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The Cambridge Introduction to Ezra Pound by Ira B. Nadel (review)

From: William Carlos Williams Review
Volume 29, Number 2, Fall 2009
pp. 208-210 | 10.1353/wcw.2009.0029

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He was the livest, most intelligent and unexplainable thing I'd ever seen, and the most fun—except for his often painful self-consciousness and his coughing laugh. As an occasional companion over the years he was delightful, but one did not want to see him often or for any length of time. Usually I got fed to the gills with him after a few days. He, too, with me, I have no doubt.

I could never take him as a steady diet. Never. He was often brilliant but an ass. But I never (so long as I kept away) got tired of him, or, for a fact, ceased to love him

(A 58).

The lifelong friendship of William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound might not have been the easiest of relationships, but it was exceptionally valuable for both poets. It is thanks to Pound's enthusiasm during their undergraduate days at the University of Pennsylvania that Williams began to take seriously the idea of being a poet, and it was Pound who encouraged Williams to share his writing with other readers. For his part, Williams supported Pound and his work, despite the occasional vitriol, through even the most trying of times, including Pound's trial and subsequent confinement.

Williams wasn't the only early twentieth-century artist that Pound promoted: Hilda Doolittle (whom he later renamed H. D.), W. B. Yeats, T. S. Eliot, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Robert Frost, James Joyce, George Antheil, Ernest Hemingway, Louis Zukofsky, and James Laughlin are just some of the many artists and writers who credited Pound's influence on the development of their talents and/or their careers. Given Pound's sphere of influence as well as his massive and often difficult body of poetry, his inclusion in Cambridge Introductions to Literature Series makes much sense. This series—which also offers volumes on Pound's contemporaries, Yeats, Eliot, Frost, Joyce, and Woolf—aims to introduce its audience of "students, teachers and lecturers" to "key topics and authors" (ii).

Ira B. Nadel, author of Ezra Pound: A Literary Life (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2004) and editor of Cambridge's Companion to Ezra Pound certainly knows his subject matter. Even seasoned Poundians will learn something new from the volume. Drawing upon a wide range of sources that includes Pound's own work, a lifetime of correspondence, and an impressive collection of scholarly work on both Pound and modernism more broadly, Nadel illuminates many problematic and often confusing facets of Pounds oeuvre. To that end, one of the most useful sections of the book is the final one, which details Pound's critical reception from contemporary reviews of the poet's earliest publications to the present. Citing "I have no life / save when the swords clash" from "Sestina; Altaforte," Nadel effectively captures Pound's own bombastic critical intensity, and proceeds to offer a striking synopsis of the large body of critical work produced by generations of Poundians, which begins with Eliot's Ezra Pound: His Metric and Poetry, and spans from Hugh Kenner and Donald Davie to Charles Bernstein, Jerome McGann and Marjorie Perloff as well as more recent publications. The volume also includes a "For Further Reference" section that students (and teachers) should find helpful.

Pound's life and his work are almost inseparable for most of his poetic career, so the Introduction series format, which separates "Life," "Context," and "Work" into distinct sections, is problematic. Nadel approaches the challenge with creativity and aplomb. The volume opens with an epigraph from Pound: "People quite often think me crazy when I make a jump instead of a step, just as if all jumps were unsound and never carried one anywhere" (1). Explaining that "Ezra Pound loved to jump, from idea to idea, from culture to culture, from lyric to epic," Nadel himself seems to have adopted a similar structural motif for the first three sections of the book. These chapters follow a loose chronology, but the author does not hesitate to abandon the timeline and elaborate on various subjects.

For example, the paragraph that begins with Pound and Williams meeting at the University of Pennsylvania encapsulates their lifelong friendship, all fifty-plus years of it, and the following...

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