Readers of Scarriet know Literary Modernism is essentially a reactionary movement, an “avant-garde” of male-dominated fascism, feudalism, futurism, and blood-primitivism. This is the chief reason why great female poets like Elinor Wylie, Edna Millay, and Amy Lowell were, and still are, kicked to the curb by the ‘Pound Era’ Dial magazine clique.
And the shame is that women today ignorantly go along with Pound’s “revolutionary” agenda, believing the lies of a small, influential, men’s club clique.
There’s only three female poets one is allowed to really respect: Elizabeth Bishop, Marianne Moore, Bishop’s mentor and Eliot/ Pound Dial magazine clique-member, and Emily Dickinson from the 19th century. That’s it. Gertrude Stein, perhaps, but she was more important as an art collector. All the other ‘great’ poets, like Ezra Pound and D.H. Lawrence, are men. (And the only respected female critic in the world, Harvard University’s Men’s Club Modernist apologist, Helen Vendler, agrees.)
If we look at London in the summer of 1914—right before that insane war—and the dinner hosted by Amy Lowell, sister to the president of Harvard, we see a drunken Ezra Pound misbehaving with a bathtub, ridiculing the hostess-poet as, at that precise moment, the Imagistes, as they called themselves, were split in half:
Some of the Imagists stay with Pound, because he gets them published in the only game anywhere, Harriet Monroe’s Poetry.
Some go with Amy Lowell, because of the money and the Lowell name and because she sincerely believes in Imagism (and Japanese prints) and will put her devotees in her popular anthologies—H.D, H.D.’s husband, Richard Aldington, John Gould Fletcher (Imagist and Fugitive), and even D.H. Lawrence, Amy Lowell becoming Lawrence’s only American friend. S. Foster Damon, Lowell’s official biographer, is one of The Eight Harvard Poets, a collection edited by Stewart Mitchell, also an editor of The Dial and one of many male poets who made a career of absuing and ridiculing Amy Lowell.
Pound’s trump card at Amy Lowell’s London dinner is Ford Madox Ford, sexist pig, War Propaganda Minister for His Majesty, gentleman, lover of war, and hater of the Hun, and by far the most influential person at that July, 1914 dinner, one of the original Imagistes; Ford, grandson of a pre-Raphaelite, is the first one to meet Pound off the boat when Pound goes abroad in 1907.
Ford Madox Ford hated Amy Lowell at first sight, and his scorning her in 1914 as a “neutral,” is not insignificant. Pound serving Ford, and later, Mussolini, is no accident; Ford really believed in a world of hereditary aristocracy, dog-eat-dog, ‘who’s side are you on?’, rapacious bigotry, and Pound learned his fascism partly from his relationship with the imperialistic Ford Madox Ford, War Propaganda Minister of the British Empire.
Ernest Hemingway, who met Ford in 1920s Paris, and who was physically repulsed by the monstrous Ford, relates first-hand that Ford saw the world in terms of a strict heirarchy, with English gentlemen at the top of the heap: Henry James was not even good enough to be a gentleman, because he was American, and Pound suffered the same flaw in Ford’s eyes. Nazis and fascists, such as Pound, were wanna-bes before the Crown of Empire Britain and its bejeweled Euro-cousins; fascists were mere thugs with a love/hate relationship with their blue-eyed masters in London. Pound, defeated in an Imagist p.r. war by Amy Lowell (she was a far more popular and influential Modernist than Pound in the 20s) ran and hid in Italy, seeking a higher Modern pedigree in Roman fascist primitivism and ‘classical’ hyperbole, trading one type of bombast (his so-called Imagism) for another (his unwieldy Cantos).
Not only was Ford at the center of early Imagism, and an effete, philandering, warmonger English gentleman, but he later traveled to America to network with the cranky, philandering Allen Tate and the reactionary Fugitive/New Critics. Tate, with friends John Crowe Ransom, Paul Engle (a Fugitive judge gave Engle his Yale Younger Prize) and Robert Penn Warren, will create the Writing Program empire, so the Modernist Dial-clique, rejected outright by the public, can find their dreams fulfilled as they slip inside the ‘new writing’ university canon-apparatus.
