EZRA POUND: ANT WITH A MEGAPHONE

Doolittle: An American, a woman, but pre-Raphaelite look helped.

Billy Mills, in the U.K. Guardian Books Blog, on May 5th, tries to stir up a little excitement for H.D. with “H.D. in London: When Imagism Arrived.”

Billy—who must be a young man—wants us to know that H.D. arriving in London (London!) and Pound (Pound!) crowning her “Imagiste” (Imagiste!) was a very significant event for Imagism, for Modernism and for Letters:

I have always felt that the appearance of the first Imagist poems in the years just before the first world war was an event as significant in its way as the publication, in 1798, of Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads.

Note the implied significance of “the first world war,” which had not occured yet.  In these commentaries on Imagism, there is never any mention of the stunning Japanese victory in the 1905 Russo-Japanese War, a large-scale contest, which ushered in a haiku rage in the West—which had already gone bonkers over Japanese art for years, at that point.

Billy, however, repeats the same drab, Pound-centered facts. The whole magnificent story is quickly told:

One hundred years ago this May, a young Pennsylvanian woman called Hilda Doolittle arrived in London. …She had come to meet her one-time fiancé, Ezra Pound, who had made the same journey a couple of years earlier. Before long, she was to encounter her soon-to-be husband Richard Aldington, another poet. Whatever the personal entanglements involved – and there were many – it was a voyage that helped instigate one of the most influential poetic movements of the 20th century.

Since his arrival in London, Pound had been one of a group of young poets who met regularly in the Eiffel Tower restaurant in Soho to discuss, among other things, their impatience with their poetic elders, vers libre, Japanese verse forms and the role of the Image in poetry. In his role as London correspondent for Harriet Monroe’s Poetry. Pound was looking for poems he could recommend for publication that exemplified these discussions, but nothing, as yet, had seemed quite right.

He had also taken to meeting regularly with Aldington and Doolittle to discuss their poems. At one such meeting he surprised his two friends by announcing that they were Imagistes (the French form of the name was later dropped for Imagist) and selecting six of their poems to send to Monroe.  As a final flourish, Pound insisted that they bear the signature HD, Imagiste. All six poems eventually appeared in Monroe’s magazine, and Imagism was launched on an unsuspecting world.

“Japanese verse forms.”  Yea, about those.  That was imagism.

Mrs. Monroe publishing Mrs. Doolittle in her little magazine did not “launch Imagism on an unsuspecting world.”

Billy is gratuitously repeating p.r. first churned out by the Pound Clique, and now dutifully repeated by every Billy in London, and every Billy at Harvard University.

Billy needs to read about Yone Noguchi in one of Scarriet’s old posts.

It’s also charming the way Richard Aldington is mentioned as “another poet.” Aldington was an WW I officer and part of Ford Madox Ford’s modernist group—which Pound quickly joined on his arrival in London—that was fanatically pro-war.  If there was anything Poundian that was “launched on an unsuspecting world,” it had much more to do with fascist war-mongering.

Richard Aldington also published a major poetry anthology with Viking Press in the early 40s, which featured a great deal of his then ex-wife’s poetry, as well as a couple of poems by Pound and one rhyming poem by WC Williams.  The anthology’s introduction doesn’t mention Pound, or Imagism, and the large anthology shows no influence from it, either. If the writer who was right in the thick of the Imagiste movement is not influenced by it, one wonders how signifcant Pound’s Imagism really was.

We shouldn’t be surprised by Billy’s personal anecdote then:

I first began to suspect that things weren’t quite right in the world of bookselling one day about a decade ago. I strolled into one of Dublin’s finest long-established independent bookshops and asked the assistant who was positioned closest to the poetry section whether they had in stock, or could order, any books by the American poet HD. The response was instant and, for me at least, decisive: “How do you spell that?” I left.

Billy: things “are not quite right” in ways you only dimly understand.

It’s not enough that Americans continually exaggerate the importance of Pound—the ant with a megaphone—for the Brits are obviously doing their part, all pumped up with pride because Pound and H.D. launched their Imagism from London.

Poe kicked the Brits’ asses when they were openly smug and abusive towards American Letters, but the condescending attitude still remains (and with some justification, given how the Americans have treated Poe and grovel before the opinions of Oxford and Cambridge).

Much of American Modernism has its roots in London: Pound, T.S. Eliot, the New Critics, including Paul Engle, who all studied in Britain with their Rhodes Scholarships.  Britain helps keep the ignorance afloat, with narrow tales such as this, by young Billy, in the Guardian.

