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1— The Pound Tradition
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The Pound Tradition

But the things Pound turns you on to are groovy. . . . he has like a big influence on me.
Allen Ginsberg, in Jane Kramer, Allen Ginsberg in America

The wonder to me is, that, say, I can take yr premises, can learn so precisely from you, and just because I do, just because of it, I am able to make a verse which remains distinctly my own.
Robert Creeley, Charles Olson and Robert Creeley

At a moment of acute personal and spiritual crisis in his Pisan Cantos, Pound evokes as his sole means of salvation a "live tradition" to be gathered "from the air":

What thou lovest well remains,
the rest is dross
What thou lov'st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov'st well is thy true heritage
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
But to have done instead of not doing
this is not vanity
To have, with decency, knocked
That a Blunt should open
To have gathered from the air a live tradition
or from a fine old eye the unconquered flame
This is not vanity.

(C, 521–522)

Christine Froula points out that Pound's identification of the "minor" English poet Wilfred Blunt as the vessel of artistic tradition allows him to "[bypass] the great Romantics to affirm a minor lyric tradition."[1] Although this assessment is generally accurate, Pound's "live" tradition is not a mere anthology of minor lyric poetry. What Pound proposes as a usable tradition of poetry is really a vortex of diverse poetic and artistic practices


that can be rediscovered and resynthesized in new directions by new writers and that are constantly leading toward a new sense of "culture"—"a live paideuma and not a dead one" (SP, 393). In his essay "Prefatio aut Cimicium Tumulus," first published as the preface to his 1933 Active Anthology, Pound chastises T. S. Eliot for supporting the notion of an already existing culture that "does nothing to prepare a better culture that must or ought to come into being" (SP, 393). Eliot, Pound claims, relies on culturally formed "taste" rather than actively seeking a greater diversity of poetic modes or traditions, and he does nothing to encourage an "appetite for the unknown best, or for the best still unread by the neophyte." Eliot's gesture in "revising" the poetic canon consists of little more than using Dryden as a "good club wherewith to smack Milton" (SP, 390).

For Pound, it is a question not so much of replacement as of augmentation. Tradition must be more than a sense of poetic inheritance provided by the available stock of writers within a given culture; it must indicate a web of shared poetic practice woven through the writings of poets from all ages and cultures, a nonlinear pattern of poetic writing. Pound comments, "After all, Homer, Propertius, Villon, speak of the world as I know it, whereas Mr. Tennyson and Dr. Bridges do not. Even Dante and Guido with their so highly specialised culture speak part of a life as I know it" (SP, 390).

It was Pound's more idiosyncratic, iconoclastic, and interactive sense of tradition, rather than Eliot's notion of tradition as orthodoxy, that appealed to postwar American poets such as Charles Olson and Robert Duncan. They and other poets of the 1950s and 1960s saw in Pound's poetry and concerns an alternative model of literary Modernism to what they considered the more rigid and hierarchical set of values and expectations represented by Eliot and the New Criticism. Olson and many of the other poets who followed Pound in the postwar era saw the schools of T. S. Eliot and W. H. Auden as inhibited by the restrictive value judgments made by critics within the academy. They felt alienated from what they considered formalized and tightly controlled verse, which relied on subtle effects for its


impact rather than proposing any radically new conception of poetry itself. Poets of the Pound tradition felt themselves to be part of a movement representing a "new poetry," one generated by an altered conception of the poet's relation to phenomenological and artistic experience.

Robert Creeley, Allen Ginsberg, and Robert Duncan helped to delineate this sense of a new tradition in the decade following World War II. Creeley defined his tradition in opposition to the dominant poetry of the time: that of Allen Tate, John Crowe Ransom, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, and Randall Jarrell. His countertradition—that of Pound, Williams, H. D., Zukofsky, George Oppen, and Charles Reznikoff—attracted to it younger poets who were "dissatisfied with the Ransom and Tate school" (CON, 14). Ginsberg, incensed by what he saw as the neglect by academic critics of Pound, Zukofsky, and "the other rough writers of the Whitmanic, open tradition in America," located himself within a tradition of "Whitmanic adhesiveness" that he felt connected his generation with that of its Modernist predecessors (CT, 93). Duncan identified the same postwar movement more specifically as one "deriving its music from the ground Ezra Pound had given us in his theory and practice forty years earlier [and] . . . from the composition by phrase which Pound had advanced to the high art of The Pisan Cantos ."[2]

