Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Book Review: Ezra Pound, Volume I, The Young Genius

Recently I read the Ezra Pound biography by A. David Moody (sounds like the name of a blog). When one is unemployed, and an aspiring poet, (they go hand in hand) then one should try and do something productive. So I read this 410 page tome.

It is surprisingly a quick read, despite the density of information it contains. Every episode in his life is analyzed, every change of location, every publication, his meetings, his affairs, Moody has done his research and it shows. I would be very surprised if anything new about Ezra Pound's life will be revealed unless they find his elementary school valentines in the bottom of a sunken chest.

The approach is a more literary one, of course, and his life is told through his writing and the writing of others' mostly. This gives a very good picture of Pound the public figure, but some of the more intimate details of his life are lost. From a scholarly perspective, what he liked to eat and drink, how his apartments looked, and the kind of lover he is, are probably not as important, and writing about them creates a risk for digression, though it is hard to know what Pound was like when he was not in his "Poetic Genius Mode" unless he was in it all the time, which is possible.

I suppose knowing more personal information about him is only necessary for me because so little of him comes off in his own work, except his education and his linguistic skills. He was never a river merchant's wife, nor was he Malatesta. The closest we come to him is always an official version of his life, details in the Cantos, and in Hugh Selwyn Mauberley. But here he is still a character, a figure, a hopeful force for history, and if failing that, of history. We know he must have known what love was, eaten sweets, seen colors, etc. like any other poet. No poet can totally hide his or her life away from their work, it shows through the details. the only way around it would be to write nothing but lists of numbers and be in love with the sounds they make.

Another shortcoming is that in the work, it is hard to pinpoint where "Ezra" began to become "Pound." By the end of the biography, Pound is leaving London. It is 1920 and he has begun to help with the birth of modernism, him and Eliot are published, the Cantos have begun, etc. However there seems to be no singular point where we see him deciding this is where he wanted to end up. Was he always blessed with some sort of divine madness that drove him, right from the start of his life? Did it come to him later? Was there an awakening?

This is a hard thing to determine, and one may ask themselves, does it matter? Or can it even be found? Perhaps I am relying too much on the lives of the Beat poets, especially Ginsberg and Corso, who tended to have those moments, "Blakean Visions," a poet generally doesn't have the kinds of experiences they have, unless they are Ginsberg and Blake, or have a traumatic life that makes burst forth into poetry, like Sexton or Corso.

But Pound is still different from the other poets, it doesn't seem to matter when Pope thought he was good at verse, or even Shakespeare, one could imagine them simply "falling" into poetry and deciding to keep with it. With Pound, though, you have a figure who viewed himself as a poetic revolutionary, and so like any good biography of a revolutionary, Che, Mao, Jefferson, one wants to know when the spark went off, when the figure decided everything had to be changed, overthrown. The first poem is not enough, we want to know when the break happened, because when one tries to be revolutionary in anything, their lives are never seamless, there is is always a diving point.

But despite these two criticisms of mine, it is a strong work overall, soundly researched and it paints a good portrait of the family that Pound came from, I was surprised at the level of political involvement his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather engaged in, and how supportive his father generally was of his son's poetic ambitions. This is a stark contrast with T.S. Eliot's father, who pretty much disowned his son. the book also explores his poetry very well and the genesis of the Cantos. If it was extended another two years, his help on the Waste Land, but that will have to wait for volume II. It would not be right to break up Pound's life by his work with others, and the decision to divide his life around his departure from London, I think is justified.

Anyways, the biography is good for all fans of Ezra Pound and all you visionary and revolutionary poets out there. I think it shows whats in store for you and if you are a fan of his work, it is an interesting and captivating read.