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2— Ezra Pound and Harold Bloom: Influences, Canons, Traditions, and the Making of Modern Poetry
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Ezra Pound and Harold Bloom:
Influences, Canons, Traditions, and the Making of Modern Poetry

The history of fruitful poetic influence . . . is a history of anxiety and self-saving caricature, of distortion, of perverse, willful revisionism without which modern poetry as such could not exist.
Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence

It is only good manners if you repeat a few other men to at least do it better or more briefly. Utter originality is of course out of the question.
Ezra Pound, Make It New

As I argued in the last chapter, Pound's sense of a live tradition was based on a fundamentally incorporative poetics that allowed him to explore a radically expansive range of models and sources for his own work. In excavating both the literary archives of various languages, cultures, and traditions and the materials and discourses of nonliterary disciplines, and in adapting as a primary poetic method the ideogrammatic juxtaposition of these borrowings, Pound developed a mode of poetic composition that would have a lasting impact on American poetic practice in this century. Underlying Pound's poetic mode, and to varying degrees those of his descendants, is a model of influence in which the poet consciously chooses literary predecessors and traditions as well as traditions of social, political, historical, economic, and scientific thought with which to interact in a freely defined intertextual space. This model assumes an active, positive, and mutually illuminating relationship between the poet's work and that of both predecessors and contemporaries.

The dominant tendency in recent works on poetic influence, however, has been to represent the relationship between poets of successive generations as repressive and antagonistic. Walter Jackson Bate's The Burden of the Past and the English Poet characterizes the process of influence as one involving a need on


the part of the later poet to escape the overwhelming burden of past forms and accomplishments and to deal with the increasingly stultifying effects of an "accumulating anxiety" concerning the need for originality. The most prominent study of influence by a recent critic, which Harold Bloom has undertaken in several books starting with The Anxiety of Influence, takes its cue from Bate's "anxiety" but relies for its argument on metaphors and terminology taken from psychoanalysis rather than from history. Bloom suggests that the poet's literary production results from a struggle with a "strong" father figure with whom he must contend through a series of rhetorical steps representing various stages of the "repression" of his own poetic self and "misprision" of the work of a predecessor. Even if Bloom is extreme in his assertions about the agonism and defensiveness of poets, he does point out that the overt nature of a poet's relationship to a predecessor is not necessarily the same as his or her covert or unconscious use of that predecessor.

Of any model yet proposed for the operation of influence in English and American poetry, Bloom's is the most systematic, and for many critics and readers it has proved the most compelling as well. Although the interest of Bloom's revisionist and agonistic theory of influence cannot be disputed, its tacit acceptance by most critics and its currency in critical discourse since the mid-1970s has worked to the detriment of other models. It has become a commonplace of contemporary critical discussion to talk of the anxiety of influence or of poetic misreading or misprision. The assumed validity of such ideas has important consequences not only for the way in which criticism is written but for the broader ways in which poetry is read and canonized. Bloom's criticism has been instrumental in establishing a tradition of critical practice that is largely based on shared assumptions about the centrality of a particular mode of poetry: that of "lyrical subjectivity" or the Romantic Sublime. But Bloom's criteria and methodology have already been questioned by various groups whose work does not fit easily into such categories, including proponents of the literature of minorities and women. In the course of this book, I propose another tradition or mode


of writing—the Pound tradition—that departs substantially from Bloom's agenda for poetic ascendancy.

Although the comparison of Pound and Bloom as literary theorists is a juxtaposition of writers with different historical and institutional perspectives, it is not as incongruous a comparison as it first appears to be. Pound does not propose a theory of influence in the way that Bloom and other academic critics do, but he does offer in his nonpoetic writings a relatively coherent view of the process of influence and of how such a process operates within his own poetics. Less self-consciously theoretical than the model provided by Bloom, Pound's writings are no less rigorous. Both Bloom and Pound in his role as critic provide highly rhetorical and somewhat impressionistic accounts of how influence can be seen to operate in the work of a given set of poets. In contrasting the models of Pound and Bloom, I am interested not so much in the actual or rhetorical merits of their theories per se as in the implications their ideas may have for questions of poetic affiliation and canonization.