The year Duncan identified as the beginning of a new poetic sensibility, 1950, was marked by the publication of Olson's "Projective Verse," the "postmodern" manifesto largely responsible for defining the context of postwar Poundian poetics. In his essay, Olson invoked Pound and Imagism—"the revolution of the ear . . . the trochee's heave" (SW, 15)—of forty years earlier. Olson's essay not only represented a significant watershed for a radical postwar poetic consciousness; it also signaled the return to prominence among younger American poets of the long expatriated, American Modernist Pound. The events of the preceding four years—Pound's arrest and incarceration by the U.S. Army in Italy, his much publicized arraignment and trial, the


publication of his Pisan Cantos, and the controversial Bollingen Award of 1949—all resulted in Pound's name being far better known in American literary circles than it had been throughout the 1930s and early 1940s. Now every writer who knew Pound—along with many who did not—was forced to come to terms with often ambivalent feelings about Pound the man as well as Pound the poet. Opinions were sharply divided.[3] Pound himself remained as active as one in his position reasonably could have. He continued to produce new Cantos and other writings, to meet with aspiring poets, critics, and followers of various kinds, and to disseminate his ideas by whatever channels he could find. It was the time of a remarkable resurgence of interest in Pound's work and in that of his contemporary Williams and his American predecessor Whitman.

It was largely within the context of these developments that the early 1950s saw the birth and development of a "new American poetry," a poetry of "open-form" composition that was in direct opposition to the more formal verse of the "establishment" poets writing in the New Critical tradition.[4] Epithets such as "establishment poetry" and "academic verse" must be judged as only partially accurate; not all poetry written by academics in these years conformed to this mode, nor did all poets outside the academic establishment write according to the


precepts of Pound and Williams. Nevertheless, the work to which Olson, Duncan, and others objected was a verse primarily written, promoted, and defended by professors of a relatively closed and well-defined academic / literary world. As such, it was a poetry doubly unattractive to writers who either by their own choice or through the neglect of academic critics were working outside mainstream academic circles—poets such as Pound, Williams, Zukofsky, Olson, the Beats, and many poets of the New York and San Francisco schools.

The late 1950s marked the second phase of the same movement. Ginsberg's Howl (1956) introduced postwar open-form poetry to the larger reading public, as did Donald Allen's anthology, The New American Poetry (1960), which helped define a context for the forty-three poets represented in it. Various journals and small presses, many of them run by the poets themselves, took on the role of publishing this experimental poetry.[5] The poets included in the Allen anthology saw in the work of establishment poets a reactionary desire to return verse to inherited forms. Duncan, for example, wrote that poets who "once had dreams and epiphanies, now admit only to devices and ornament" and that "taste, reason, rationality" were the ruling forces of the day, blocking out "the darkness of possibilities that controls cannot manage."[6] In his discussion of the conventional" critic Elizabeth Drew, Duncan deplored the narrow-mindedness of those he felt were oppressing the "open" practices of Pound and Williams, finding in these critics "an imposing company of arbiters and camp followers . . . commandos of quatrains right! and myrmidons of the metaphysical stanza" (FC, 94). Ginsberg was even more outspoken in his


criticism of mainstream academic critics who he felt would stifle any originality in poetic expression and who displayed either "total amnesia" regarding experimental poetry or "complete incompetence" in understanding or evaluating forms of writings not sanctioned by the academy: "All the universities [have been] fucking a dead horse for decades and this is culture?! Yet prosody and conceptions of poetry have been changing for half a century already and . . . yet I have to listen to people giving me doublethink gobbledygook about why I don't write poems with form, construction, something charming and carefully made."[7]

Pound's standards, by contrast, were seen as a call for greater artistic freedom on several levels. Following Pound's example, along with that of Williams, poets could include subject matter and diction hitherto deemed unacceptable to poetry, they could derive new poetic forms from a sense of everyday speech, and they could emphasize in their work the previously neglected factor of the visual and aural qualities generated by the physical placement of the poem on the page. Pound's poetry was unpredictable and idiosyncratic rather than conventional. It was "momently recognized" (moving instantly, as Olson would have it, "from one perception to another") instead of determined by the impositions of conventional form, thought, and diction.

Pound's work foregrounded for younger poets the importance of understanding language and form beyond the traditional concerns of poetry (diction, tone, and rhyme) so as to encompass the structural, etymological, and sonic properties of language, as well as the implicit social and political structures language contains. Pound's application of ideogrammatic structure to Western poetry was of central significance, as were his introduction of the idea of the "tone leading of vowels," his use of accentual meters and musical structures as a means of "breaking the pentameter," and his direct quotation of heterogeneous registers of language in the poem. Equally important to later poets was Pound's idea of an "absolute value" in language—that is, an


"energy" or a "charge of meaning" within language that links it directly to an experience of the world and gives it a status independent of its existence within an arbitrary linguistic code.[8] Following Pound's logic, poets explored the idea of the "perfectibility" of language: the notion that an intensified and attentive "sincerity" in the use of words can function as a critique of the misuse of language in a society, a misuse directly related to the other problems that society may face.

