- Ezra Pound, Italy, and The Cantos by Massimo Bacigalupo
By Massimo Bacigalupo. Clemson, North Carolina: Clemson University Press, 2020.
Among a fairly lengthy register of theoretical, interpretive, and aesthetic ideas, Ezra Pound once advanced (while working and living in Rapallo, Italy) what he called periplum and defined in his ABC of Reading as "correct geography; not as you would find it [on a] map," but as seen by someone in situ. Rather than an account distorted by abstract distance, a periplum, to Pound's way of thinking, is a rather faithful undertaking, an account offered by someone acquainted with the people, places, and things relayed. Massimo Bacigalupo, a Rapallo native, comes from a family with a long history of actual personal connection with the Pounds; as his new study both implicitly suggests and explicitly demonstrates, such intimacies are affective and meaningful. Ezra Pound, Italy, and The Cantos feels to me to offer a species of periplum, albeit of the literary-critical kind.
It goes without saying that in the schedule of Pound's polymathic interests, "Italy"—as both an imaginative ideal and a cultural, historical, political, [End Page 130] and economic reality—took precedence. It constituted the horizon of Pound's concern and formed the center of his creative and intellectual life. Bacigalupo is better placed than most to explore the implications of this fact. The work offered here, inflected by personal experience throughout, is intentionally restrained in scope (despite its 350 pages); it avoids the universalizing pretensions of certain literary-critical scholarship, focusing instead quite literally on relationships, correspondences, and associations. It turns out that many of the places Pound cared for, the people, the intellectual and emotional subjects that occupied him, are not (yet) particularly prevalent in Pound studies: Rapallo, Sant'Ambrogio, Eugenio Montale, Carlo Izzo, Enrico Pea, Douglas Fox, Sheri Martinelli. This work is broadly "Poundian," presenting "striking bits of information that illuminate the whole" (125).
Its demeanor, though refreshingly various, is overall more literary "appreciation" than "critique." I mention this only insofar as readers less fastidious about a division (however inchoate) between the man who suffers and the mind that creates might find Bacigalupo's political kid gloves a little too downy. (His magisterial The Forméd Trace: The Later Poetry of Ezra Pound, published by Columbia University Press in 1980, pulls fewer punches, and remains to my mind the account of record concerning Pound's later poetry. Readers interested in the political dimension of Pound's affiliations with fascism should consult instead Tim Redman's Ezra Pound and Italian Fascism [Cambridge University Press, 1991] and Catherine E. Paul's Fascist Directive: Ezra Pound and Italian Cultural Nationalism [Clemson University Press, 2016].) The "Italy" explored here is not a sociopolitical entity but a network of personal and artistic contexts. For Bacigalupo, Pound is a "poet of genius" whose work is fundamentally motivated by love, regardless of the meanness of its hates and the "bewildering violence" that ensued (270, 267). This study remains, as its title clearly states, about a person, place, and thing.
Bacigalupo shows Pound working in and through a multifarious and often counterintuitive set of circumstances, such as the fact that "Pound had little interest in and contact with prominent Italian writers of his time" (69); in retrospect, Pound's splendid isolation from things feels at once like both an alibi and an explanation. Bacigalupo sees Pound as part of a "Hellenic Italophile tradition" (20) and The Cantos as a poetic itinerary whose recurring patterns of experience and perception are as psychological as they are geographical. History, landscape, and ritual combine into literary mosaics (or cantos) that are part memoir, part travelogue, part guidebook, part reportage, part "autobiographical myth" (46). Though a fundamentally sympathetic reader, Bacigalupo offers honest appraisals of this deeply contradictory work, a poem that simultaneously protests against the "worship of texts" and concomitant authority (139), on the one hand, and demands this of its readers, on the other. The Cantos is read as a radically uneven work, a mixture of "disjointed notes" and powerfully "coordinated music" (66), and without cherry-picking lyric gems from more rebarbative contexts. Bacigalupo's study is...