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This book looks at the development of a tradition of American poetic writing that found its primary source in the ideas and practices of Ezra Pound. I focus my study of a "Pound tradition" on the two decades following World War II. The poets writing in this postwar tradition—most importantly, Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, Allen Ginsberg, Denise Levertov, and Gary Snyder—recurred to Pound in forming their sense of poetic inheritance and in establishing their own poetic theories. The tradition can be roughly defined as including those whose lives and work were directly related to Black Mountain College and the journals Black Mountain Review and Origin, to Duncan and the San Francisco countercultural movements, and to later descendants of these.[1] Not only were these poets directly influenced by Pound's writing but they also believed strongly in the importance of a tradition originating in the experimental, Modernist mode Pound represented. They promoted Pound, and to a lesser extent William Carlos Williams, as an essential counter-force to T. S. Eliot and to the "New Critical" poetry sanctioned by the Anglo-American academy. I am excluding from this book poets such as Robert Lowell, whose use of Pound, though significant, was not central to the way in which he defined himself culturally, historically, and institutionally as a poet. Nor do I treat the work of John Berryman, W. S. Merwin, Galway Kinnell, or Charles Wright, all of whom made interesting use of


Pound's work, yet whose primary affiliations lay outside the poetic tradition discussed here.[2]

Pound's influence cannot always be differentiated from more general values and poetic practices which he shared with other founding poets of the tradition I describe. There are instances in the work of Olson, Duncan, and others in which William Carlos Williams and even Louis Zukofsky may be more significant or direct influences than Pound himself. For Ginsberg, Pound serves largely as a mediator of Walt Whitman's influence; for Creeley and Levertov, he mediates the more apparent influence of Williams. Nevertheless, as I argue in chapter 3, while Whitman, Williams, and Zukofsky share a good deal of the credit for the evolution of what I am calling the Pound tradition in the 1950s and 1960s, it is Pound himself who is the major source of its ideas and practices and the unifying link with the tradition's predecessors.

I leave aside the value judgment of Pound's relative importance; my focus on Pound as a poetic predecessor is necessitated by the constraints of time and space. It would be next to impossible to trace in a single book-length study the various influences exerted by Whitman, Pound, Williams, and Zukofsky—not to mention H. D., George Oppen, and many other poets for whom a convincing case could be made as forerunners of the tradition. I realize that in focusing on a single figure I am to some degree neglecting the influences of many other poets, both male and female. Among women poets, it goes without saying that Emily Dickinson is of tremendous importance to any twentieth-century American tradition; how direct an impact she had on the writing of this particular group of writers is open to question.[3] H. D.,


who played a significant role in the early life of both Pound and Williams, was an important influence on both Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov, and her work constitutes for both of them part of the same Modernist legacy as the work of Pound and Williams. But H. D.'s impact as a mediator of Pound's influence is less discernible in the tradition as a whole than is that of Williams or Zukofsky. Two other women poets—Marianne Moore and Lorine Niedecker—also deserve attention in a discussion of this tradition. Moore's work contributed significantly to the wider dissemination of Pound's ideas and practices in American poetry; Niedecker was associated with Zukofsky and the Objectivists. Neither of them, however, has been claimed as a major predecessor by poets of the tradition as have Williams, Zukofsky, or, at times, George Oppen.

Several critics have posited poetic traditions that share certain elements with the one I discuss; each emphasizes different aspects of the Poundian legacy. Hugh Kenner describes a "vortex" of literary and artistic influence centering on Pound in his Modernist phase, but he does not trace the further evolution of this tradition in the work of postwar poets.[4] Marjorie Perloff has also contributed significantly to our critical understanding of a Poundian strain of experimental Modernism. But her examination of Pound's influence is almost exclusively formal and thematic; it does not address the social and historical factors affecting the extent and mode of this influence or its rationale.[5] Charles Altieri has defined an "objectivist" tradition, linking poets such as Olson, Creeley, and Duncan in terms of how they exemplify an "immanentist mode" of poetry.[6] And Laszlo Géfin has written a study of the impact of Pound on what he calls the "ideogrammatic" or "paratactic" method in poets such as Olson, Duncan, and Snyder.[7]