During the 1940s, when poets of Duncan's and Creeley's generation reached their maturity, Pound and Williams appeared to many to be the only viable poetic models. Other choices of poetic forebears included a return to the Georgians (the worst kind of conservative and sentimental verse), the clever and highly formal poetry of the "Ransom-Tate nexus" (compared by Creeley to "antiques" made by "awfully-old-Southern-gentlemen"), and the loosely affiliated Modernism represented by Eliot, Moore, and Stevens, poets who seemed neither completely committed to the formal tradition nor part of the open tradition of Pound and Williams.[9] The poetry written in these various modes was seen by those who accepted the teachings of "Projective Verse" as not only stylistically retrograde but as incapable of encompassing a sense of contemporary social and political reality. Duncan, for example, contrasted the poetry written by Eliot and Stevens with that of Pound:

The voices of Eliot and Stevens do not present us with . . . disturbances of mode. They preserve throughout a melodious poetic respectability, eminently sane in their restriction of poetic meaning to the bounds of the literary, of symbol and metaphor, but at the cost


of avoiding facts and ideas that might disturb. Both the individual and the communal awareness are constricted to fit or adapted to the convenience of accepted culture.[10]

Pound's poetry differed from that of other contemporary models not only in the way it disturbed culturally accepted modes of expression but also in what it demanded of the reader—what Creeley called "an active involvement with what was happening in the given poem." Unlike poets such as Auden and Stevens, whose works were read in the academy of the 1940s either in terms of their irony and the rigor of their verse patterns (Auden) or in conjunction with vague discussions of aesthetic value (Stevens), Pound insisted "on precisely how the line goes, how the word is, in its context, what has been done, in the practice of verse—and what now seems possible to do" (CE, 27). It was not always easy, according to Creeley, to find acceptance for alternative models like Pound within the academic curriculum of the 1940s and 1950s:

The colleges and universities were dominant in their insistence upon an idea of form extrinsic to the given instance. Poems were equivalent to cars insofar as many could occur of a similar pattern—although each was, of course, "singular." But it was this assumption of a mold, of a means that could be gained beyond the literal fact of the writing here and now, that had authority. It is the more ironic to think of it, remembering the incredible pressure of feeling in these years—of all that did want "to be said," of so much confusion and pain wanting statement in its own terms. But again, it is Karl Shapiro's Essay on Rime which is successful and Auden is the measure of competence. In contrast Ezra Pound, H.D., William Carlos Williams (despite the token interest as Paterson begins to be published), Hart Crane, and especially Walt Whitman are largely disregarded.    (QG, 42)

In many respects, Pound was an ideal model for Olson and other poets of his camp. Pound was the neglected poet, the renegade, "reformer," great experimenter, mentor, adviser, as well as the politically and intellectually disreputable "traitor."


As a figure encapsulating all those qualities, Pound was attractive to a group of poets who sought an antiestablishment stance as well as a new means of poetic expression.[11] Pound was the great polemicizer who sought to "shake up the context" (Creeley) and "clear the ground" (Olson). He provided later poets not only with new "ground to walk on" (Ginsberg) but with convenient tags on which to hang their own stances. Pound's assertion that "poets are the antennae of the race," for example, was frequently summoned as an argument for a poetry relevant to the world of political, social, and economic realities. Poets with entirely different politics from Pound's own were often attracted to him; in many cases it seemed to matter less to these poets what Pound's politics actually were than that his work addressed political issues at all:

To the young of that period he was often simply a traitor, an anti-Semite, an obscurantist, a money crank—and such courses in universities and colleges as dealt with modern poetry frequently avoided all mention of the Cantos . . . . The work we were otherwise given was, on the one hand, Auden—wherein a socially based use of irony became the uselessly exact rigor of repetitive verse patterns—or perhaps Stevens, whose mind one respected, in the questions it realized, but again whose use of poetry had fallen to the questionable fact of a device.   (CE, 25)

Ironically, it was the "historical method" of The Cantos as well as Pound's questionable political status that brought him to the attention of younger poets such as Olson, Creeley, and


Ginsberg just as he reached the nadir of popularity within the academic world. It was not until the late 1950s and early 1960s—with the further maturation and institutionalization of the "new" poets—that Pound became an acceptable model for young writers.

The 1960s were marked by important and well-attended conferences in Vancouver (1963) and Berkeley (1965) celebrating poetry by followers of Pound, Williams, and Black Mountain. The 1960s also marked the rediscovery by many younger poets of Objectivist writers from the previous generation: especially Louis Zukofsky, George Oppen, and the English poet Basil Bunting. Bunting's poem Briggflatts was published in 1966, and Zukofsky's All: The Collected Short Poems finally reached print in the mid-1960s, along with the first twelve books of the long poem "A" . A second and then a third generation of poets in the Pound / Black Mountain tradition also appeared, as Ginsberg, Creeley, Levertov, Snyder, and Dorn reached their maturity and as younger writers such as Clayton Eshleman, Robert Kelly, Jerome Rothenberg, and Diane Wakoski sought out the more established poets of the tradition as teachers and mentors.

