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From the Archive: Ezra Pound

Pound's early, incendiary Cantos, first published in Poetry magazine.
"In the United States, Pound is free to publish anything an editor will accept—including even his political balderash, which is sometimes (but not often) entertaining and stimulating. The official medical verdict, declaring him unaccountable on psychological grounds for his collaboration with the late Italian government, is actually beside the point. This new poem is excellent. I should still publish it if the author were not in a hospital but in a cell awaiting execution."


"To put it briefly, some editors find some of the Cantos less than absorbing," wrote Poetry editor George Dillon in September 1946 ("A Note on the Obvious"), explaining the decision to publish Ezra Pound's Canto LXXX. Some justification was necessary because Pound had just narrowly escaped being tried for treason—he was deemed unfit for trial on the grounds of his insanity, landing him in a hospital where he would remain until 1958. Dillon's essay is characteristic of the ambivalent relationship of Poetry to the Cantos it published over the years.

Dillon and his predecessor—the magazine's founder, Harriet Monroe, who had made EP its first foreign correspondent—generally viewed Pound's political views warily; they focused instead on the poetry. Quoting Pound himself ("Reserve an amiable reaction for the acrobat"), Dillon, who called EP's politics "peevish and trivial," remarked:

"Not all the readers of this magazine have followed it regularly through the years, and some will rightly wonder what motive any periodical may have in publishing a new work by Ezra Pound. I am as much surprised as any of our readers to see Pound re-emerging in print. If I am going to be honest, I can do ... little about it ... In the United States, Pound is free to publish anything an editor will accept—including even his political balderdash, which is sometimes (but not often) entertaining and stimulating. The official medical verdict, declaring him unaccountable on psychological grounds for his collaboration with the late Italian government, is actually beside the point. This new poem is excellent. I should still publish it if the author were not in a hospital but in a cell awaiting execution."

This was not the first of Pound's Cantos to be published in Poetry. Monroe had published three Ur-Cantos successively in June, July and August of 1917, and then two more in March 1934 and April 1933. Monroe printed all these poems despite Pound's accusation in a letter that she was "too stupid to understand them," an insult that prompted Monroe to fire back that the appearance of these Cantos in Poetry would be "the last of your political manifestos which Poetry will care to have the honor of printing. We shall always be hospitable to poems less motivated by a desire to instruct the world and the President."

Not until the Fiftieth Anniversary Issue in October 1962, with an excerpt from Canto CXIII, would any more appear. That same month, editor Henry Rago wrote Pound to award him the Harriet Monroe Memorial Prize of $500. Pound responded with typical impudence: "If you think it will sustain Harriet's glory, go ahead. If it gives me a chance to admit the multitude & depth & gravity of my errors, go ahead. If it claims that I did advertise the magazine, & encourage Harriet, that may be a justification. I. e. that there were good years in which I was of some use to someone, go ahead."

 

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Poem Sampler

From the Archive: Ezra Pound

Pound's early, incendiary Cantos, first published in Poetry magazine.

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