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Front Page - Friday, November 20, 2015

Pound of poetry: Part 2

I Swear

Vic Fleming

Last week we noted that American poet Ezra Pound wrote a historical two-line poem in 1913. While establishing himself as a leader in the movement that gave  us stream-of-consciousness fiction, free-verse poetry, atonal music, and abstract art. And years before being indicted for treason.

Before that, he studies Greek and Latin at a military academy, then enrolls at the University of Pennsylvania at the age of 15. After two years of more language study (plus being on the chess team), he transfers to Hamilton College in upstate New York, returns to Penn for a master’s in 1906. Receiving a post-grad fellowship, he goes to Europe. Returning in 1907, at age 21, be becomes an instructor at Wabash College, Crawfordsville, Ind.

There Pound breaks lots of rules: smokes in his room (a violation of state law), cusses in class (students tattle on him), and lets women into his room. At one boarding house he woos his landlady’s widowed sister, Mary Young (no pun, that name). Here occurs a scandal that gets him fired … the first time.

Across the hall from him lives an actress who impersonates men (in her show). Pound is seen sharing a meal with her early enough one morning that it’s presumed he spent the night there. He denies the charge, claiming to have been with Ms. Young until midnight. She confirms his alibi; he gets sacked, but then rehired. All before the end of semester.

He moves to another boarding house where, on a cold February night, he brings to his room a woman who is “stranded from a burlesque show.” She’s in his bed when the landlady comes in to clean at 8 a.m., after Pound has left for work. Biographer David Moody writes that Pound “was invited to resign; did resign; was offered his job back—and refused it.”

So, it’s back to Europe, where he gets interested in Japanese poetry. The year 1909 finds him in London. A collection of his poems published that year shows traditional and radically new forms. As London Correspondent for Poetry magazine and Poetry Editor of The Egoist, he befriends, edits, and publishes Eliot, Yeats, and Joyce.

Pound invents the term “Imagism” to help promote the poetry of others. His two-line classic, “In a Station of the Metro,” discussed last week, exemplifies Imagism. In 1914 he marries Dorothy Shakespear (her real name), daughter of a novelist and a solicitor.

Fluent in several languages, and obsessed with creating his own, he translates tons poems and begins his lifelong work, The Cantos, an ongoing series of units written in the “ideogrammic method,” described by one scholar as follows: “[W]henever something comes into your mind you squeeze it into a stark compact image … and then as your mind drifts … somewhere else, you create another image, and … leave it up to the reader to work out what, if any, connection there may be ....”

In 1920 Ezra and Dorothy move to Paris. In 1923 he starts an affair with violinist Olga Rudge that will last 49 years. Olga bears him a daughter in 1925; Dorothy bears him a son in 1926. Though someone else is the son’s biological father, Ezra signs off on the birth certificate.

All of the above still being well in advance of the treason indictment, which we’ll get to next week.

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.