Nevertheless, by the end of the decade what had seemed urgently radical in Pound's work ten or fifteen years earlier no longer seemed so: the force of the Pound tradition had dissipated, and its practitioners had been scattered. Olson, now the "old man" to a number of younger poets, died in 1970, and Pound himself passed away quietly two years later, far removed from the world of American poetry that his work had helped to create.

Pound, however, still provides the impetus for many of the experiments in contemporary poetry, not only in the United States but throughout the world. The manifestos of "concrete" poetry, for example, a movement that began in Latin America in the 1950s, credit Pound with important contributions: the concept of the ideogram as "spatial or visual syntax . . . [and] composition based on direct—analogical, not logical-discursive—juxtaposition of elements" and the idea of a musical (con-


trapuntal or fugal) form of the poem.[12] More generally, the techniques of repetition, syntactic and semantic play, minimalist composition, juxtaposition of diction, and the increased mixing of poetry with other media are all outgrowths of Pound's work and ideas. American writers as diverse in their approaches to the poetic medium as Richard Kostelanetz, David Antin, Clark Coolidge, Jackson MacLow, John Cage, Barrett Watten, Susan Howe, Ron Silliman, and Charles Bernstein have all attempted to provide an enlarged critical vocabulary for dealing not only with the open poetic practices of Black Mountain and related movements but also with the projects currently taking place in such diverse areas as concrete poetry, oral and recorded poetry (sound poetry), various kinds of collage techniques, and Language poetry.

The various manifestations of post-Poundian poetry, from Olson in the early 1950s to Bernstein in the 1980s, all in some measure fall under the rubric of postmodernism, though as James Breslin and others have indicated, the idea of the postmodern in American poetry is highly problematic. In the most fundamental sense, all these writers are by definition postmodernist in coming after Modernists like Pound and Williams and in one way or another following, reacting to, or departing from these Modernist predecessors. In addition, they are part of a broader movement of experimental postmodernism in all the arts that took place in the 1950s and early 1960s.[13] In a still more specific context, they are postmodern in the sense suggested by critics such as David Antin and Charles Altieri, both of whom describe a postmodernism corresponding to the "field poetics" of Charles Olson and the Black Mountain school. Altieri, for example, defines postmodern poetry as that which is formally radical, constituted by "essentially phenomenological forms of imaginative activity," and resistant to "tastes fostered


by academic, pedagogical versions of the New Criticism."[14] (I return to a more detailed discussion of the postmodern in chapter 4.)

Olson, the first American poet to theorize the postmodern and to use the term consistently, approached the change to a postmodern consciousness as nothing less than revolutionary: it was not to be seen merely as a technical or formal shift but as an epistemological reorientation that would be all-encompassing in its scope and far-reaching in its consequences. In time, poets such


as Creeley, Ginsberg, Duncan, Snyder, and Dorn would come to share at least parts of Olson's postmodern vision. All these poets would enter into a complex dialogue (or polylogue) with Modernism, with Pound, and with the notions of textuality, influence, and tradition he had proposed.

I conclude this general overview of the Pound tradition by looking briefly at two writers who represent very different strains of postmodern American poetry and whose practices I do not have the opportunity to examine in separate chapters: Robert Creeley and Allen Ginsberg. Neither of these poets writes in a way that immediately identifies him as an heir to Pound, and both have been conventionally aligned with other predecessors: Creeley with Williams and Zukofsky and Ginsberg with Whitman. Yet both were profoundly influenced by Pound's writing and example, and both have been central figures in the development of the Pound tradition. Their participation in the tradition emphasizes two aspects of Pound's influence that I develop throughout this book. First, what these poets share with Pound and with each other is manifested less in terms of stylistic and formal resemblances, thematic echoes, or repetition of tropes than in the sense of a continuity of techniques, attitudes, and stances toward poetic practice and tradition. Second, the diversity represented by their different understandings of Pound and their equally different uses of his work is itself a salient characteristic of this tradition.

Creeley's importance in the Pound tradition rests largely on his place as an editor, a correspondent, and an advocate for Pound, Williams, Zukofsky, and the new poetry of the 1950s and 1960s. By the time Creeley began his correspondence with Olson in the spring of 1950, he had already decided that Pound and Williams together represented the central movement in American Modernist writing: "I do have the feeling, those two are almost: a common ground. . . . Not then, Joyce & Pound, Lewis, Eliot, et al. 1s/ always has been: Williams & Pound" (CORC, vol. 4, 72). In that same year Creeley wrote to Pound asking him for advice about a journal of contemporary poetry he


wished to start up. Pound advised Creeley to stick to a practical format: to use as a base the work of the editor himself and "about four others whose work could be depended on" and to supplement that base with a "variant," the content of which should be "as hogwild as possible" (CE, 506). Creeley's magazine never got off the ground, despite his attempts to enlist the support of both Pound and Williams, and he had to wait until the first volume of Black Mountain Review in 1953 to put Pound's ideas into practice. Creeley's magazine, which ran for several issues, did establish itself on the "base" of a few central Black Mountain poets, and it joined Cid Corman's Origin in printing some of the more experimental poetry being written in America at the time.[15]

