Another Graduate of the Ezuversity


Click on the image for a legible view.

Interesting to see Ezra Pound acknowledged as a teacher by Gerald Vizenor, who includes him on the dedication page of Favor of Crows. The page also includes “In a Station of the Metro” as an epigraph.

Vizenor’s book collects fifty years of his haiku, with a fine introduction that pays homage to the form using two words crucial for Vizenor’s work, “fugitive” and “survivance“:

Haiku scenes are tricky fusions of emotion, ethos, and a sense of survivance. The aesthetic creases, or precise, perceptive turns, traces, and cut of words in haiku, are the stray shadows of nature in reverie and memory.

The original moments in haiku scenes are virtual, the fugitive turns and transitions of the seasons, an interior perception of motion, and that continuous sense of presence and protean nature.

Haiku was my first sense of totemic survivance in poetry….

And here are a few of Vizenor’s haiku from the autumn section:

broken fence
horses browse in the orchard
crack of apples

autumn wind
garage doors open and close
wings of a moth

chilly night
crickets chirp in a down spout
last words

“methenamine eases the urine”


From the December 11, 2012, edition of the New York Times (link)

Belatedly posting this odd sighting of Ezra Pound, which appeared in the letters column of “Science Times,” the Tuesday section of the New York Times. It responded to an article (link) that reported that antibiotics were proving ineffective in treating urinary tract infections in men, with harmful side effects when the treatment was prolonged. The letter writer, Ronald Macaulay (Emeritus Professor of Linguistics at Pitzer College, Claremont, CA), noted that methenamine is readily available as an alternative. His letter concludes: “Ezra Pound gave thanks for the benefits of methenamine in ‘The Pisan Cantos,’ in the days before antibiotics were common.” Not your expected authority, although I suspect no other literary figure has ever mentioned the drug (the OED, for instance, gives the same reference in its definition, the only non-scientist so cited).

Pound’s thanks for the drug comes in the first of the Pisan cantos, in a passage that is often cited, though not for this particular line:

and Mr Edwards superb green and brown
in ward No 4 a jacent benignity,
of the Baluba mask: “doan you tell no one
I made you that table”
methenamine eases the urine
and the greatest is charity
to be found among those who have not observed
regulations (74/454)[*]

The_Pisan_Cantos_300_452As Richard Sieburth notes in his annotated edition of The Pisan Cantos, “Mr Edwards” is Henry Hudson Edwards, an African American serviceman and fellow prisoner. On account of his race, Edwards is figured here as a Baluba mask, an African artifact of the sort Pound learned about from Leo Frobenius. The table, made from crate, is immediately linked to the “methenamine”: two instruments of kindness that Pound upholds with his allusion to Corinthians. “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” Greatest, perhaps, because it came to Pound from outside, faith and hope having been his inner resources. Charity, perhaps, for the rhyme with “benignity,” which, in light of the drug, can be seen as an easing of the poem’s own malignancy, an easing of the infection of anger (the gift table having served as a writing surface).

I find it meaningful that Pound credits the drug itself with charity, not the medic who dispensed it: my thought is that he wanted to avoid associating his guards with kindness, Perhaps, too, he wanted to hint at an Axis benignity. Only nine lines before, a German pharmaceutical factory is mentioned: “and the Farben works still intact.” This is the infamous I. G. Farben, broken up after the war for its role in various war crimes; and since its name means “colors,” there may be a tie-in too, poetically speaking, with the charity of Edwards, especially since Edwards is then described in terms borrowed from the German “works” of Frobenius.

The Wikipedia entry for the underlying chemical describes methenamine as a “white crystalline compound” having “a cage-like structure,” noting further: “It sublimes in a vacuum at 280 °C.” A description that serves quite nicely for the poem too.


* [Back to text] Unfortunately, the indentations in the poem are lost in this blog format. Clicking on the linked reference will take you to a reproduction of the page.

Preview of Paideuma 36: Sean Pryor

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.”

Preview of Paideuma 36: Robert Stark

Robert Stark’s “‘Toils Obscure, / An’ A’ That’: Romantic and Celtic Influences in Hilda’s Book,” takes a look at Ezra Pound’s chewy jargon by examining his predecessors, most notably Robert Burns, Allan Ramsay, and James Whitcomb Riley. While Pound’s “odd spellings are usually calculated…to estrange the reader,” Stark views Pound’s archaisms in Hilda’s Book as a revelatory glimpse into the lexicon of a poet who never truly, even in The Cantos, abandoned these first impulses.

Applying his findings to Pound’s “Voriticism,” Stark writes:

This language suggests that Pound is consciously seeking an aesthetic impulse from his subject matter: it powerfully imitates the chirruping of the birds themselves. …Though the image might confuse at first, Pound’s usage is consistent with the precise nature and historical development of the language he employs; the special religious sense governs the meaning of the poem subtly and surely, in a vital rather than ornamental fashion. The language and the strange diction conspire to release these songbirds from the spell of Romantic and post-Romantic introspection…and result in a new but tentative poetic register.