Bloom's model of influence is in many ways directly opposed to that suggested by Pound and his poetic descendants. The work of Pound, Williams, Zukofsky, and the various practitioners of the "New American Poetry" has until now been largely excluded from the dominant canons of American literature, those supported by the New Criticism and by advocates of the American Sublime such as Bloom. Bloom's exclusion of Pound and his followers from the canon is motivated in part by their enacting of a different model of influence from that suggested by the work of their post-Romantic counterparts. Rather than feeling the "burden of the past" in relation to their predecessors, or engaging in a subconscious and quasiviolent Oedipal struggle with them, these poets resemble Pound in deliberately assimilating the texts and ideas of earlier writers into their own poetry. This is not to say that the overt statements and poetic practices of the Pound tradition are in all cases convergent; rather, I am arguing that Pound, Olson, and Duncan thematize the question of influence in their work in such a way as to foreground their relationship with or debt to their predecessors, rather than repressing or escaping these debts and relationships. I am also not denying the


possibility of ambivalence, competition, or even unconscious resentment among these poets. Even though such feelings may (and at times clearly do) exist within this tradition, my readings emphasize what has been in recent years an overly neglected aspect of influence: the way in which a poet's acknowledged debt to a predecessor becomes a major determinant of the formal and thematic structures of a text or series of texts.

The idea of the Pound tradition as an opposing force to Bloom's Romantic tradition of poetry has broader implications as well. Not only does Bloom's model exclude poets who follow Pound directly; in applying it as a universal principle for modern poetry, Bloom neglects what many consider to be the most important and representative mode of twentieth-century poetry in the English language, certainly equal in importance to his own "tradition of the Sublime." All those works within what we may call the "experimental" tradition—that descending from the seminal Modernist models of The Cantos, Eliot's Waste Land, and the works of E. E. Cummings, H. D., Marianne Moore, D. H. Lawrence, and David Jones—fall outside the Romantic mainstream central to Bloom's theories.[1] Zukofsky, Bunting, and the other Objectivists as well as those not directly in the Poundian tradition but influenced by the open-form experiments of Pound and Williams—for example, Langston Hughes, Thomas Kinsella, Kenneth Rexroth, John Berryman, Robert Lowell, Kenneth Patchen, Sylvia Plath, Mina Loy, Adrienne Rich, Robert Bly, Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones), Nikki Giovanni, and the various constituents of the Beats, the New York school, the San Francisco Renaissance, and all their various descendants—are excluded by virtue of both their techniques and their derivations from Bloom's canon of poets.

Wallace Stevens: The Poems of Our Climate is Bloom's ultimate statement of his faith in the American tradition he has constructed. Bloom pits Stevens (and to a lesser degree Robert


Frost, Hart Crane, and others), the "true descendent[s] of Emerson," against Pound, Williams, Eliot, and other experimental Modernists. Calling Frost, "rather than Eliot, Pound, or Williams . . . Stevens' true twentieth-century rival" (WS, 68) is purely a matter of opinion. But Bloom most clearly shows his critical predisposition when he presumes to assess Pound and Williams according to his Romantic criteria:

I think that Stevens here ventures the crucial formula for American Romantic poetry, including even Eliot, Pound and Williams at their infrequent best: it must make the visible a little hard to see, which is one of the great achievements of Whitman and Dickinson, and of Frost, Stevens, Hart Crane after them, and is still the gathering achievement of Robert Penn Warren, Elizabeth Bishop, John Ashbery, A. R. Ammons, and our other distinguished contemporaries who maintain this major tradition of our verse.2     (WS, 15)

Notice the repetition of the word our ; Bloom maintains a personal identification with this tradition, the American Sublime. Bloom's tradition is not only "American"; it is "pure." He will claim that "an 'influence' across languages is, in our time, invariably a cunning mask for an influence relation within a language" (WS, 20). If indeed it is a cunning mask, just who wears it, and why would he or she "cunningly" do so? Does Bloom contend that Eliot's use of Dante and Laforgue, Gins-


berg's of Lorca and the Surrealists, and Pound's of Homer, Arnaut Daniel, Cavalcanti, Villon, Heine, Sappho, Catullus, Confucius, and many others are in some sense invalid? If so, what does such a statement say about the important developments in poetic practice that have come about as a result of such "cross-language" fertilization? Stevens may be, as Bloom claims in his "antithetical" reading, more indebted to Emerson, Whitman, and Dickinson than to Baudelaire and Mallarmé. But even if this is the case, Stevens is not representative of modern poetry in general, and many other American poets of this century have significantly developed their techniques through the process of reading and translating the work of poets in other languages.[3]