As a Harvard undergraduate in the mid-1940s, Creeley had discovered that an academic education would not in itself teach him what he needed to know as a poet. His course on contemporary poetry at Harvard was taught by F. O. Matthiessen, a professor who was unusually open to flexibility in the canon. But when Creeley asked him why Pound's Cantos were not being taught, Matthiessen replied "that he understood Pound's work too poorly, that he felt Pound's political attitudes most suspect, and that he could not finally see the value of the work in a course such as ours was" (QG, 95).[16] Creeley himself found the form of The Cantos "intimidating" at first, though he had already profited from Pound's critical writings and the shorter poems of Personae . Learning to read The Cantos was unquestionably difficult for a young and relatively unguided poet in the years following World War II, but the "work" Creeley put into trying to read Pound's poem expanded his own horizons. Creeley identified in Pound's work technical "possibilities" of great im-


portance to him and other young poets. Pound had made it possible for them to "find the character of our own intelligence" by means of a "preoccupation with how the poem is to be put on the page" (CON, 5).

It was in large part Creeley's discovery of Pound's Imagist and Objectivist precepts that led him to adopt what Charles Altieri calls an "immanentist poetics," one "stressing the ways in which an imagination attentive to common or casual experience can transform the mind." It was a poetic mode opposed to the Symbolist model predominant at the time, which emphasized an "abstract meditation on poetic structure and on the mind's dialectical pursuit of ideal unity."[17] Creeley was himself mindful of Pound's relation to Symbolism. As Creeley noted in an interview with Charles Tomlinson, Pound "has always been intent to make a very clear demarcation between a symbol which in effect exhausts its references as opposed to a sign or mark of something which constantly renews its reference" (CON, 15).

Creeley joined Olson as one of Pound's public advocates when in a 1952 letter to the editor of the journal Goad he defended his predecessor against what he considered unfair attacks in an article printed there. In the letter, Creeley listed Pound's most important contributions to modern and contemporary poetry:

1) 50 years of work. . . . Criticism. Translation. Hauling over into the English of at least 3 major areas of thought. 2) A principle of verse (kinetic) which has made, literally, the basic condition which now makes it possible for us to go on with it. . . . 3) A body of work ... based, surely, on a man's actuality, on his own actuality, and isn't that what, precisely, poetry is supposed to be?    (QG, 92–94)

In a 1969 essay called simply "Why Pound!?!" Creeley elaborated on the significance of Pound's poetry and ideas to the postmodern generation. Most important was what he called Pound's "insistent stance of an active . . . intelligence" (CE, 28). Pound's criticism in books such as Make It New, ABC of Reading, Guide to Kulchur, and Polite Essays taught Creeley that it


was not a knowledge of the canon or of literary history that would make him a poet; rather, he would become a poet by virtue of a poetic intelligence and awareness made possible by repeated practice and experimentation and by a greater attentiveness to language, music, and rhythm. What Pound taught was a practical method of "how to write":

Rather than tell me about some character of verse, he would give the literal instance side by side with that which gave it context. . . . This emphasis I feel to be present in all his work, from the rationale of imagism, to the latest Cantos . . . . Pound took the possibility of writing to involve more than descriptive aesthetics. . . . He moved upon the active principle of the intelligence, the concept of virtu . . . the experience of an energy, of ear and mind, which makes of language man's primary act.    (CE, 26–27)

From The Cantos Creeley also learned that locally defined formal considerations were not in themselves adequate directives in making a poem: the inclusive structure of The Cantos taught him that "the variousness of life is as much its quality as its quantity" (QG, 96). Creeley agreed with Pound that the "content" of a poem (its direct reference to events or objects in the world) should not be subjugated to formal or symbolic concerns. But if poetic form for Creeley was "never more than an extension of content," he would not go as far as Pound, or even Olson, in allowing content itself to sustain the poem. Creeley believed that the necessary balance between form and content in the poem could be achieved and apprehended only through the language used: "I mean then words —as opposed to content. I care what the poem says, only as a poem—I am no longer interested in the exterior attitude to which a poem may well point, a signboard. That concern I have found is best settled elsewhere" (QG, 32).