My purpose is not to trace the evolution of a particular stylistic trait or mode of writing, as Perloff, Altieri, and Géfin do, but rather to respond to the larger question of poetic influence in its social, historical, political, institutional, and interpersonal contexts. Reading later poets through the lens provided by Pound's Objectivism or his ideogrammatic method can indeed provide insight into certain directions taken by poets who follow him; but these ideas, however central to Pound and his followers, do not account for the full range of attitudes and practices exemplified by these poets. My own reading stresses the tradition's diversity rather than its homogeneity. I examine the range of ideas and practices defining the poetics of the Pound tradition both in the immediate context of the influence of Pound's writing and in the larger historical context of the communal poetics that developed out of this influence. In providing such a biographical and historical context, I intend to recreate the sense shared by these postwar poets of a self-defining project—one that had at its root the awareness of a relationship with, and a debt to, not only Pound himself but the entire generation of Modernism that preceded them. There is at present no full-length critical or historical work that adequately covers this ground. My book is intended to fill the need for an updated and extended focus on Ezra Pound as an influence, while also addressing the question of canon and tradition in American poetry and delineating a postwar poetic of anticonventional orientation.

As will become clear in the following pages, a study of Pound's influence would not be complete without an attempt to contextualize his poetry and poetic influence both within its historical setting—the rise of Italian fascism, World War II and its aftermath—and within his own political and historical agenda. It is now well established that significant aspects of Pound's poetics—for example, his attempt to maintain an "absolute value" in the use of language and his promotion of a rigid and often authoritarian sense of cultural order—mirror fascist political beliefs.[8] But no critic has yet explored how the most


radically experimental poetic writing in twentieth-century America could have derived from a poetics that reflects a fascist ideology. This book is, in part, an attempt to explain how such Modernist "guides to culture" as those provided by Pound have resulted in what Charles Bernstein has called "the present flourishing of a formally innovative, open, investigative poetry . . . unprecedented in its scale in American literature."[9]

What interests me in particular, given Pound's anti-Semitism and his embrace of Italian fascism, is that many of the most formally and politically radical postwar American poets have been drawn to his work. Why have writers as diverse as Charles Olson, Allen Ginsberg, Denise Levertov, and Gary Snyder, for example, claimed Pound as a predecessor of major importance? What have they found liberating in Pound's formal experimentation and in his use of political and historical referents? Although the direct influence of Pound's political and sociohistorical thought constitutes an important part of my discussion, the more interesting and complex issue concerns Pound's reception: how were the formal and political aspects of Pound's work combined in the operation of his influence on poets so clearly opposed to his political agenda?

The first two chapters provide, respectively, historical and theoretical overviews of the tradition. In chapter 1 I define the historical, canonical, and poetic contours of the postwar Pound tradition by exploring some of the issues that define a post-Poundian practice—most significantly, the question of tradition itself. The chapter provides a sense of the context in which Olson, Duncan, and other poets of the tradition wrote, and it examines Pound's influence and example in light of the alternatives then available to American writers. The chapter then examines briefly the range of Pound's influence as manifested in the work of Robert Creeley and Allen Ginsberg. Chapter 2 explores the way in which Pound's writings develop a model of influence and tradition that serves as an alternative to the Oedipal paradigm Harold Bloom has applied to a "Romantic Sublime" tradition. Because Bloom's model excludes from the poetic canon


poets whose work does not display his particular brand of "revision," "misreading," or "poetic repression," Pound's paradigm can be seen as offering an alternative account that departs significantly from Bloom's own and that provides a different framework for understanding influence and poetic creativity. Chapter 3 enlarges the scope of the Pound tradition, analyzing the important contributions made by Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, and Louis Zukofsky.

Chapters 4 through 7 center on the two key figures in the Pound tradition: Charles Olson and Robert Duncan. Both find a central model in Pound's work, but they elaborate on Pound's practice in different ways. The first of the two chapters on Olson (chapter 4) sets forth his poetics of "historical method" and delineates ways in which his poetics embodies a sense of history and tradition differing from that of Pound. Chapter 5 examines a particular poem directly concerned with the question of Pound's influence—"I, Mencius, Pupil of the Master"—in light of recent critiques of Olson's relation to poetic tradition. Chapter 6 reads the work of Duncan in terms of two opposing poles: the Objectivist framework of a Poundian poetics and the Romantic impulses Duncan feels are repressed in Pound's work. Chapter 7 traces Duncan's developing sense of poetic form, a sense based in large part on Poundian examples of "collage" technique and the ideogrammatic method.

The final chapters move beyond the immediate scope of Pound's postwar influence to examine the way in which the tradition continued to develop among younger poets of the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. In chapter 8 I examine the work of the contemporary poets Denise Levertov and Gary Snyder in terms of their Poundian inheritance and their sense of a shared poetics. Chapter 9 is concerned with the poetry of Edward Dorn and with the ways in which his work moves beyond the immediate influence of Pound and Williams while still participating in a poetics defined by them and by Olson. Finally, I conclude the book by addressing the current state of poetry within the Pound-Olson tradition in the work of Language poet Charles Bernstein.