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38 Comments

  1. Aaron Asphar said,

    May 20, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    “Britain helps keep the ignorance afloat” – how small must you be to blame the worlds flatulance on a country smaller then California. You know all the critical intelligence is on my side of the atlantic. Here you bunch of myopic psuedo toffs reconstruct the carcus of yesturday and critique its interiors. All this to escape the absolute nihilo that you are.

    • thomasbrady said,

      May 20, 2011 at 3:20 pm

      I will grant you Americans are probably dumber in the long run when it comes to poetry than Brits. Most Yanks bought into the idea that ‘to be American’ is to be a free verse dolt like WC Williams. Then there are those Yanks, just as stupid, impressed by Pound because he went to London and crawled into the pocket of Ford Madox Ford. London ran the world, and has since taught Washington how to do it.

      • Nooch said,

        May 20, 2011 at 9:33 pm

        Brits recite Shakespeare
        For the beauty they can glean—
        Yanks recite Shakespeare
        Desperate to mean.

  2. Bill said,

    May 20, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    Interesting piece. Pity Eliot didn’t return the favor Pound did him when he edited the Waste Land. How much better the Cantos could have been! As good as HD’s Trilogy or her Helen in Egypt. As for Ford, The Good Soldier and Parade’s End are excellent.

    Your main point seems to be the overvaluation of Pound. You have consistently discussed how that was achieved by Pound’s own self-promotion and the cooperation of American poets and academics. It’s a bit strange to think of him as being overvalued because he has so few partisans or even readers, though “Billy’s” article says something. It might be worthwhile to try to identify his present influence. Is it manifest in the reputations of Olson and the Black Mountain school, for example? Simply the myth of modernism told by Eliot and Pound throughout their careers?

    Pound was obviously gifted, but what did he accomplish with his gifts? Cantos is definitely less than the sum of its parts. A handful of very vivid, suggestive free verse poems like The Return? Some blazing satire like Hugh Selwyn Mauberley? The brilliant bits of Cantos? Some provocative, interesting criticism? But not one single poem as good as Masefield’s Reynard the Fox or August 1914? And nothing anywhere near the stature of Four Quartets? Maybe he is a minor poet, but a great promoter of poetry, who destroyed his career and reputation by betraying not only his country, but his civilization. Maybe he drank modernism down to the dregs.

    • thomasbrady said,

      May 21, 2011 at 10:22 am

      Bill,

      It’s not just an overvaluation of Pound, though his name is repeated most often; it’s an overvaluation of modernism/imagism, which is merely portrayed as a anglo-american ‘zine fad, and constantly gets ripped out of its Russo-Japanese War context, the context of Yone Noguchi, who was so important, and, kind of interesting, Noguchi later embraced the Japan of WW II aggression, the way Pound embraced the Axis aggression. Noguchi had so many interesting contacts, including Symons and Yeats. Britain was Japan’s ally in the Russo-Japanese war and Japan was a big underdog. Haiku won a big war, and this has more to do with Imagism than Pound & H.D. in London. It’s also one more piece of evidence that Modernism was not just a bunch of quirky aesthetes, it actually had a nefarious, war-mongering, right-wing identity, if you consider Pound, Eliot, their lawyer John Quinn, Aleister Crowley and Yeats’ Golden Dawn, Ford Madox Ford, who wrote WW I propaganda literature and scorned Amy Lowell as a “neutral” in 1914. There’s this whole fascinating aspect of Modernism that’s suppressed for the standard view of H.D. and Pound in a restaurant picking out poems for a ‘zine—a naive and quaint view.

      Yone Noguchi needs to be a part of the conversation.

      Tom

  3. Nooch & Excerpt Support said,

    May 27, 2011 at 9:38 am

    I’d say it’s a good guess,
    I’d say a good bet,
    There were links between H.D.
    And the writer Colette:

    “Leafing through a pile of her books, I have been wondering if there has ever been in America a novelist with a point of view toward the taking and giving of pleasure even vaguely resembling Colette’s, an American writer, man or woman, stirred as deeply as she is by scent and warmth and color, someone as sympathetic to the range of the body’s urgings, as attuned to the world’s every sensuous offering, a connoisseur of the finest gradations of amorous feeling, who is nonetheless immune to fanaticism of any sort, except, as with Colette, a fanatical devotion to the self’s honorable survival. Hers seems to have been a nature exquisitely susceptible to all that desire longs for and promises—‘these pleasures which are lightly called physical’—yet wholly untainted by puritan conscience, or murderous impulse, or megalomania, or sinister ambitions, or the score-settling rage of class or social grievance. One thinks of her as egotistic, in the sharpest, crispest sense of the word, the most pragmatic of sensualists, her capacity for protective self-scrutiny in perfect balance with the capacity to be carried away—”