Although Creeley found fault with Pound for relying too heavily on the content or material in The Cantos rather than on formal concerns more intrinsic to the poetic process, he recognized the important example of Pound's use of various materials as an essential "building place" where the "particulars" of a poem's "reality" can be stored (CORC, vol. 4, 31). Creeley


wrote to Olson of his admiration for Pound's ability to "go by feel," "by ear," or "by language" in the poem, instead of writing "mechanically." Rather than write sentimental poems that "plot the heart ... like one would nail a butterfly to a board," Pound used words to convey "the sensing" of an object or experience; he shaped "the word round the thing" (CORC, vol. 1, 103). Pound also provided a sincerity in his poetry that acted as an important counterbalance to the predominantly ironic mode of poetry at the time and that was reflected in Pound's constant vigilance against the misuses or perversions of language:

Pound, early in the century, teaches the tradition of "man-standing-by-his-word," the problem of sincerity, which is never as simple as it may be made to seem. The poet, of all men, has best cause and least excuse to pervert his language, since what he markets is so little in demand.... I think the poem's morality is contained as a term of its structure, and is there to be determined and nowhere else. (Pound: "Prosody is the total articulation of the sound in a poem.") Only craft determines the morality of a poem.    (QG, 32)[18]

This concern with craft runs throughout Creeley's writings; it and a number of related concerns having to do with form and measure all derive from the original tenets of Imagism and the later reformulations of Objectivism. Foremost among these concepts is the idea of poetry as "condensation"; Creeley's work, more than that of any other poet in the Pound tradition, maintains a sense of extremely condensed, often almost minimalist expression in keeping with the Objectivist equation Dichten = condensare (to write poetry is to condense) suggested to Pound by Basil Bunting. For Creeley, the idea of the poem as a "literal transmission" of experience manifests itself not in terms of a fluidity of language and image (as for Duncan) or in the variable patterning of an excited state of mind (as for Olson), but in the transcription of a highly cautious, controlled statement. Such a transcription or transmission is a celebration of language as


"speech" in keeping with Pound's Cantos: "The Cantos are, first of all, an incredible condensing, as speech is" (QG, 94).

Also of great importance to Creeley's work is Pound's sense of "measure"—of an exacting sense of metrical, syllabic, and sonic "weights and durations." Creeley's use of the short, often enjambed line shows most clearly the influence of Williams; but the tight, almost sculptural form of many of his poems as well as their attention to the sounds and rhythms of language owes a great deal to Pound. In his essay "I'm given to write poems" Creeley quotes several of Pound's statements from his "Treatise of Meter" at the end of ABC of Reading . Besides the idea of the weights and durations of syllables, Creeley views as Pound's most important injunctions those concerning rhythm as "form cut into TIME , as a design is cut into SPACE ," and those showing an awareness of the poem's sonic possibilities—"the sound it makes" (CE, 503).

The poem of Creeley's in which Pound's presence is most clearly felt is "The Finger," written in the late 1960s. It is not unusual that only one of Creeley's poems shows such a direct relationship to his predecessor—after all, Creeley's characteristic voice is not one of allusion or quotation, like the voices of Olson, Duncan, and Snyder. As Creeley himself explains, this poem's allusions place it in the same relationship to Pound as The Cantos does to many prior works, which appear as single or multiple echoes within its overall structure.[19] Unlike Olson or Duncan, who return repeatedly to Pound's work as a model or source for their own poetry, Creeley uses this single poem—significantly one of his longest and most impressive works—as his poetic acknowledgment of Pound's importance.

Creeley had already decided by the time of his 1951 poem "Helas" that even though he was "impressed by Pound's authority in the language," Pound's poetic solutions were not viable ones for him. Creeley differed from contemporaries such as Olson and Duncan in not wishing to pattern his writing on


the "didacticism" of Pound's poetic project.[20] Even this early in his poetic career, Creeley had determined that he could not find in his own experience a certainty corresponding to Pound's "axe" of lucidity and "right reason"; his was to be a poetry for the "indefinite," without the firm "edge" of didacticism or authority.

Cynthia Edelberg reads "The Finger" as an epic descent, or nekuia, by a hero figure bearing some resemblance to the Odysseus persona of Pound's Cantos .[21] I read the poem as going even further in creating a full-scale mosaic of allusions to Pound. In the first lines of "The Finger," Creeley alludes directly to Pound's "So that," which ends Canto I and begins Canto XVII. Pound first uses the words to form a transition from the translation of the Odyssey into his own poetic project, and later he uses them to reintroduce the divine and metamorphic world of the earlier Cantos. Although on a smaller scale, Creeley's poem and volume enact a similar "timeless" journey: "that time I was a stranger, / bearded, with clothes that were / old and torn. I was told, / it was known to me, my fate would be timeless." The poem goes on to evoke Pound's early Cantos on several levels: in the images of light and blindness suggesting Pound's Tiresias and Homer in the first two Cantos, in the mythological figures of Aphrodite and Hermes, in the seabird imagery derived from the beginning of Canto II, and in the overall attitude of stately reverence.

The quiet shatter of the light,
the image folded into
endlessly opening patterns—

Had they faced me into
the light so that my
eye was blinded? At moments
I knew they had gone by

searched for her face, the pureness
of its beauty, the endlessly sensual—
but no sense as that now reports it.
Rather, she was beauty, that


Aphrodite I had known of,
and caught sight of as maid—
a girlish openness—or known
as a woman turned from the light.

