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  • Pedagogic Pound:"What is it the professors don't know?"1
  • Robert Spoo (bio)
SUPER SCHOOLMASTER: EZRA POUND AS TEACHER, THEN AND NOW, by Robert Scholes and David Ben-Merre. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2021. xxi + 199 pp. $95.00 cloth, $32.95 paper.

Ezra Pound was a nonconformist in the college classroom, both as a teacher and as a student. He was an unpredictable, feet-onthe-table lecturer during his brief stint in 1907-1908 as Professor of Romance Languages at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana.2 He excused students from examinations if he thought them either too intelligent or too hopeless to benefit from testing.3 Yet he had presumably impressed the college's President, who had hired him after a half-hour interview despite his bohemian neglect of "a coat. a collar. a neck-tie. also my shoes were not shined."4 Pound's most memorable interactions with Wabash students were extramural, and these were remembered chiefly because they defied the conventions. By 1907, the college had declared itself nonsectarian, but its Presbyterian origins still magnetized the moral compass of the place. Observance of the proprieties was enforced by a town-and-gown vigilance so keen that a professor's rooming-house habits could quickly become the talk of what Pound sneeringly called the "facultate."5 He ostentatiously smoked in his rooms despite a state law that banned the sale and possession of cigarettes,6 and he spiced his pedagogical pronouncements with high-tempered cursing. Certain scandalized students made a beeline for the President's office "to complain," Pound said, "erbout me orful langwidge and the number of cigarillos I consume."7 He decided that having to correct stacks of French and Spanish papers four times a week was "perfectly ridiculous," and he back-burnered this drudgery in favor of "jamming out mss" of his own verses (Poet 57). He was on track to publish and perish.

Then as today, colleges found it hard to dismiss an eccentric personality unless there was some really flagrant breach of the rules. Pound was ready to oblige. He had scarcely settled into teaching duties when he wanted to "abandong me 'igh callin' and skidoo to paats more plush lined than Hoosier" (Parents, 2 October 1907, 93). [End Page 335] He changed lodgings four times during his six-months at Wabash, restlessly trying to achieve, and escape, respectability in the closely surveilled town. At one point when he was living in a rooming house favored by traveling actors, "two stewdents" walked in on him as he was "sharing my meagre repast with the lady-gent impersonator in me privut apartments" (Poet 59). The scandal of this probably innocent scene had hardly died down when Pound rescued a burlesque entertainer from the bitter Indiana winter and allowed the young woman to sleep in his bed as he lay on the floor, wrapped in his topcoat. The President of Wabash called for his resignation, and he gave it. But the facts were shaky, and the President offered to recall Pound, perhaps fearing that the young instructor was being unfairly maligned. Newspapers in South Bend and Logansport had already caught the scent and printed allusions to Pound's "alleged gay habits."8 But he declined the invitation to return to the fetters of the facultate, deciding instead to "go to ze sunny Italia" (Parents, 17 February 1908, 103). He launched upon his expatriate career in March 1908, sailing for Gibraltar aboard the Cunard Royal Mail Steamship "Slavonia." Of the Crawfordsville scandal, he airily told his father that he had had "more fun out of the fracasso than there is in a dog fight & hope I have taught 'em how to run a college" (Parents, 17 February 1908, 103). This "showman and charlatan," as one of his Wabash colleagues remembered him, would never again occupy a formal teaching post.9 Yet he would never stop teaching.

Pound liked to have learners gathered at his feet, literally, but such audiences were only possible outside the formal classroom. A Wabash alumnus recalled the student soirées that he hosted in his lodgings, "seated . . . on a chair, while his disciples and satellites disposed themselves gracefully...