An understanding of the Pound tradition, like that of any poetic tradition, depends on a broader theory of the nature of influence. I therefore pose in the course of this book several theoretical questions concerning the model of influence suggested by the work of Ezra Pound and his impact on later poets. Two of these questions are fundamental to this project. What is the nature of influence in general (and in what sense does the notion of influence describe the cycle of literary reception and production)[10] What ideas did Pound express that might be formulated as a theory of influence and tradition? I also pose the more technical questions of how influence is to be identified, what importance it may have for an understanding or appreciation of an author's work, and how it relates to the formation of a literary tradition or canon. I respond to these questions by contrasting Pound's model of influence with other models that have contributed most significantly to my own discussion.

The most fundamental form of literary influence is that which transpires in the act of imitation. Influence as imitation assumes that literary "decorum" results from attempting to duplicate the formal, stylistic, and thematic achievements of one's predecessors. The model writer can be a living teacher who passes on techniques or ideas to a younger student or disciple or an admired author from a previous era. In The Mirror and the Lamp M. H. Abrams traces the idea of imitation in English literature, from Sir Philip Sydney's adaptation of Aristotle's Poetics to the work of eighteenth-century writers such as Alexander Pope and Samuel Johnson. Abrams finds wide acceptance for the classical notion of art—one based on a faith in the universality of customs, beliefs, and ideals and on a relatively stable aesthetic order.


In "Tradition and the Individual Talent," T. S. Eliot redefines the process of influence in somewhat more reactive terms. Eliot likens the process to a chemical reaction in which the mind of the poet acts as a catalyst on the various combined substances that he or she finds—that is, the body of works making up the literary tradition. For Eliot, a constant interchange exists between the poet and the past: a mutual dependence in which the poet uses tradition to help create a new work while in turn using that new work to alter the entire structure of the "existing order." Even though much of the poet's work must take place on a deliberate level, much also involves "a passive attending on the event." The poet uses tradition as an escape from his or her own "personality," from the temptation to express subjective emotions. What takes place in any successful work of art, according to Eliot, is not a personal or emotional "sublime," a search for novelty or originality divorced from a "sense of the past," but a process of "depersonalization" in which the writer surrenders to "something more valuable"—namely, the entire pantheon of the tradition within which he or she is working.[11]

Eliot's essay stresses the importance of the poet's choice of a tradition; the poet must remain "conscious of the main current, which does not at all flow invariably through the most distinguished reputations." The greatest poets are those who remain balanced in their use of the tradition, focusing neither on one or two "private admirations" nor on a particular historical period. The writer should neither become "traditional" in the sense of "following the ways of the immediate generation before . . . in a blind and timid succession," nor "conform" to the standards of the past. The poet's reputation will ultimately be "measured," however, by his or her ability to "fit in" to the canon of past literature; thus tradition remains for Eliot a relatively stable entity, a limited and canonical set of texts and practices. Pound himself was very aware of the limitations placed on the poet by


Eliot's sense of tradition.[12] As John Guillory argues, noting Eliot's later substitution of the term "orthodoxy" for "tradition," Eliot's writings advocate a strictly defined reformation of the canon that was in large part responsible for the critical hegemony of the New Criticism.[13]

Claudio Guillen reorients the study of influence by replacing the notion of a relationship between an individual poet and a tradition with the idea of a broadly defined "experiential" or "aesthetic" process. In Literature as System Guillen argues that literary influence is only one of many artistic or intellectual experiences that affect the formation of a poet's mind and may have little or no bearing on the poem in terms of textual similarities or parallelisms. Guillen's argument opposes a rigidly deterministic understanding of influence—such as that implied by the agonistic poetic history of Harold Bloom—according to which a direct cause-and-effect relationship exists between one text and another, or material "flows" from one text to the next. The poem, according to Guillen, is the "displacement" of various literary and nonliterary influences, which themselves are consumed and forgotten in the process of artistic creation. The predecessors of the new poet are important mainly in supplying a poetic "vocabulary" with which the new poet can work. Guillen's theory posits two distinct levels of influence: "genetic function," or the generalized impact of one writer's work on the creative process of another, and "textual function," or the local parallelisms and echoes of one writer's work in another's. Guillen's model stresses neither an emulative relation to a predecessor nor an antagonistic one; instead, artistic creation is viewed as a necessary bridging of the "ontological gap" between "unformed" experience and newly formed experience in the finished work.