I knew, however, the other,
perhaps even more. She was there
in the room's corner, as she would be,
bent by a wind it seemed

would never stop blowing,
braced like a seabird,
with those endlessly clear grey eyes.
Name her, Athena, what name.[22]

Creeley, however, cannot remain long in his mode of Poundian authority; soon the myth becomes modernized, as first a sense of Christian martyrdom and then a disturbing note of sensuality enter the poem. Creeley's "hero" dances an unheroic "jig" as he approaches the "goddess," now transformed into a fleshly woman with a "low, chuckling laugh." As Creeley's vision of feminine beauty moves further away from Pound's, the style and language follow: Creeley's more characteristic lines reappear, with their self-consciously awkward enjambments and halting punctuation. The rest of the volume returns to the scattered, fragmentary format of poems as "pieces," leaving behind the brief but powerful moment of Poundian certainty and transcendence.

Compared to Olson, Duncan, and Creeley, Allen Ginsberg was late in recognizing Pound as an important precursor. In a letter to Lionel Trilling shortly before the publication of Howl (May 1956), Ginsberg contrasted the "classicism" represented by Eliot and Pound with the "romanticism" of his own generation:

I think what is coming is a romantic period (strangely tho everybody thinks that by being hard-up and classical they are going to make it like Eliot which is silly). Eliot & Pound are like Dryden & Pope. What gives now is much more personal—how could there be now


anything but a reassertion of naked personal subjective truth—eternally real? Perhaps Whitman will be seen to have set the example and been bypassed by half a century.    (H, 155)

But in the next month Ginsberg seemed to revise his opinion of Pound; Ginsberg sent him the manuscript of Howl with a letter that indicated his respect for Pound's judgment: "Please read at least 1 page of the enclosed mss. Or 1 line for that matter so long as you can judge the rhythm. These are all l-o-n-g lines, used in various ways. I don't think nobody's tried this this way. . . . Please let me know how the poems strike or affect you" (H, 157).

Pound did not reply to Ginsberg's letter, but he did send the poem on to Williams with a typically cranky note: "You got more room in yr house than I hv in my cubicle. If he's yours why dont yu teach him the value of time to those who want to read something that wil tell 'em something what they dont know" (H, 157). There is no indication that Ginsberg was aware of Pound's reaction or, if he was, that it bothered him greatly; in any case, Ginsberg's estimation of Pound's poetry continued to grow. When he visited Pound at Rapallo in 1967, Ginsberg praised Pound's poetry as "the best of its time" and stressed the importance of its impact on contemporary poets.[23] In his meetings with Pound, Ginsberg not only praised Pound's poetry; he accepted Pound's anti-Semitism in The Cantos as part of a natural "process of thought" and expressed agreement with Pound's economic critiques, especially those concerning the very institutions of banking and "usury" that Pound had attributed to Jewish moneylenders and financiers.[24]

Two possible explanations for Ginsberg's reaction can be proposed—one personal and one historical. By the time Ginsberg met Pound, he spoke only apologetically about his work and his anti-Semitic prejudice. Rather than having to deal with the political, economic, and sometimes anti-Semitic "ravings" to


which Olson and Duncan had been subjected at St. Elizabeth's, Ginsberg had only to counteract Pound's silence and depression and to try impressing on him the value of The Cantos and its importance to younger poets. And by the time of Ginsberg's poetic success (the late 1950s and early 1960s), the immediate mood cast over the United States by the acts of Mussolini and Hitler had subsided. In consequence, the antiwar sentiment and the critique of the capitalist system Pound provided were more attractive to younger writers than they had been a decade or two earlier.

Ginsberg rationalized Pound's statements against Jews in The Cantos as part of an overall structure of "humours . . . irritations and angers." Ginsberg explained that the uniqueness of The Cantos' form lay in the way Pound registered the state of flux of such "humours" in his life: "The Cantos were for the first time a single person registering over the course of a lifetime all of his major obsessions and thoughts and the entire rainbow of his images and clingings and attachments and discoveries and perceptions" (AV, 181). Pound's perceptions, Ginsberg claimed, were "manifest in procession as time mosaics": "His irritations, against Buddhists, Taoists, and Jews, fitted into place, despite his intentions, as part of the drama, the theater, the presentation, the record of mind-flux."[25]

Clearly, something of Pound's social and economic critique also informs Ginsberg's work, as it does that of Olson, Duncan, and others. The moral outrage Ginsberg expresses in a passage like the "Moloch" section of Howl matches Pound's own disgust at economic ills and misuses in the Cantos dealing with "Usura." Ginsberg's Moloch, like the figure of Geryon in The Cantos, is the monster of economic evil that leaves a trail of corruption and social devastation in its wake. Ginsberg's commentary on Pound's "Usura Cantos" indicates a conscious parallel with his own Moloch. In an essay entitled "Pound Contra Usura," Ginsberg adumbrates Pound's Canto XLVI, the one following his


famous "exorcism of usury": "He goes into incidents and scenes from World War I, people making money on the war.... Speaking from the American experience, he says that when a small group of people get a monopoly on the physical issue of actual money, currency, then corruption enters our polis, enters into our government and into the conduct of economic and political affairs" (AV, 173–74). Ginsberg's own poem reiterates in more compressed form the same images: "unobtainable dollars," "the vast stone of war," "the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows," and "the stunned government."[26]