    — from The Professor of Desire by Philip Roth

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 18, 2011 at 11:40 am

      Roth’s boot-licking adoration of Colette tops even Billy’s for H.D.:

      “connoisseur of the finest gradations of amorous feeling, who is nonetheless immune to fanaticism of any sort, except, as with Colette, a fanatical devotion to the self’s honorable survival. Hers seems to have been a nature exquisitely susceptible to all that desire longs for and promises—’these pleasures which are lightly called physical’—yet wholly untainted by puritan conscience, or murderous impulse, or megalomania, or sinister ambitions, or the score-settling rage of class or social grievance. One thinks of her as egotistic, in the sharpest, crispest sense of the word, the most pragmatic of sensualists”

      God, what long-winded crap. This sexy, sexy woman is perfect, I tell you! Perfect! No puritanism! Not a commie! Just s-e-x-y!!!

      I guess Roth was the Jewish D.H. Lawrence…

    • Nooch said,

      September 18, 2011 at 3:03 pm

      Sensualism to some
      May be thought a mere fix—
      Yet a healthy dose of it
      Belongs in life’s mix.

      • Nooch said,

        September 18, 2011 at 3:05 pm

        You mean, Roth IS
        The Jewish D.H.L.—
        He lives, and surely
        Deserves the Nobel.

  4. September 18, 2011 at 9:50 am

    The Cage

    And the Americans put Pound in a cage
    In the Italian summer coverless
    On a hillside up from Pisa in his age
    Roofless the old man with a blanket yes

    On the ground. Shih is his pocket luck jammed there
    When the partigiani with a tommy-gun
    Broke in the villa door. Great authors fare
    Well; for they fed him, the Americans

    And after four weeks were afraid he’d die
    So the Americans took him out of the cage
    And tented him like others. He lay wry
    To make the Pisan cantos with his courage

    Sorrow and memory in a slowing drive
    (And after five months they told Dorothy
    Where Ezra was, and what,—i.e., alive)
    Until from fingers such something twitcht free

    . . . O years go bare, a madman lingered through
    The hall-end where we talked and felt my book
    Till he was waved away; Pound tapped his shoe
    And pointed and digressed with an impatient look

    “Bankers” and “Yids” and “a conspiracy”
    And of himself no word, the second worst,
    And “Who is seeryus now?” and then “J. C.
    Thought he’s got something, yes, but Ari was first”

    His body bettered. And the empty cage
    Sings in the wringing winds where winds blow
    Backward and forward one door in its age
    And the great cage suffers nothing whatever no

    John Berryman

    • thomasbrady said,

      September 18, 2011 at 12:00 pm

      When the self-pitying sob sister Berryman couldn’t find work and was ready to kill himself, he was offered a job at Princeton—one of the first creative writing program schools set up by Pound/Eliot’s American commissar, Allen Tate, who championed “The Waste Land” when it was first published.

      The guy who hired Berryman was Tate’s friend, Richard Blackmur, who helped turn Berryman into a drunk. Blackmur was New Critic and Modernist-connected, and published a book of Criticism, “The Double Agent” in the 30s, which worshiped Pound’s clique then making its move as the clique’s New Critic soldiers created academic footholds: the Pound Era became the Writing Program Era. Blackmur wrote of the “unequalled versatility of Pound” in “The Double Agent.” Berryman met Eliot at one of Blackmur’s many drinking parties at Princeton—this was Berryman’s “in” to the world, and it was thanks to the Pound-loving Blackmur. Blackmur is ridiculed in Saul Bellow’s Humbold’s Gift.

  5. BillyMills said,

    February 28, 2012 at 8:33 am

    Just found this now; it gave me a laugh, anyway.

    • thomasbrady said,

      February 28, 2012 at 5:01 pm

      Thanks for reading, Billy.

      I hope you learned something while you were laughing.

      Tom

      • BillyMills said,

        February 29, 2012 at 8:44 am

        That I’m a young man? I’m 58, BTW.

        • thomasbrady said,

          February 29, 2012 at 2:36 pm

          Billy,

          You sounded like a young man—that’s some learning for you; you are not what you seem.