Bloom's analysis of Stevens's work leads us to examine more closely the larger critical assumptions on which his model of influence and consequently his canonization of modern poetry are based. Bloom throws a direct challenge to all who value Pound and the poets who follow his Modernist mode of writing; Bloom finds it relatively easy to dismiss Pound and Williams as merely "innovators" who "may never touch strength at all" (MM, 9). In other words, Pound, Williams, and all others Bloom deems like them are to be excluded a priori from the canon. It is not surprising, therefore, that advocates of the tradition of Pound and Williams and the constituents of Bloom's "camp" have little in common, either in their poetic "theories" and notions of the canon or in their poetic practices. Nevertheless, from a Poundian perspective it is worth engaging the questions Bloom's books raise and attempting to respond to Bloom's theory in terms of the poetics that Pound himself presents. Pound


not only expresses an alternative view of influence and tradition to that of Bloom but also calls into question the very nature of a notion of influence that excludes particular poets or groups of poets from the canon by a hierarchical model of direct genealogical succession. Where Bloom's model is exclusive, Pound's model is on many levels inclusive and porous. Although Pound presented to later poets an "ABC of reading," a canon of what he considered great writers, he left it open for later writers to supplement and revise. As one example, Charles Olson repeated the Poundian gesture of incorporating into his work historical documents lying outside the poetic canon but relied on different historical periods and figures.

Built into the structure of Bloom's canon is a predisposition to privilege those poets whose "strength" is demonstrated by the Oedipal struggle they allegedly enact in their poetry. His insistence on the father/son relationship in describing influence problematizes, at least in theory, the inclusion of women poets in the tradition he considers. Bloom does consider women poets such as Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Bishop to be part of his "line," though how they fit into the Oedipal equation is never explained. Pound, despite his often gender-specific language for describing poets (he refers to writers in general as "men"), does not stipulate for the poets of his tradition a particular sex or indeed any identity based on a particular kind of cultural discourse, in the way Bloom does. Bloom's adoption of the terminology of genealogy and "family romance" implies a certain uniformity of class, culture, race, and sex as well as of metaphysical and poetic disposition. Pound's tradition, notwithstanding his apparent sexism and anti-Semitism, represents a substantial number of women and Jewish poets.[4] In its eclecticism, Pound's tradition encourages diversity, rather than similarity, among its poets. Thus, Pound's idea of a deliberate and openly


declared "derivation" from predecessors and an eclectic use of models and sources can be viewed as an alternative to Bloom's closed, hierarchical, genealogical, and agonistic paradigm.[5]

As I have suggested, Pound's poetics also depart radically from what has come to be the standard twentieth-century view, represented by Eliot's paradigm of "tradition and the individual talent." Pound differs importantly with Eliot's sense of tradition in advocating the use of "mutually foreign, antagonistic" influences as a means of transgressing the boundaries of any single literature; further, he encourages the writer to seek for models among practitioners of all disciplines: musicians, painters and sculptors, philosophers, politicians, anthropologists, economists, linguists, and scientists.[6] Whereas Bloom (and to a lesser extent, Eliot) would maintain the exteriority of other cultural and political influences, Pound considers them to be ineluctably pertinent. Pound encourages the poet, when seeking models among other writers, to distinguish "donative" authors—that is, authors who are not merely representative or "symptomatic" of their time and place but who bring something new to it, who can "draw from the air about [them] . . . latent forces, or things present but unnoticed, or things perhaps taken for granted but


never examined." Pound goes on to comment on these donative artists:

His forbears may have led up to him; he is never a disconnected phenomenon, but he does take some step further. He discovers, or, better, "he discriminates." We advance by discriminations, by discerning that things hitherto deemed identical or similar are dissimilar; that things hitherto deemed dissimilar, mutually foreign, antagonistic, are similar and harmonic.     (SP, 25)

This passage suggests several aspects of Pound's idea of influence. As in Eliot's conception, the new writer will in some way have been "led up to" by the "tradition" of his or her forebears, but Pound's model differs from Eliot's in its emphasis on "discovering," on "taking steps further," rather than on merely "fitting in." While he agrees with Eliot that existing works form a complete order that is changed by the introduction of the "really new" work, Pound finds that Eliot's criticism—with its emphasis on "taste" and "commentation," rather than on "perception" and "elucidation," as a means of determining the literary canon—suggests a reader / critic whose engagement with past works is not sufficiently active. Pound wishes to replace Eliot's idea of literary "monuments" (a term that to Pound implies that past literature was merely a "series of cenotaphs" to be beheld by the reader) with "a zoological term" that characterizes works of past writers as "something living," something speaking "of the world as I know it." He also supplements Eliot's notion of "an ideal order of monuments" with the concept of "KRINO, to pick out for oneself, choose, prefer . . . to determine, first, the main form and main proportions of that order of extant letters, to locate, first the greater pyramids and then, possibly, and with a decently proportioned emphasis, to consider the exact measurements of the stone-courses, layers, etc" (SP, 390).