Robert Stark is a poet and scholar at the University of Balamand in Lebanon, working on a book of verse and a book-length study of the legacy of the 1890s and Ernest Dowson in particular, provisionally entitled “‘All My Blood in Pawn’: from the Decadence to the Dream Songs.” His recent work can be found in current or forthcoming issues of The Journal of Modern Literature, The Journal of Browning Studies, and Almost an Island: A New Anthology of Fife Writings.”

Il Rebus Pound

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From EPOUND-L, the Ezra Pound Discussion List (hosted by the University of Maine), comes a link to an April 14th story in Corriere della Sera concerning Ezra Pound’s politics. The article is framed as a debate between two Italian Poundians, Luca Gallesi and Piero Sanavio, but the real antagonists are CasaPound (Pound House), a center for extreme-right youth in Rome, and Mary de Rachewiltz, who recently denounced the center’s appropriation of her father’s name. That denunciation appeared in a Corriere story published on April 1st (link); the immediate occasion for the new story was CasaPound’s response, which the paper published as a sidebar.

Posters put up in Piazza Vittorio where on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. there will be a rally celebrating the election of Renata Polverini to the presidency of the region of Lazio

Note, by the way, that CasaPound was also in the news recently for having plastered the city illegally with its political posters (the picture and caption to the right come from an April 8th story; link).

The url shared on the Pound list goes to a .pdf of the text as it appeared in print, which we’ve reproduced above — you can see the sidebar at the end of this post; Corriere‘s website also gives a digital version (link). Thanks to Carla Billitteri of the NPF editorial collective, we’re able to offer a quick translation, along with some relevant extracts from the April 1st story. Here and there Billitteri has modified the idiomatic Italian to make the meaning more legible. We’re also thankful to Massimo Bacigalupo for clarifying the context.

Debate Gallesi: He was above all an American patriot. Sanavio: It is wrong to consider him a philosopher.

Fascist or Genius, the Pound Puzzle

Scholars are divided. Meanwhile youth of the right invite the daughter


“Here error is all in the not done, / all in the diffidence that faltered.” Cited from the Cantos, these verses of Ezra Pound can be found as the epigraph to the book Hobbit/Hobbit, a gathering of texts by right-wing youth dating back to 1982, now republished in an expanded version edited by Marco Tarchi with the title La rivoluzione impossibile (Vallecchi, 579 pgs, €18). As one example among many of the interest in the work of the American poet demonstrated by these heretics of neofascism: the late Giano Accame and his Ezra Pound economista (Settimo Sigillo).

Since 2003 CasaPound is the trademark of a group of youth who occupy abandoned buildings and transform them into social centers for the right, harking back to the poet’s ideas and making a show of symbols of fascist origin. They have ignited a reaction from Mary de Rachewiltz, daughter of Pound, who in an interview with Marzio Breda, published in Corriere on April 1st, has rejected any attempt to instrumentalize her father’s thinking.

The youth of CasaPound, by way of their president, Gianluca Iannone, reply, inviting Mrs. de Rachewiltz to visit their site in person to ascertain that their interest in the poet is well-considered and genuine. “Pound’s polemic against usury and the excessive power of banks” — adds Adriano Scianca, cultural spokesperson for the movement — “seems to us totally contemporary and aligned with our vision of the world. When we ask for a social mortgage to facilitate the home-buying of families, we are simply applying a point of the Verona manifesto of the Italian Social Republic praised by Pound in the Cantos: the idea that the right to own a home is not a right ‘of ownership,’ that is a right of real-estate speculatoirs, but a right ‘to own,’ that is a right of workers who are in need.”

But was Pound really a blackshirt author? Luca Gallesi, author of Le origini del fascismo in Ezra Pound (Ares), has some reservations: “I feel sympathy for the youth of CasaPound, but I believe that Mary de Rachewiltz is right to argue that their approach is a bit superficial. The poet was above all an American patriot connected to the American populist movement, which gathered small business and farmers in protest against financial speculators. He saw in fascism a third way, a national and spirital answer to the crisis of mercantile capitalism, but I find debatable the harking back to Pound in the name of a right-wing, Anti-American ideology.”

In contrast, Piero Sanavio, author of La gabbia di Pound (Fazi), has no doubts: “I knew him personally and remember him as a man of great generosity, but from the ideological point of view Pound was organically tied to fascism. He had an authoritarian idea of the State, he supported not only Mussolini but also Franco, and even joined the Republic of Salò. Genial talent from the literary point of view, in politics he was greatly naive. Suffice it to say that he found the positions of Il Duce and that of an enlightened democrat such as Thomas Jefferson overlapping.”