          Only here at Scarriet will you read the truth: the neglected importance of the Russo-Japanese War and the stunning Japanese victory in that war, creating the haiku rage that just happened to coincide with the so-called “Imagiste” revolution in London. Or, the true nature of that war-mongering set of British Imagistes, which included Ford Madox Ford, Richard Aldington, T.E. Hulme, (the latter two having fought in the war for the glory of the British Empire). Ford, who sneered at Amy Lowell as a “neutral” in 1914, is the key figure, because he later taught Creative Writing in the United States, and associated with the men who began the Creative Writing industry, the Fugitive/New Critics, Allen Tate, John Crowe Ransom, Robert Penn Warren, Robert Lowell (one of the first ‘celebrity’ poets to teach at Iowa)—Warren edited the influential “Understanding Poetry” college textbook which praised Pound’s “At a Station in the Metro” and Williams’ “Red Wheel Barrow” as revolutionary Western works. (sad haiku rip-offs). Read and learn, Mr. Mills. Or, remain infatuated with the great Imagistes! Pound! H.D.!

          Tom

  6. BillyMills said,

    March 1, 2012 at 8:08 am

    Jaysus, that’s some ego you have on you, boy.

    • thomasbrady said,

      March 1, 2012 at 1:34 pm

      How did we get from Ford Madox Ford and Pound’s “Imagiste” clique to Jesus—and my ego??? LOL I guess you better go back to writing for the Guardian…or whatever you do…

  7. David said,

    March 1, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    Tom,

    One thing that strikes me is the similar role played by social relationships in the advancement of both the Modernist movement in 20th century poetry and the second generation of English Romanticism. I’m currently enjoying Daisy Hay’s fascinating book, Young Romantics, which chronicles the social and familial entanglements of Leigh Hunt and his circle, including Keats, Percy and Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, and others.

    One striking difference between the Modernists and the Romantics: the Romantics wanted to change the world, whereas the Modernists were more interested in revolutionizing poetry.

    David

  8. thomasbrady said,

    March 1, 2012 at 4:23 pm

    David,

    Another difference which springs to mind: the Romantics rebelled against the British Empire, the Modernists were more or less its servants.

    The Modernists “revolutionizing” of poetry was nothing more than those with limited talent changing the rules to fit their modest skills.

    The Modernists were into free love and decadence; the Romantics were chasing a more refined love.

    Technology happened to change the world a lot more while the Modernists were writing—but their writing had nothing to do with it.

    Tom

  9. R said,

    March 1, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    Ezra Pound was actively trying to change the world, David.

    And, Thomas, your sweeping dismissal of whole generations, genres, and styles of writing is mind-boggling, and just a little silly – even if I do agree with you about the importance of, and enjoy looking into artists (often sublimated) politics to discover how it affected das culture.

  10. R said,

    March 1, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    I am missing a comma and a ‘. Come to think of it, there are entire schools of poetry I am suspicious of (for political as well as aesthetic reasons) and don’t much care for myself…Well, well. Carry on, men.

  11. David said,

    March 1, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    R,

    Not that I’m sympathetic with the Romantics’ world-changing ambitions, which where decidedly anti-Christian, yet I do admire their youthful enthusiasm. As for Pound and the Modernists, of course they had a world-view, yet their “revolution” was focused more on art itself. The Romantics, for all their political liberalism, seem to have taken a more conservative view of art, which I appreciate.

  12. David said,

    March 1, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    The Modernists were into free love and decadence; the Romantics were chasing a more refined love.

    Tom,

    Compared to the Modernists, yes, the Romantics were after something more refined. Nevertheless, there is no excusing what Shelley did to Harriet. That was a big bowl of wrong.

    David

  13. thomasbrady said,

    March 1, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    From where we are sitting today, we cannot imagine how obscure and marginal figures like Pound and WIlliams and Stevens actually were. These guys were 50 years old, and unread. They crept into notoriety for one reason: their friends, the New Critics, put them in a widely read university textbook, “Understanding Poetry,” which millions of GI Bill students had to read.. Several generations now have been forced to read the “Major Modernists” in college. Every age has to have its poets, but there’s no guarantee every age is going to have great poets. The 20th century has only minor poets. Their predecessors,:Emerson, minor, Whitman minor. Dickinson minor. Cummings, Moore, Williams, Pound, Stevens, minor, minor, minor. Eliot is perhaps major, because he has what can be called an actual body of coherent work, including prose and poetry. Most people don’t understand how Shelley is major and Cummings is minor. Most people put Cummings and Shelley on the same level. That’s how sad things are. One of the reasons for this is that the New Critics not only puffed their friends and got the university ball rolling, but they viciously attacked the Romantics whenever they could. “Modernist” literally came to mean modern, current, relevant, important. It was a great trick. Sure, one needs to read one’s contemporaries. But what great writer only writes for their own time?