Pound seeks in past poetry for the "luminous detail" that will sum up succinctly and beautifully an entire period or culture. The method of luminous detail involves a mode of "seeing" clearly and of discriminating so that a few facts can replace either the multitude of facts or the "sentiment and generaliza-


tion" in terms of which most people think. By "facts" Pound intends not only historical data but any instance of the application of art or of the intellect that can be discerned by a modern reader, viewer, or listener. The luminous detail is one of the "few dozen facts . . . [which] give us the intelligence of a period" and "a sudden insight into circumjacent conditions, their causes, their effects, into sequence, and law" (SP, 22–23). Perceiving the luminous detail requires a strength of conviction that presumably few artists have and therefore requires a "strong" practitioner, though not one with the same kind of metaphysical strength Bloom demands of his strong poets. In his essay "I Gather the Limbs of Osiris," Pound outlines what will be his lifelong attempt to pick up the lost strands of culture, the "classics" from any tradition that will give his own work "authority" and that will later provide the materials out of which he can construct the ideogrammatic formulas that make up much of The Cantos: "The donative authors, or the real classics, interilluminate each other, and I should define a 'classic' as a book our enjoyment of which cannot be diminished by any amount of reading of other books, or even—and this is the fiercer test—by a first-hand knowledge of life" (SP, 30).

Pound's belief that great literature should reflect lived experience as well as that found in books is central to his view of influence as a complex process involving a wide range of models and sources. For Bloom, however, influence consists in various types of misprision or creative misreading, each of which involves a slightly different rhetorical trope corresponding to a particular psychic state or phase of poetic engagement with a predecessor poet, a father figure whom the new poet, or "ephebe," must in some sense overthrow.

In A Map of Misreading, Bloom further delineates the theory outlined in The Anxiety of Influence, explaining in greater detail his central notions of "belatedness" and "revisionism." Belatedness is the feeling poets have of "coming after," of having to do again what has already been done by their "fathers." Whereas for Pound the most praiseworthy category of poets is that of "the inventors," those "discoverers of a particular process or of more


than one mode or process" (ABC, 39), such invention or discovery is impossible in Bloom's schema, where all poets are essentially creative imitators (misreaders) of an earlier master's work. Poetic history is for Bloom "indistinguishable from poetic influence, since strong poets make that history by misreading one another" (MM, 5); thus the kind of innovation Pound sees in the rhymes of Arnaut Daniel, for example, can for Bloom exist only as a reaction to the language of a previous poet.

Instead of identifying poets according to a dichotomy of strong and weak, as Bloom does, Pound places poets in six categories according to the degree and type of their influence and contribution to poetic practice. After the inventors come the "masters," who combine the processes they invented and "use them as well or better than the inventors." These two categories, from which Pound claims all truly "essential" literature comes, are followed (though not necessarily in a chronological sequence) by the "diluters," by those who "wrote well in the general style of a given period," by the "belles-lettrists," and finally by "starters of crazes." Pound's typology is important in that it emphasizes concrete stylistic and technical developments in poetry rather than a more abstract notion of poetic "power" or sublimity. Pound's model also views influence as occurring less in a genealogical line of poets than as a continual and gradual distribution, a branching out of poetic practice to an ever larger group of writers. Rather than the gradual diminution of poetic power and sublimity seen by Bloom, in Pound there is a cyclical development in which each era produces one or two donative writers, who generate a new poetics and thereby give a host of other writers an opportunity to produce a "symptomatic" body of work (ABC, 39–40).

The state of all strong poets in Bloom's canon is by definition belated with regard to a history they must rewrite. "Revisionism" is this "rewriting," the continual reinterpretation of poetic history by poets attempting to make room for themselves. It is strongly connected to the way in which the canon is formed; the canon itself is determined not only by how previous poets are misread but by which poets are misread, which poets become the


material for revisionist misreadings. For Bloom, literary history consists of a hierarchy of metaphysical relationships between the words and tropes used by different poets. Bloom intends by influence "not . . . the passing-on of images and ideas from earlier to later poets," but rather "only relationships between texts" (MM, 3). This assertion implies that a living poet cannot return directly to the text of a poet from a time far removed from his or her own, like Milton, but must read that poet through the misreadings of all other strong poets since. Bloom's revisionist literary history maintains that our only connection to our forefathers is through our fathers. The only exception to this patriarchal succession arises, for Bloom, when the living poet is stronger than his or her father and can pass over the predecessor's generation to an earlier one. In general, however, Bloom's interpretation of poetic history suggests a diminution of powers from Milton through the Romantics to "strong" Modernists like Yeats, Stevens, and Crane to even less "strong" postmodernists like Ashbery, Ammons, and Hollander. Bloom's genealogy of the American Sublime—a descendancy of Emerson to Whitman to Stevens—assumes the same pattern of decreasing strength.