Ready with an objection, Scianca: “The image of Pound as deluded, deceived by fascism, does not convince: his was a conscious choice for which he paid harshly. And it is perplexing that one can praise him as a poet while devaluing his economic ideas, whose validity is demonstrated by the financial crisis.” Sanavio invites a distinction: “Pound was treated in an inhuman way by the American authority and his suffering deserves human sympathy. But he must be read as a poet, not as philospopher, sociologist, or economist. After all, his critique of usury is not original: a similar concept can be found in the writing of Dante and Sant’Ambrogio, even in the Bible.” Gallesi disagrees: “The contemporary economic crisis certainly does not derive from a problem of scarcity, but from mechanisms that privilege the speculative profit and weaken the purchasing power of families. How can we not acknolwedge that Pound was right on the mark in his attack on usury?”

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Before translating the sidebar — shown to the right — here is an excerpt from the earlier story (“Hands Off My Father Ezra Pound“), as it sets up CasaPound’s response:

[Mary de Rachewiltz] leafs through a selection of Italian magazines and realizes that “the black tide of the third millennium” is growing, always in the name of her father: the CasaPound movement. These articles describe “social and cultural initiatives” promoted by the extreme-right network (battles for the home, maternity and self-sufficiency in food and agriculture), but also describe “gatherings organized with martial discipline” by a “holy mob” that distinguishes itself with “leather jackets, shaved heads, and flags with gothic symbols.” And she observes on the internet a sequence from a video exemplifying the taste for certain “warrior practices” by these militants, who “whip each other while dancing” …

And the article continues:

Mary de Rachewiltz … pours out her dismay. “This is another way of putting Pound in a cage, like that of the Disciplinary Training Center of Pisa, where he was segregated, the Guantanamo of 1945. A tremendous damage, because it is born of a distortion of the meaning of his work, and because it runs the risk of compromising again his full critical recognition. An abuse, because in this way they corner him in an ambiguous dimension that goes beyond the reactionary toward a regressive cipher. And because they uphold him to youth of confused mind as a prophet who is so much more fascinating insofar as he is dangerous and forbidden.” For the heir of the poet, in other words, “we cannot remain diplomatic” while judging those pretending to be the “grandchildren of Pound.” They have elevated him to a cult object against an almost mystic-esoteric background. And they have placed him among their ideal ancestors, evoking as a slogan some of his phrases, “more or less inflammatory, fished here and there without logic” from the time in which he supported Mussolini. Which “for my father was the moment of fracture, very complex.” And which, for this reason, ought to be reconsidered, according to her, on the basis of often-neglected variables. Beginning with his vision of history, because, she explains, “he was more interested in ethics than politics. And about Mussolini he used to say, he would have liked educating him. And that Mussolini was destroyed because he didn’t follow the dictates of Confucius.” It is a defense that Mrs. de Rachewiltz, translator and philologist of the paternal work, who lives in Tirolo di Merano, allows herself with some discomfort. Because for her it should be the scholars who hold Pound’s memory close to heart who “fight against certain undue appropriations.”

And here is the sidebar:

Letter of CasaPound

“Come and see us Mrs. de Rachewiltz”

Gianluca Iannone, president of CasaPound, is ready to take his chance. He is prompted by Mary de Rachewiltz’s complaint to Corriere regarding the scant interest of cultural academics in her father. He denies he wanted to instrumentalize the name of Pound and takes credit for having “broken the stereotypes and overcome the ostracisms” weighted against him. “It is for this reason” — writes Iannone to Mrs. de Rachewiltz — “that we say come and see us. This is an official invitation. Come and see us, overcome the useless polemics based on nothing. Come and see if really anyone here is forcing Pound in a new cage. Come and see us and judge with your own eyes and without interested mediations what is the commitment of our human community in carrying forward day after day the battles that were Pound’s.”

All of which parallels the appropriation of Pound by the Tea Party Movement (noted here last month). Stay tuned for further developments.

ABC of the Tea Party Movement

There are so many different Ezra Pounds: the expatriate poet, founder of Imagism, redactor of The Waste Land, explicator of troubadours  — exponent of Social Credit, Vivaldi, Chinese ideogram — secretary to Yeats, servant to Mussolini — a poet half Futurist, half Pre-Raphaelite — translator, composer, editor, pedagogue, critic … and sometime crank. It’s in that last guise that Pound recently surfaced on Esquire‘s website, in John H. Richardson’s genealogy of the Tea Party Movement. Here is a choice excerpt:

I’m not saying the Tea Partiers are all racists or anti-Semites. On the contrary, I’m certain that most of them are not. But in the dream logic that moves masses of people, the Ezra Pound Connection explains everything. A populist social movement inspired by the elitists at the Chicago School of Economics? A president who is supposed to be a socialist and also, at the same time, a craven servant of Goldman Sachs? It all makes perfect sense when you start from the “patriotic poet” who was also guilty of treason, who was famous both for his kindness and his cruelty.

Does any modernist poet have a scrapbook as interesting as Pound’s? Here’s another clipping for it.