Monday, April 16, 2012

Uncle Ezra

Dr. Jackson asks, "2) Ezra Pound obviously wrote quite a few books over his lifetime. What should people read to get started on his work?"

I don't know.  I had a student read ABC of Reading in tenth grade, and it worked for him.  He also read The Cantos in our tenth grade honors class.  During senior year he borrowed ABC of Reading again to help him prepare for the AP exam.  I don't know if it helped him.  I think of the story I heard Carroll Terrell tell in 1985.  He recommended an undergraduate student read Pound's criticism.  The student did, and his grades in his English classes went down because the student shared Ezra's cantankerous opinions.

(I sometimes think of Ezra as the Yosemite Sam of poetry.  "Ya varmits, I want ya to read Ovid and Dante."  I think of T. S. Eliot of the Elmer Fudd.  "Be vewy, vewy quiet, I'm saving Western Civilization.  Heh, heh, heh."  I yearn to become the Bugs Bunny of poetry, but I remain more of a Daffy Duck, a Scarlet Pumpernickel.)

I love Ezra's essay "How to Read" in Literary Essays.  That seems to me a good place to start.  I also recommend just buying a copy of The Cantos and reading it out loud and seeing what happens.  I fell in love with Ezra's prose before I could really uncrack the poetry.  I bought ABC of Reading after reading a bunch of Bob Wilson in late 1982 or early 1983.  I liked it, but I got stopped cold by the Chaucer quotes in Middle English.  In summer 1983 I read Pound's Guide to Kultur, and that WORKED for me.  In December I decided to "become a poet" and in a few months I changed my major from math to English.

(I fear this blog will seem narcissistic.)

The short Selected Poems of Ezra Pound (the old one, selected by Ez himself) has a lot of terrific poems.  I also learned to appreciate Pound by reading about him, especially writings by other poets like Eliot, Williams, cummings, Creeley, Ginsberg, Donald Hall, Bob Wilson, etc.


  1. My copy of "Selected Poems" says, "First Published as New Directions Paperback 66, 1957." Is that the one Pound chose?

  2. I re-read Guide To Kulchur about once every 18 months. That's what really hooked me on Ez.

    After my first reading of GtK, I read ABC of Reading and loved that and have dipped into parts of it over and over. I think I got a copy of The Cantos soon after my first reading of ABC of R. (I have not read ABC of Economics).

    Since then my favorite non-Cantos books by Ez have been Selected Prose 1909-1965, and Machine Art was a revelation. His ideas about melo-phano-and logo- (first encountered in "How To Read") have had an enormous influence on my reading and writing. I fear I'm far too logo-imbalanced; need work on image and music...

  3. Yes, Seer of Cleveland. That edition of _Selected Poems of Ezra Pound_ has gone out of print, but I've taught it three times and I highly recommend it. I haven't used _The New Selected Poems and Translations of Ezra Pound_, but looking at it at Amazon just now it looks pretty good. I guess I just didn't like my glance at the intro in Borders last year.

    Dr. Johnson, I had a similar first experience with _Guide to Kultur_. However, I've never reread it. I started to a few years ago, and I came across Pound's prescription to spend a week immersing myself in Medieval scholasticism. I did that, even buying a book by St. Anselm, and I never started it up again. As I near 50 I know I haven't met Ez's goal that I "know more at the age of fifty than" Ezra knew when he wrote it. I do hear Ezra's nagging voice when I skip my daily Latin study.