Sean Pryor‘s “Particularly Dangerous Feats: The Difficult Reader of the Difficult Late Cantos” explores the relationship between the reader and Ezra Pound’s late cantos. The article, which deals with the pedagogical concerns of Pound as expressed by The Cantos, naturally arose “from the always strange but stimulating experience of trying to teach Pound,” as Pryor puts it, especially the later cantos.
Pryor traces readers’ difficulty and frustration with the late cantos by beginning with W. D. Snodgrass, who complained in a review that “life with Ezra has become more and more to be a daily mid-semester test.” It is clear even to the most naïve observer that Ezra Pound’s “Ezuversity” has no fluff courses or easy As. As Snodgrass expressed, this creates a sometimes frustrating tension between reader and poem. However, this tension goes both ways, Pryor argues:
To offer explanations to the novice whom you have abandoned is to confess an inability to abandon your novice. This is the fundamental tension to which Snodgrass [and others] respond, a clash between the poem’s compulsion to judge and its compulsion to teach. The poem is actually in desperate need of its reader, and that need is often most visible when the poem mocks, abuses, or damns the reader.
“Particularly Dangerous Feats” was developed out of a larger project on Pound and Yeats, which will appear in W.B. Yeats, Ezra Pound and the Poetry of Paradise (Ashgate Press 2011). Sean Pryor teaches English at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. His research focuses on modernist poetry and poetics. His next project is on a poetics of fallenness in the twentieth century, which will examine W.H. Auden, Pound, Wallace Stevens, Louis Zukofsky, and others. Pryor also has another article on Pound forthcoming in Paideuma 37, titled “‘How Will You Know?’: Paradise, Painting, and the Writing of Ezra Pound’s Canto 3.”