Northrop Frye's archetypal paradigm extends Guillen's sense of influence as a multilayered aesthetic process. Frye posits that literature is passed down through certain genres, figures, situations, and even linguistic or formal configurations rather than through contact between one artist and another. Frye's approach obviates the necessity for historical or biographical evidence. It entails studying, for example, not the influence of Homer on Pound and Pound on Olson but of the epic form on The Cantos and in turn on The Maximus Poems or of a particular mode of nature poetry on American poets from Whitman to Snyder. Frye claims for the work of art an autonomy from the "unconditioned will of the artist."[14] In the study of literary history, according to Frye, "there are much bigger critical problems involved than biographical ones." Thus, Frye's archetypal approach also questions the conventional notion that literature is a process developing in time. The "converging patterns of significance" he sees in great works of art make us wonder "if we cannot see literature, not as complicating itself in time, but as spread out in conceptual space from some unseen center."[15]

In the past twenty years, literary theorists have moved beyond the limited claims of Guillen and Frye for a depersonalized notion of literary influence in positing a concept of "intertextuality"—the language one text shares with many others. Indeed, the idea of intertextuality can be seen as posing a radical challenge to the concept of an individual influence from one poet's work to that of another. Julia Kristeva first adopted the concept from the work of Mikhail Bakhtin on the "dialogic" or "heteroglossic" structure of the European novel. Kristeva defines the "intertext" as a "crossing of words (texts) where we read at least one other word (text)": "Any text is constructed as a mosaic of


quotations; any text is the absorption and transformation of another."[16]

According to Kristeva, modern poetic texts have a tendency to "absorb and destroy at the same time other texts in the intertextual space," thus becoming in themselves a space for what she calls the discursive "cross-junction":

The poetic practice which links Poe-Baudelaire-Mallarmé provides one of the most striking examples of this alter-jonction . Baudelaire translates Poe; Mallarmé writes that he will take up the poetic task as a legacy of Baudelaire, and his first writings follow the trace of Baudelaire. In the same way, Mallarmé translates Poe and follows his writing; Poe himself departed from De Quincey. . . . The network can be multiplied, but it would always express the same law: the poetic text is produced in the complex movement of a simultaneous affirmation and negation of another.[17]

Kristeva's theory of intertextuality, though it may give the initial impression that all texts overlap or intersect, is really not as radical a formulation as the subsequent adoption of her terminology by Roland Barthes and others may suggest. While she speaks of an overdetermining "law" of textual multiplication and reduplication, she also suggests that a writer such as Poe, Baudelaire, or Mallarmé makes at least a partially conscious choice to translate, "follow the trace of," or "depart from" the work of a previous author. In some respects, then, the process of textual absorption and rejection Kristeva identifies in her delineation of a Romantic-Symbolist tradition approximates the process of influence I describe within the Pound tradition.

Barthes, taking further Kristeva's notion of the literary text as a "mosaic of quotations," has advocated reading all texts outside the context of their "filiation" to sources and influences:

Every text, being itself the intertext of another text, belongs to the intertextual, which must not be confused with a text's origins: to


search for the "sources of" and "influence upon" a work is to satisfy the myth of filiation. The quotations from which a text is constructed are anonymous, irrecoverable, and yet already read: they are quotations without quotation marks.[18]

To attempt finding the "author" of the text is for Barthes to deny that the author can reenter the universal intertext only "as a guest." Even though Barthes accurately assigns elements of a text to the cultural discourses from which they are drawn, he does not adequately explain through what agency the author chooses, orders, and juxtaposes these elements into a comprehensible and unique form. Would not the directives by which these elements are ordered be provided by a tradition or an influential predecessor?

Michel Foucault launches a similar attack on the notion of influence as it participates in the models of traditional historicism and in the concepts of tradition, development, evolution, "spirit of the age," oeuvre, and book. In The Archaeology of Knowledge he argues that these categories create a false sense of historical unity and continuity and should be replaced with certain "discursive formations." These would operate outside the bounds of historical time within a field of "rules of formation": "One may be compelled to dissociate certain oeuvres, ignore influences and traditions, abandon definitively the question of origin, allow the commanding presence of authors to fade into the background, and thus everything that was thought to be proper to the history of ideas may disappear from view."[19] Foucault maintains that "different oeuvres, dispersed books, that whole mass of texts that belong to a single discursive formation—and so many authors who know or do not know one another, criticize one another, invalidate one another, pillage one another—meet without knowing it and obstinately intersect their unique discourses in a web of which they are not the masters, of which they do not see the whole, and of whose


breadth they have a very inadequate idea."[20] Thus, Foucault posits something like an intertextuality, although he defines the sharing of textual material more generally in terms of systems of discourse rather than as a more locally defined mosaic of quotations.

