man never loses. - But let's not correspond about politics etc

    As ever,

                   Z.

 

As Tytell describes, Zukofsky was only one of many writers who corresponded with or visited Pound after the war:  these included Berryman, Lowell, Robert Duncan, Thornton Wilder,  Conrad  Aiken,  Spender,  Elizabeth  Bishop,  Langston Hughes, MacDiarmid, Eliot, Olson, Ginsberg. It was  to  Ginsberg in Rapallo in 1967 that Pound, after stating his sense of  failure  regarding the Cantos, added "But the worst mistake I made was that stupid  prejudice of anti-semitism. All along that spoiled everything."

 

Tytell's biography is a creditable achievement:  it is occasionally a bit "high" in style (as in the description  of  Rapallo  at  the  start of Part Two) but it reads easily as a whole, has  been  carefully  and clearly constructed with much new research, and is a useful condensation  of,  and guide through, a very great many facts. The Pound-Zukofsky anthology  on  the  other hand, is very expensive for its  96 letters with notes,  introduction and biographical appendix; but any large library seriously concerned with Pound should have a copy.

 

There are people who find themselves unable to read Pound's work sympathetically knowing what he believed, wrote,  and  campaigned  for  -  sometimes in the work itself. The reaction of such people is honest, understandeable and not at all to be discredited. But there are others  antagonistic  to the work  whose reactions are not so honest. The "gargoyles" as  Pound called them in London, those lovers of excessive adjectives and poetry  of  "boiled oatmeal consistency", have their successors still flourishing today, and the  publication of these two books have given the opportunity once more for  these  sniffily  to dismiss the poetry with the life.  But the crux of the matter here is to be found, not in the life,  but in the appraisal of the work  of Pound and others that Zukofsky made in his 1930 essay "American Poetry 1920-1930"  (reproduced  in  Prepositions, Rapp & Carroll 1967). Having quoted Pound's "A new  cadence  means a new idea," Zukofsky writes "The devices of emphasising cadence by  arrangement  of line and typography have been those which clarify and render  the  meaning  of the spoken word specific." Sixty years on this advance  in  prosody  still  cannot be countenanced by some; while for others  it  is  one  reason  they  are  grateful  for Pound's literary achievement.

 

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