Belatedness, then, seems to be a predominantly negative factor for poets, who are reduced to misreading ever weaker predecessors. Indeed, according to Bloom, modern poetry since Wordsworth is only rewriting. He says of "Tintern Abbey" that it "begins that splendidly dismal tradition in which modern poems intent some merely ostensible subject, yet actually find their true subject in the anxiety of influence" (PR, 57). For Bloom, "the meaning of 'Tintern Abbey' is in its relationship to Milton's invocations," and "the poem becomes, despite itself, an invocation of Milton" (PR, 56). Wordsworth's concern with his ostensible subject, the spiritual renovation of the poet through the power of nature, is only a "mystification" to hide his "real concern," that of the anxiety he feels about his predecessor Milton, who in the poem "counts for more than nature does" (PR, 81).

Bloom's theory is intensely deterministic in its assertion that "no poet can choose his predecessor, any more than any person


can choose his father."[7] Pound's understanding of influence and tradition, by contrast, does away with the idea of belatedness, for the poet cannot be belated in a world of which he or she is an active and vital part and in which he or she can still have an impact through writing and teaching. It is for this reason that the strongest writer in Pound's canon, Confucius, was a politician and political philosopher, a man of the world as well as a poet. For Pound, being an important poet or thinker is not a matter of wrestling with predecessors (or rather, in Bloom's conception, the linguistic tropes of predecessors) but instead is a matter of wrestling with the new ideas and problems facing the world, nation, or community at a given time. The poet, like the political thinker or politician, cannot have a purely belated or recuperative role in his or her world because for Pound "all ages are contemporaneous" (SR, 6).

Implicit in the various correspondences and ideogrammatic linkages he sets up among different personae in The Cantos is Pound's rejection of an opposition between the "originary" and the belated. The poet—at least in the tradition of Pound and Whitman or Williams, Zukofsky, Olson, Duncan, Levertov, Snyder, and Dorn—finds sources for his or her own work in areas outside the "poetic Sublime" or the psychic (metaphysical) trauma that would implicate the work in a binary latecomer / predecessor relation. Influence for these poets cannot take place, or at least would be meaningless, within a political and historical vacuum such as the world of psychotextual memory in which Bloom's poetic tradition exists. These poets' relationship to the past is not exclusively one of metaphysical "sadness" or nostal-


gia, such as Bloom delineates, but one that seeks to use the past, to make it relevant to the situation of the present.

Pound's relationship to past language is not one of belatedness either. His desire is not to recapture the linguistic power of past writers but to do away with the "crust of dead English, the sediment present in my own available vocabulary." Pound feels the need to "make [his] own language" not only "a language to use, but even a language to think in." He expects poets not to use the language of past writers indiscriminately but to study their "lingual inventions" to "sort out these languages and inventions, and to know what and why they are" (LE, 193–94). Pound's attention to the use of words goes beyond the terms of the verbal intertext that Bloom sees as controlling poetic language. For Pound, language must have its ultimate basis in something outside the boundaries of previous poetic texts if it is to be more than overused poetic cliché. Pound wishes to avoid the kinds of words and themes that "I and 9,000,000 other poets have spieled on endlessly" and cautions future writers to shun expressions of an inherited poetic language, such as "dim lands of peace" (SL, 37). Poetry, Pound admonishes, must be "as well written as prose" but should in effect be better than prose by virtue of its greater condensation and concreteness, the greater "charge of meaning" of a concentrated poetic language stripped of all unnecessary words.

Pound's requirement that language be kept "efficient" and "accurate" applies not only to poetry but to uses of language in other aspects of life as well. He stresses, for example, the importance of language in economics, where a misuse or misunderstanding of seemingly simple terms such as "money" or "usury" can lead to serious problems for society as a whole. In all uses of language, Pound seeks to avoid the verbal cliché by striving to find the "exact definition," or ching ming, the absolute and prime sense of a word that withstands the test of time as well as the various attempts to misuse or devalue it.

The question of the Sublime remains Bloom's central preoccupation in defining the trajectory of English and American


poetry over the last two hundred years. In his book Poetry and Repression and after, the Sublime becomes a matter of a Freudian dialectic between an identification with ancestor poets, on the one hand, and a struggle with and transumption of these "mighty dead," on the other. The attainment of the Sublime depends on "the poetic equivalents of repression" in which creative freedom must first be repressed "through the initial fixation of influence" (PR, 27). Bloom sees Milton as representing the apex of a Sublime tradition in European literature; Milton first achieves what will be the predominant mode of English poetry from the great Romantics onward, the "post-Enlightenment strong poem." In this kind of poem, the Sublime is dependent on an absence, a "reliance on words apart from things" (MM, 87), that can be filled only through involvement with the past poets who haunt the poet's language.