Like Creeley, Ginsberg learned aspects of poetic technique from Pound, but the concepts he adopted from Pound's practice were in most cases different from those that interested Creeley. Ginsberg praised Pound both for his use of classical meter as an alternative to a standard iambic-based rhythm and for a "mystical ear" that allowed him to "hear gradations of vowel lengths that other people wouldn't notice" and to "balance vowels from line to line, work with vowels as a measure of the line as other people couldn't." Pound's "ear," Ginsberg felt, had enabled him to "make a new kind of American measure based on the approximation of classical quantity." Ginsberg saw this new measure as "a revelation . . . of the musical possibilities of the vowels," and he contrasted Pound's experimental metrics with those of his more conventional contemporaries, in whose work the musical possibilities and shades of meaning were subjugated to a controlling metrical structure (CT, 127). Pound's poetics—with its emphasis on sound, or "melopoeia"—foregrounded the vital connections among poetry, speech, and song.

In a letter to Richard Eberhart, subsequently published as To Eberhart, from Ginsberg: Letter about Howl, 1956, Ginsberg discusses his technique in parts of Howl and in "Sunflower Sutra." He provides an example from the final line of "Sunflower Sutra"—"mad locomotive riverbank sunset Frisco hilly tincan evening sitdown vision"—a line that he calls "a curious but


really rather logical development of Pound—Fenollosa Chinese Written Character—W. C. Williams—imagist practice."[27]

If we examine this example along with similar lines from Howl —"backyard green tree cemetery dawns" or "teahead joyride neon blinking traffic light"—we find that Ginsberg follows Pound's practice in several ways. Ginsberg eliminates connectives of any kind, as if in a more radical extension of Pound's Imagist directive "to use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation." The Pound-Fenollosa adaptation of the ideogrammatic method is apparent in the direct juxtaposition of elements taken as independent visual concepts that together form a coherent meaning. In The Cantos Ginsberg finds a technique based on an "attention to specific perceptions" and "descriptions of exact language" that serves as a model for his own writing (AV, 12). Pound's most vivid passages—such as "tin flash in the sun dazzle" and "Soapsmooth stone posts"—form "a sequence of phanopoeic images," a "praxis of perceptions manifested in phrasing" (AV, 13). Ginsberg refers to such instances as the poetic "transcription" of images into words. Ginsberg's lines, like Pound's, transcribe images directly through the use of "condensed perception concrete images" around which other thoughts or references can revolve. As in the haiku-like condensation of Pound's Imagist poems and the later ideogrammatic constructions in The Cantos, Ginsberg's poem eliminates the use of the simile, thus allowing complexes of images, or " thing-facts," to "jump together in the mind" (AV, 182).

Finally, Ginsberg's phrases reflect his interest in Pound's idea of the tone leading of vowels and in the musical, or melopoeic, possibilities of poetry. Ginsberg's choice of words in the lines just quoted are determined as much by their sounds as by the visual or mental image they evoke. As in the lines from Pound's "Usura Canto" that Ginsberg quotes—"or where virgin receiveth message / and halo projects from incision"—the vowels in Ginsberg's lines create a sense of internal melody. In the "Sunflower Sutra," for example, a pattern of "i" sounds sustains this


melody: "locomotive riv erbank sunset Frisco hilly tin can evening sit down vi sion."

The examples of Creeley and Ginsberg illustrate two of the directions in which Pound's poetics have been developed by the postmodern generation. They also demonstrate how Pound's sense of a live tradition continues to operate among the poets who follow him. Both Creeley and Ginsberg exemplify the impact of Pound's notions of technique, or craft; both adopt Pound's ideas concerning the ideogrammatic method and the condensation of language it entails; both reenact his attention to sound and poetic form; and both share with Pound a sense of poetry's social and political role. Yet the poetry that results can hardly be more different than in the case of these two contemporaries. What they demonstrate most obviously in their use of Pound is the synthetic, nonlinear sense of tradition contained in Pound's own project; Pound's work and ideas become part of a vortex of diverse influences including the jazz of Charlie Parker in the case of Creeley and the poetry of Whitman, Blake, Apollinaire, Lorca, and Williams (not to mention traditions of Eastern religion and meditation) in the case of Ginsberg. It is this incorporative poetic and its theoretical implications for influence and tradition that I explore in the next chapter.


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1— The Pound Tradition
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