Barthes's universal (inter)text and Foucault's discursive formations are challenging alternatives to a personal and historical understanding of influence. They can be used to describe a large spectrum of the phenomena affecting literary production; in particular, they provide a rubric for examining questions of cultural discourse from a wider perspective than does a more narrowly defined study of an individual influence. The understanding of poetic influence reflected in this book is informed in part by the intertextual paradigm; Bakhtin's theories of novelistic discourse are especially useful in thinking about the techniques employed by many of these poets. Readings of The Cantos and of later poetry in a similar mode can also be profitably informed by Barthes's idea of "codes" or by Foucault's discursive formations.[21] Indeed, it would be next to impossible, having once considered the implications of such theories, to return to discussion of influence based solely on the identification of sources, echoes, or allusions or to maintain that a writer's social or historical context can completely account for the various manifestations of literary influence.

Nevertheless, although reading Pound and other poets in his tradition in terms of a theory of intertextuality can be fruitful, the theory's shortcomings merit attention, particularly in regard to literary history and reception. Although it is true that the syncretic mode of poetry adopted by Pound and his successors is one in which the poem is composed of, suggested by, or generated from the confluences of other discourses, these do not appear randomly in the poems discussed here. I do not propose


as a model for the Pound tradition a poetics of aleatory process; rather, I advance one in which the poetic and nonpoetic discourses that enter the text are for the most part selected and coordinated according to well-defined aesthetic, philosophical, or ideological criteria. If I am not fully satisfied with the intertextual model, it is because I believe that some degree of historical and biographical specificity is necessary to provide a literary understanding that is incommensurate with the more totalizing and less locally applicable construct of the poem as intertext. My aim is to address not only a work's textuality and its relation to other texts and discourses but also the more local and particular dynamic of its historical production and reception. By examining the role of the poet-as-reader in the transmission of literary texts—first as passive addressee, then as active critic, and finally as creative producer of new texts—we can better understand the extent to which the historical, social, and interpersonal details of a work's reception determine its influence on other writers.[22]

The component of reception in literary influence necessitates a reemphasis on the historical dimension of the literary process. It is extremely likely, for example, that a writer will become a greater influence at times when political, social, historical, geographical, or educational conditions favor a positive reception of his or her work. Factors exterior to the text itself may in many cases play the greater role in determining what author or work will be influential at a given time. A poem is not simply what exists textually (part of an intertext); it is also a product of other elements that poets themselves do not and cannot ignore: history and tradition, authors and books. For this reason, much of our interest in literary production remains within the realms of literary history, archival research, and bibliographical scholarship.


Jerome McGann describes some of the dynamics involved in a historical reading of literary works.[23] Tracing the decreasing popularity and prestige of historical, textual, and bibliographical criticism throughout this century, particularly during the past thirty years, McGann argues convincingly for a reintegration into literary criticism at large of historical methods now increasingly relegated to the work of "textual scholars." McGann observes that a text's historical reception and the critical task involved in interpreting that work are inextricably linked. Critical work on a text, even that which seeks to isolate it from any social or historical context, necessarily becomes part of the text's history. In many cases, a conflictual relationship exists between the social and historical experience of an author and that of subsequent contexts in which his or her work is published and read. Because poetry is in large part a "social act"—an experience that cannot be conceived "outside of history and specific social environments"—it also entails a relationship on the part of the poet to "all human history (past and future)." The publication of authors' statements about their own work is also, like the publication of poems or works of fiction, a "social event in [its] own right," always contributing to and modifying the receptive history of those works.[24]

Among the models of influence just discussed, the one that most clearly provides for both the social and the aesthetic dimension of literary production is Guillen's: the displacement of various types of experience in the process of artistic creation. In the tradition beginning with Pound, each of the central poets adopts his or her metaphor or metaphors to describe that process: Pound's notion of vortex, paideuma, or ideogrammatic method; Olson's sense of the poetic process as an "autoclytic multiplication" or series of creative accidents; Duncan's idea of the poem as cell or collage; Snyder's theory of "interconnectedness," "riprapping," or "knot of turbulence"; and what I call


Dorn's "migratory" poetics. All these metaphorical constructs are related conceptions of the poetic process and the role of influence in it: this process is constituted not in reference to a narrowly defined literary tradition or canon but in the various textual and extratextual sources that are brought together and assimilated within the fabric of the poem itself.


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