Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

by Sean Lysaght
Dear Editor,

To add to Clive James’s account of the influence of Ezra Pound among students in Sydney in the fifties, I can report that Pound was still prominent in the west of  Ireland two decades later. In Limerick, where I grew up, the link with Pound was partly circumstantial: our main local poet, Desmond O’Grady, had worked with Pound during the latter’s last years in Italy and therefore acted as a kind of broker for Pound’s presence. O’Grady regularly returned to Limerick from his home in the Mediterranean to read installments from his own Poundian projects. A picture of Pound still hangs in Limerick’s principal literary haunt, a pub known as the White House.

Pound had a multi-layered appeal to our small but intense literary coterie. His work was iconoclastic, unacademic, eclectic, and seductively obscure. We did not mind Pound’s political and personal failure because there was plenty of that around in our milieu — it made him an even better match for our marginal condition. He had mapped out a special cultural geography centered on the Mediterranean but reaching to the Far East as well. The Cantos in particular invited a very special license: poetry could be about anything from literary gossip to economics. It seemed that you could pile any material into poetry in the expectation that it would come out the other end marked “oeuvre.” We went along with this because the ramblings were seasoned with the occasional flash of  insight, allowing us a glimpse of  Pound’s southern European world.

With the wisdom of  distance, now that our early excitements have passed, it is natural to reassess Pound and to see the limitations of the Cantos. I imagine that the translations and versions, especially the Cathay poems, will stand the test of time better than his sprawling life project. But looking back at the Cantos, many of us, like Clive James, are reviewing our own youth as writers, when Pound’s mood music provided an endless set of suggestions and possibilities. That is something I believe we should always acknowledge.

Fahy, Ireland

Originally Published: January 28, 2008

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This prose originally appeared in the February 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

February 2008

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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