I am ashamed to say that I don’t actually know much about Ezra Pound. I haven’t read much, or maybe any, of his poetry, but he has one of those names that seems known and mysterious at the same time. I imagine him in his historical context before I know anything at all about what he wrote or said.
Yesterday at the Southbank Centre’s The Rest Is Noise festival, I spent all day learning about things, and hearing about books I should read or re-read (in the case of the book of the same title). That included a very good panel about Ezra Pound, which had Helen Carr and Sam Riviere speaking about Pound’s poetry and its place in the mood and environment of the early 20th Century.
The panel mixed biography and poetry a bit – some biography, a few poems, a bit more biography, and Riviere’s poems. It felt like sitting in on a good conversation in many ways, so it was fine that it was quite unstructured. The biography focused on the part of Pound’s life before he became a fascist, perhaps for ease and perhaps because of the time periods under review on this particular weekend of the festival (roughly through 1925).
Riviere focused on reading Pound’s poems from Lustra, which you can read online here. Riviere’s key point about these poems was about the acidity and cruelty of these poems, and wondering whether there this foreshadows his drift towards fascism. For sure, this is not someone who is in love with the “average man” – there is no concept of the noble peasant here:
En robe de parade.
LIKE a skein of loose silk blown against a wall
She walks by the railing of a path in Kensington
And she is dying piece-meal
of a sort of emotional anaemia.
And round about there is a rabble
Of the filthy, sturdy, unkillable infants of the
They shall inherit the earth.
In her is the end of breeding.
Her boredom is exquisite and excessive.
She would like someone to speak to her,
And is almost afraid that I
will commit that indiscretion.
The concept of the unkillable child is really fascinating, and there are so many other similar lines. Riviere’s question was something along the lines of whether these are just voices that he uses for his poetry, versus an actual place that he inhabits. I don’t know enough about Pound – perhaps no one does – to answer definitively, but it is an interesting question: whether slight shifts in our artistic (or even daily) attitude have major repercussions and moves later.