Pound, who stresses a reliance on words only in connection with the things they denote, finds essential models in the work of Dante and the poets who led up to him, whose clarity and emotional directness celebrate the poet's unmediated involvement with the world. It is no coincidence that the canon of Bloom's Romantic Sublime and Pound's loosely defined canon hardly overlap at all (with the notable exceptions of Whitman and Robert Browning) and that the poet most central to Bloom's genealogy, Milton, also exerts what Pound sees as the most deleterious influence on English poetry. What chiefly interests Pound as a poetic mode is not the "rhetoric" of Milton and the belated Romantics, but "presentation," the way in which words are "objectivized" through exact descriptive terms for examined natural phenomena.[8]


Where Bloom's ideal is a poetry of "lyrical subjectivism" motivated by an anxiety about creative freedom and incorporating an active dialectic, Pound's is an "objectivity" reflecting a confidence in the powers of sensory awareness and poetic technique and stating a clear and unambiguous worldview unadorned by "rhetoric." Where Bloom views poetic language as highly figurative, rhetorical, and self-referential, Pound seeks a poetry that is free from rhetoricity, figuration, and other excesses of language and that contains no word that does not contribute directly to a literal and definitive meaning. For Pound, the language of poetry, as that of prose, should be active and forward moving rather than reversing, troping, and revising.[9]

In his ABC of Reading, Pound analyzes textual examples of the poets who provide an alternative to Bloom's post-Miltonic canon: Chaucer, Gavin Douglas, Arthur Golding, Mark Alexander Boyd, Marlowe, Donne, Rochester, Samuel Butler, Pope, George Crabbe, Walter Savage Landor, and Browning. He also lists authors (both English and French) through whom the metamorphosis of English verse in general may be traced: Villon, Thomas Campion, Robert Herrick, Edmund Waller, the Earl of Dorset, Edward Fitzgerald, Théophile Gautier, Tristan Corbière, Rimbaud, and Laforgue.

When he looks further afield, outside the realm of influences on English literature, Pound's choices seem equally idiosyncratic: he investigates the poetic legacies of the Provençal troubadours, of Sappho, Cavalcanti, and Heine, and of Confucius and Li Po. Pound and the other poets of his tradition (Whitman, Williams, and Olson, for example) would have found the claim that the poet cannot choose his or her own predecessors absurd. And Bloom's own inclusion of Whitman in the American Sublime seems to raise questions about the element of choice in critical as well as poetic reading. Although Whitman has been


consistently claimed by the poets of the Pound tradition as a poet of presence, a kind of projectivist forefather, Bloom sees him as the "greatest example" of the American Sublime, relying for this interpretation on what he claims are the "most sublime passages" in Whitman (PR, 248).

If we are going to admit this degree of conscious choice in a critical misreading, who is to say that an equal degree of choice does not take place in the readings of one poet by another? There is no reason Whitman cannot be both the great poet of the Sublime—father to Stevens, Crane, and Ashbery—and the originator of the "open-form" poetics that led to the work of Williams, Olson, and Ginsberg. The corpus of a poet does not represent a single unified whole, a consciousness to be wrestled with; rather, the corpus comprises a variety of forms, manifestations, moods, and personae, each of which represents a particular aspect of the poet's work. As my examination of Pound's own influence shows, his work contains a great diversity of topoi and modes of expression, each of which has a differing impact on the work of subsequent poets.

Pound's choices of models reflect an interactive engagement with poetic tradition and provide an always changing canon of poets to read and discuss. In his Active Anthology of 1933 Pound explains that his objective is polemically to challenge current critical assumptions. To do so he presents to the public authors capable of progressing further in their work, rather than those whose present and past work may be most highly regarded. Even his own current judgments are not absolute; he writes, "I expect or at least hope that the work of the included writers will interest me more in ten years' time than it does now in 1933."[10] Thus, Pound's canon is intended to be in a state of constant revision; he would not have sanctioned, as Bloom does, an existing order of Sublime talents whose works operates in a hermetic and self-referential aesthetic system. The vast array of writers who in their ensemble make up Pound's idea of literature represent a great diversity of talents, sensibilities, styles, genres,


orientations, and traditions. Pound's writers are not united by any particular mode of discourse or by any modus operandi; their poems and books function as a body of work that displays for future writers and intelligent readers the many forms good writing can take.