  14. David said,

    March 1, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    I bring that up only because the Romantics’ “refined” doctrine of free love — and it was a “free love” doctrine, make no mistake — is anathema from my point of view.

    • thomasbrady said,

      March 1, 2012 at 7:46 pm

      The Romantics and Free Love would make a great post.

      The subject needs to be explored. I think the Romantics were far more loyal and chaste than people give them credit for. Byron was devestated when his first marriage did not work out. Shelley qualifies his free love advocacy quite a bit and favors refined love. And all personal anecdotes need to be taken with a grain of salt.

      And here’s what Shelley did say (and Ben Franklin said the same thing): love divided does not diminish it. One can deeply love more than one person. Even Poe has a story, “Eleanora,” which fits this theme.

      It’s a complicated issue, but an alluring one.

  15. David said,

    March 1, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    Tom, by the way, I don’t want the “free love” issue to distract from the main point of this thread, which you’ve articulated nicely in your last comment.

  16. David said,

    March 1, 2012 at 7:33 pm

    These guys were 50 years old, and unread.

    Hey, that’s me you’re talking about. 🙂

    In any case, I don’t want to waste my golden years reading crap. Fifty years old and never read Shelley until now. That, with a masters degree in literature. Sad, isn’t it?

  17. R said,

    March 1, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    I certainly appreciate your high standards, Tom. Somebody has to have high standards, and if it’s Scarriet dot com, so be it. But while I agree an Authentic Major Poet should be a Master of form and meaning, and have a coherent body of work which includes criticism as well as poetry, when you’re running down your list shooting down poets ‘minor, minor, minor’ it just breaks my heart a little, and I think ‘so what?’ Beautiful works have survived for centuries authored by obscure sources, who had no coherent and complete body of work.

  18. Dawn Potter said,

    March 1, 2012 at 9:26 pm

    R, I agree with you.

  19. thomasbrady said,

    March 2, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    “Minor” breaks your heart?

    That’s misplaced sentimentality.

    Believe me, Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams don’t give a damn about you.

    • R said,

      March 2, 2012 at 9:06 pm

      Yes, well I’m not all that fond of either of those poets either. Love Stevens and Dickinson though. LOL, I’m reminded of the photograph you posted some time back of shirtless Ez and the Doc together.

  20. David said,

    March 2, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    The Romantics and Free Love would make a great post.

    Tom, I agree. That would be a great post.

    I understand that Shelley was after something very high and sublime. My challenge to Shelley (or to someone who might speak for him) is to explain how his doctrine of free love is more sublime than this:

    “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn 15:13)

    Christ’s words have application even to the love between man and woman, when St. Paul teaches that a husband should love his wife as Christ loved the Church, i.e., denying self for love of the other.

    David

    • David said,

      March 2, 2012 at 5:19 pm

      A Platonic / Socratic principle comes into play here: It is better to suffer evil than to do evil. Thus, it is better, for example, to suffer the “evil” of denying myself a more intellectually compatible mate, than to inflict the evil of abandonment upon her who is, in my estimation, less compatible.

      • David said,

        March 2, 2012 at 7:00 pm

        The above example refers to Shelley, of course, not to me. My mate is very compatible. 🙂

    • thomasbrady said,

      March 2, 2012 at 7:32 pm

      I’m working on the post as we speak.

  21. David said,

    March 2, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    By the way, I can forgive Shelley his heterodoxy, when I see what passes for poetry in the bookstalls at the AWP Conference (as noted by John Gallaher on his blog)::

    Elizabeth Clark Wessel
    Brief on Brevity

    The leaf-strewn pool emptying out, the ice
    sculpture of the happy couple, and

    the iceberg, England-size, drifting (Where
    else?) northward. All of this and more. Or

    more than all of this. The drink warms up,
    waters down, a slice of lemon perched

    on its rim, a cocktail napkin getting soaked.
    When I try to understand the second law

    of thermodynamics, I get stuck in metaphor.
    When I try to understand metaphor I never

    get stuck in the second law of thermo-
    dynamics. Or I am always stuck. This is

    why I talk too much. And you, you never
    talk enough.

    Unbearable banality.

    • thomasbrady said,

      March 2, 2012 at 11:40 pm

      Guess you have to understand the second law of thermodynamics.


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