The Language Poets are a mere continuation of reactionary Modernism—the Imagists sought to strip away and destroy Victorian discursiveness and morality, just as the Language Poets seek the same end in a slightly fancier and more “advanced” theoretical manner. One can trace Charles Bernstein’s mentors, for instance, right back to WW I era Oxford and Cambridge.
Imagism was a movement which was popularized not by Pound and his friends, but by the American aristocrat Amy Lowell. Yet Lowell was still put in her place by the top-dog aristocrat Ford and his despot-on-a-leash Pound.
Imagism was not original with Ford or Pound. The stunning Japanese victory in the 1905 Russo-Japanese War made Japanese art suddenly prized among the wealthy and the fashionable; a haiku rage ensued (what a coincidence!) right before the birth of what was re-named Imagism. Mere prejudice hides the profound Japanese influence, just to give all the glory to Pound’s “theories” (slapdash, mad-scientist manifestos) and his pal William Carlos Williams’ red wheel barrow.
Reading the commentaries, one would think Pound invented the image and the art of China and Japan himself, such is the ignorance of that whole Amy Lowell-dominated period in American literary history.
The Amy Lowell story is a complicated one, but it’s interesting to note that Lowell was attacked by the same Pound-clique who viciously attacked Edna Millay: men like Ford Madox Ford, Horace Gregory, the now-forgotten Bollingen Prize winner, and Hugh Kenner, Pound’s adoring admirer and lackey, author of The Pound Era—in that work Kenner condemns Lowell as the “hippopoetess” and treats her shabbily throughout.
It is true that the Imagistes were ridiculed (and justifiably, to some extent) as a group—think of Witter Bynner and Arthur Davison Ficke’s ‘Spectrist’ literary hoax in 1916, which aimed its satire at the Imagist school: Pound and Lowell were often bruised by the same poker. Bynner, Harvard ‘o2, and Ficke, with an art dealer father who imported Japanese art in the late 19th century, were both older than Pound, and Pound’s Imagism to these fellows—and many others at Harvard, or in Greenwich Village, or traveling abroad—was narrow, historically short-sighted, and pretentious.
To 99% of the scholars, poets and artists living during the first part of the 20th century, calling that time “the Pound era” would have seemed nothing but a joke.
It didn’t help Amy Lowell’s reputation to die in 1925 at the age of 51. Like the premature death of Poe in the previous century, Lowell’s death provided an opening for a certain hyena-and-jackal element to move in and re-write history in their favor.
Amy Lowell championed Frost (who was there in London in 1914, too, keeping a distance from the Imagists; but Lowell helped Frost, anyway) and Lowell championed Keats; she was open to other cultures, dared to live openly with a woman, and smoked cigars, and had an extensive life-long correspondence with D.H. Lawrence, and also was the champion of Imagism, and still going strong in all this at the moment of her death—but upon her demise she was assailed by the Pound–clique (who begged for money to her face, while making snide remarks about her obesity and her ‘not knowing her woman’s place’ behind her back) and her reputation is still falling as we speak.
A theory why Pound’s reputation got a tremendous bump in the 40s: Pound was chosen as a scapegoat/buffer/distraction by an anglo/Harvard/Fugitive-centered literary establishment with its own closet rightwing (even Nazi) sympathy. Giving Pound, the bigot, a Bollingen Prize was a smokescreen, and was done less for Pound than (secretly) for them.
It was, in fact, the Bollingen prize-receiving members of the Pound–clique who abused Edna Millay and Amy Lowell, and as Lowell is forgotten, so is Keats a little more forgotten (the Pound/Eliot Modernists are notorious Romanticism-haters) as, meanwhile, the Pound-Modernist clique men’s club grows apace in reputation.
The shake-up, when Pound is no longer useful, will happen, sooner or later; dedicated historicism, distanced enough from the era, at last, will investigate and clear up the matter; the reader may see this Scarriet defense of Amy Lowell as a preliminary writing on the wall.
And Imagism, what was it, finally?
Oh, nothing, really. The image was nothing new in poetry. Nothing new at all.
Just as there was nothing new about painters influencing the New York School.
E.E. Cummings, one of the Eight Harvard Poets, and also part of the Dial clique, having married the publisher’s wife, was a respected abstract painter—many people forget that, and they said back then that Cummings’ white spaces in his poetry were due to the fact that he was a painter.
It might be a great selling point for a manifesto styled for an up-and-coming avant-garde academic.
But meaningless, really.