For Pound, questions of the canon, tradition, and influence are of practical importance as well. Good writing can be learned, and that learning requires, along with a measure of "genius," a great deal of the discipline and hard work necessary to absorb the lessons of past writers. Writers of less than monumental talents are important to Pound not as writers struggling to the death to establish their own identities but as artists keeping alive a tradition of writing and, ultimately, a culture always in need of a body of literature to sustain and strengthen it. Pound views poetry from the vantage point of the artisan, always working to perfect his or her own art and to find standards by which the art of others can be evaluated.

Bloom, by contrast, treats such stylistic and technical concerns as irrelevant to the work of strong poets. Poetic influence in his Sublime tradition is not marked by any stylistic devices, visual echoes, sound patterns, or repeated images but rather by the absence of a previous poem, a "central poem of the imagination," which in Bloom's schema the ephebe must not have even read.[11] Bloom's idea of a total intertextuality without any concrete manifestation of the intertext can occur only in a tradition in which the "central" poets and texts are already implicitly accepted by the later poets.[12]

Pound's technical criteria work in just the opposite way, encouraging poets to read in a number of styles and traditions, to seek qualities Pound views as desirable in any poetry. Pound's


view of the role of translation as a necessary and creative exercise in developing poetic skills is a further indication of his conviction of the universality of art and culture, a conviction that was strengthened by his discovery after 1930 of Leo Frobenius and Kulturmorphologie .

Pound's concept of history emphasizes that the individual can be a causal historical factor, thus putting him in opposition to those who favor the notion of the zeitgeist as a dominant historical principle. Pound's vortex works across historical boundaries as well as within a given period; it forcefully suggests that the truly donative artist or idea not only resists the influence of the ideas and artists of his or her time (or that of his or her immediate predecessor) but is essentially separate from those ideas or artists, that zeitgeist.

Pound's artistic paideuma, unlike Bloom's poetic Sublime, cannot exist apart from the ideas informed by the larger struggles and movements that make up the political and historical "reality" of a time. Pound's ideal poet can certainly not afford to indulge in Bloomian "solipsism," even a "triumphant" one, for to do so is to deny that poetry has anything to do with the rest of the world. Nor can the poet sequester himself or herself from the work of contemporary writers and artists so as to preserve a solipsistic lyric voice. Pound's own tireless efforts on behalf of other writers of his generation as well as writers from the past parallels his conception of poetic tradition as a "handing down" of the essentials of culture through what he refers to as Sagetrieb (a drive to tell)—an oral tradition or "tale of the tribe."[13] For Pound, poetry is not "necessarily a competitive mode" as it is in Bloom's description of strong poets (PR, 7); nor is the "generosity" Pound displays toward different writers and traditions merely a matter of the "civility" of poetic and critical convention.


Michael André Bernstein sees Robert Duncan and the other poets of the Pound tradition as sharing with Pound a trust in the communal aspect of art and experience:

The sense of a poem's discourse as part of our linguistic commonwealth whose neglected resources it is the artist's task to make available again for communal appropriation underlies the references of a Pound or a Duncan. Because, for them, the world itself, both in its purely natural aspect and as an historical realm of human actions and perceptions, is seen as inherently significant, their poems enact rituals of rediscovery, celebrations of possibilities potentially available to everyone, rather than any private or autonomous transcendence.[14]

Bloom, however, seeks to deny not only that poetry can be understood in terms of its reference to "the world" but also that poems have any linguistic significance other than as markers of a relationship to other poems. His intertextual stance is most apparent in Poetry and Repression, which seeks to explore the relationship between the "text" and the "psyche." Bloom here posits a "reliance of texts on texts," which he claims literary critics have always understood but which poets themselves have attempted to cover up by pretending to look for truth "in the world":

Unfortunately, poems are not things but only words that refer to other words, and those words refer to still other words, and so on, into the densely overpopulated world of literary language. Any poem is an interpoem, and any reading of that poem is an interreading. A poem is not writing, but rewriting, and though a strong poem is a fresh start, such a start is a starting-again.   (PR, 3)

Pound would not have accepted the notion that there is such a thing as an "overpopulated world of literary language"— that language has an autotelic existence or that every poetic act is merely a linguistic or rhetorical trope reusing and reinterpreting the words of another poem. Pound's interest in poetry is not primarily with relationships between texts—with misreadings and rewritings—but with poetic texts as concrete entities in their own right. Each poem has particular visual and aural qualities


that give it a unique aesthetic presence. Reducing all texts to examples of intertextuality, to instances of shared poetic vocabulary, denies that the impact of one poet on another has largely to do with qualities that cannot be measured in terms of intertextual relationships between words: the overall sound or music of a line or poem, the visual presence of a poem on the page. A poem is not just composed of words that interact in a metaphysical or psychological realmit comprises words in a specific physical environment, a "concrete" and "constructed" reality. In the tradition of American poetry begun by Whitman, the poem has been described in terms of such physical entities as leaves of grass, carved wood, or a living cell; a collage, machine, or vortex; a knot, pattern, or weave; a sculpture, stone, or fragment; a fugue, sonata, song, libretto, or canto.

