Ezra Pound and the “others”: vagaries of writing from the ancient to the postmodern

Panel organized by the Ezra Pound Society

Pound was a learned poet who drew his force and sophistication out of encounters with poets of the tradition. A reader’s understanding is often made possible by a willingness to engage with Pound’s authors. Though many of them are known, there are areas of penumbra: this panel presents such encounters to illuminate dilemmas and solutions shaping poetry in the modernist age. Pound conceived of the tradition as a simultaneous order, an understanding which gives us unexpected advantages in considering the styles of Pound’s poems, his evaluations of other writers and the way he himself chose to shape well-established poetic topics, like love. It is thus possible for us to consider the ancient poet Lycophron in complete proximity to H.D., Henry Miller, the Beats and the postmodern poetry of Susan Howe; these authors offer instances of writing which problematize and thus reveal unexpected analogies in Pound’s choices of syntax, topics, and modes of presentation, which in turn reverberate in the poetry of his future.

Claudio Sansone


On the 4th of April 1939 a copy of A. W. Mair’s edition of Callimachus and Lycophron was checked out of the University of Pennsylvania Library, and never made it back. The book found its home in the personal library of Ezra Pound, where it remains to date. This paper is a first foray into exploring the relationship between Lycophron and Pound. Both have been called 'obscure,' both were mythologists and mythographers, both were highly-educated erudite readers, and poets whose work extended into the critical sphere. Both also may have played one of the greatest literary jokes on their readers through the composition of a frustratingly expansive but forcefully appealing masterpiece that is as hard to read as it is to put down. While they share so much—including an unnervingly similar penchant for pointed satire—the two have never yet been studied side-by-side. By turning to Lycophron’s reception in the twentieth-century (at the hands of the French avant-garde) and to the proverbial use of Lycophron’s name by critics and reviewers of the great works of British modernism, this paper attempts to set a context through which Pound’s possible ‘debt’ to Lycophron can be better understood. Working in the opposite direction as well, from the Pound-side out, the paper reads into Pound’s poetry for evidence, especially with regard to a series of syntactical formations that scholars have noted are peculiar to both (even though they never thought the two poets might be linked). And finally, the paper argues through Poundian categories for Lycophron’s standing in the ‘Hellenistic’ tradition as a proto-modernist, such that Pound’s (secretive?) interest in this poet can be justified from the perspective of the poet’s role in society, and their shared interest in radicalizing their earlier traditions.

Jeanne Heuving


One of the accounts repeated with respect to Pound’s poetic development is that he needed to cast off his early love poetry to develop his modernist idiom. This paper provides a different explanation of Pound’s trajectory. In order to write the Cantos Pound needed to address the writing of sexual love in a way that answered to his early attraction to and disappointment in traditional love poetry and that engaged its energies and symbolic legacy in the writing process itself. He accomplishes this through two important inventions: 1) He must combine his conflicting attitudes about love into a writing that combines these. Pound’s early love writing vacillates between enchantment and melancholia and between celebrating and reviling love, dispositions which he explores in rapid succession in Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, Homage to Sextus Propertius, and Three Cantos, just before writing Canto IV—in which he syncretizes them. 2) He needs to create a way of writing love that moves beyond lover and beloved binaries while sustaining the energizing intensity and limerence of “being in love.” Pound’s refusal of a love writing that is based on a poetic speaker as a self-dramatizing lover begins as early as his Imagist poems but does not find its ultimate answer until Canto IV, in which he discovers what I describe as his projective love and libidinized field poetics. In this writing, unified emotional stances are rejected for ecstatic explorations in which one perception leads to the next, one language phrase to another.   (Indeed, the echo here to Olson’s projective poetics is deliberate as this study finds Pound’s writing of love crucial for Olson’s later theories and poetics.) Ronald Bush remarks on the importance of the change that Canto IV brings to Pound’s capacity to revise his earlier Three Cantos (his “Ur” Cantos) and get on with his long poem:Three Cantos . . . describes. Canto IV presents.” I refine Bush’s formulation: “Three Cantos describes love. Canto IV presents love.” Pound’s continuing importance for avant-garde poetries and poetics, despite his antithetical politics and racism, lies in the ways that he invents a different way to write sexual love—an invention that is significantly created by the poetry and poetics of H.D. as well as following generations of poets including Robert Duncan, Nathaniel Mackey, Kathleen Fraser and Susan Howe.


Guy Stevenson


I would venture to say, I guess, my feeling is that there would have been no Bob Dylan without Ezra Pound’ (Allen Ginsberg, in conversation with a student at Naropa University, 1974).

This paper will explore Ezra Pound’s incongruous modernist legacy in the American counterculture that emerged after World War Two. Looking beyond his express reluctance to engage with writers like Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and Norman Mailer, I will delineate not only Pound’s forerunning of their common quest for an authentic, idiomatic language but an extraordinary ideological influence also. Beginning with an unpublished review of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer – written in 1934 -and ending with the substantial role Pound’s Ideogrammic and Vorticist ideas had in shaping Marshall McLuhan’s ‘Medium [as] Message’, the paper will assert that beneath this curious genealogical surface lie signs of a larger slippage between progressive and conservative impulses in Pound’s work but also the Beatnik vision that came to dominate the avant-garde. By taking seriously the Miller review – in which Miller is rather astonishingly hailed as ‘a man-sized writer’ to be placed alongside James Joyce and Wyndham Lewis - I will point to new conclusions about Pound’s conflation of aesthetics, morality and politics in the 1930s and to shed further light on the discrepancy between his desire for art that tries to capture the world in all its multiplicity and his absolutist, often vicious positions on groups of people and politics. Intriguingly, Pound celebrated Tropic of Cancer -a Whitman-inspired semi-autobiographical novel steeped in the transcendentalist message that ‘everything is justified’ – just as he was beginning to use the sort of violent, pro-fascist rhetoric that culminated in his Radio Rome broadcasts during World War Two and would destroy his reputation thereafter. This compatibility of total inclusion and exclusion in Pound’s pronouncements, I contend, holds the key to what is really fascinating and enduring in the experimental efforts of the generation who came after him.



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