The physical conception of poetry embodied in the names of the various movements of the twentieth century—Imagism, Vorticism, Objectivism, Objectism, Projectivism—runs counter to that of intertextuality as understood by Bloom, as do the ideas of craft and of techne central to many modern poets. In his discussions of other writers, Pound makes clear that "influence" is a highly complex matter having to do not only with shared language and poetic attitudes but with a wide range of technical and formal components that come into a poet's work from various sources. In general, Pound values purely "linguistic" or textual influence less highly than that which comes out of some shared experience of life or ideas. He is careful to caution others not to "allow 'influence' to mean merely that you mop up the . . . vocabulary of some one or two poets you admire,"[15] and he claims that the works of the greatest writers contain a "brew" of "life itself" (SR, 178).

Pound's use of quotation and of the materials of history provides us with another kind of intertextuality; his method foregrounds direct quotations of the utterances and writing of others, inviting them into a dialogic interrelation with him and his own writing. Thus, his version of intertextuality involves a


chosen inclusion, rather than an attempted suppression, of the previous poet's discourse. The resulting engagement with another poet or thinker can be poetic, but it can also, as with the inclusion of actual historical documents and other writings (letters, journals), reflect on questions of ideology or stance. The world of language created in this way is not overpopulated; it is constantly renewed by the introduction of concepts from other disciplines and by the use of other languages and traditions that help the poet to "make it new."

Pound views the process of influence as involving the poet's active choice of sources, which he or she should openly proclaim.[16] Bloom's agonistic model presents an overly negative and conflictual picture of poets' relationships to their predecessors and to the past in general. Does a poet's relationship to the past have to be defensive, as Bloom suggests, or can it be the enriching source of poetic creativity that it has been for the poets of the Pound tradition? Although the patricidal model Bloom develops may carry a good deal of validity for certain poets, it accounts inadequately for those poets, such as Pound, who value their sense of poetic and personal ancestry. (It also leaves out, or at least misrepresents, important aspects of the work of a Romantic poet such as Wordsworth, who is often capable of paying direct and unambiguous homage to his predecessor Milton.) Even if personal histories and family romances do play a role, as Bloom suggests, in determining the relation of poets to their predecessors, the Oedipal configuration so predominant in Bloom's


thinking about modern poetry is not the only one available for explaining such relations.[17]

Pound's belief in the impossibility of "utter originality" in poetry does not prevent him from finding and valuing examples of poetic innovation and discovery. A recognition of the importance of history—whether that of the poetic past or of the social, political, or economic past—is crucial to the development of the "documentary method" of The Cantos, which contributes to the startling newness of the work's vision and construction. The Cantos is throughout an example of brilliant formal and thematic innovation, but it is not interested exclusively in modernity or in a timeless status as pure experience. In The Cantos the preoccupation of Pound's earlier poetry with the idea of poem as pure, timeless act, as isolated "image," gives way to a more balanced aesthetic that can contain both the moments frozen in time characteristic of his shorter poems and the factor of temporal change, of movement through history.

Pound's epic makes a case for his view of the influence process in several ways. It demonstrates that the "greatness" of past writers does not hinder the potential for important writing by present writers and that the fact that a word has appeared in other contexts (within a verbal intertext) does not deny its unique "presence" in a new context. The Cantos demonstrates again and again how words can gain in value by being placed in a specific context and by being examined closely and "scientifically" in a new light. Poetic language is susceptible to historical forces and discourses, but it is also susceptible to pressure from the sensory world as experienced by the poet; the world can be rendered concretely in language through the modes of phanopoeia (the visual image) and melopoeia (sound or music).[18]


Pound's Cantos constitutes not a poetry of "veiled imitation," not a "swerve" from or a "revision" of past models, but a nexus, a "vortex," of formal and expressive possibility derived from a plenitude of openly declared sources. In The Cantos the models and sources Pound inherits (as well as those he discovers) are allowed to retain their distinct identities yet at the same time to become part of a new creation, different from any of its antecedents. The ideogrammatic, collagelike structure Pound chooses for his epic relieves him of the need to "distort" or "caricature" his predecessors; the concatenation of voices and personae in his open-ended and monumentally allusive tale of the tribe releases him from the burden of poetic anxiety that would force him to transume his precursors in his own poem, which itself enacts a sublimity of a very different order.


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2— Ezra Pound and Harold Bloom: Influences, Canons, Traditions, and the Making of Modern Poetry
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