Article Index

 

 

EZRA POUND’S PISAN CANTOS

A GENETIC AND CRITICAL EDITION

Report of Research

 

A number of years ago I was doing work in the Pound archive in the Beinecke Library at Yale and stumbled upon rough fragments in Italian that turned out to be a previously unsuspected Ur-version of Ezra Pound’s Pisan Cantos. As it turned out, Pound had already written the equivalent of an entire unpublished suite in Italian in the war’s closing days. However, in part because moments in the Italian suite were politically offensive in the extreme, most of the Italian drafts had never seen the light of day. 

As Pound’s archives were unsealed, the full development of these unpublished Italian drafts emerged along with scattered MS materials of the Pisan Cantos themselves. Together, these preliminary texts strongly suggested that the standard political and confessional readings of the poem had been inadequate, and that future readings would have to allow for the poem’s divergent aims and genetic fault lines. In fact, the cumulative evidence of Pound’s manuscript and typescript pages (many of which were corrected by the author differently on different copies), including the existence of gaps left by materials the publisher never received or did not entirely understand, make it clear that for fifty years readers have been responding to a text transmitted from poet to publisher in a rough and provisional form and then finished by the publisher faut de mieux—a text in many significant ways that Pound never finished.

Thanks to grants from St. John’s College and the AHRB, I was subsequently able to take on an editorial assistant (Dr. David Ten Eyck of the University of Lorraine) and to extend the scope of my genetic project to include producing a full critical text of the poem. The entire project including the critical text is now nearing completion and is contracted by OUP to be published in two (or perhaps three) volumes.

The first volume(s), amounting now to a thousand manuscript pages, will be divided into four sections: 1) an intellectual, critical, and historical account of the poem’s gestation from the late twenties to 1945; 2) a fully annotated presentation of Pound’s Italian Ur-version of the poem as it evolved from December 1944 to April 1945, both in the original Italian and in English translation; 3) a textual and critical narrative history of the notebook composition and typescript revision of the English Pisan Cantos that Pound began to compose in the camp with his Italian drafts still ringing in his ears; and 4) a set of textually and substantively annotated facing transcriptions of Pound’s manuscripts and typescripts, reproduced toward the aim of establishing a new setting copy of the poem.

The last volume of the edition—the critical edition itself—consists of two hundred pages of introduction and tables as well as two hundred and fifty pages of a critical text that includes a full textual apparatus and accounts for every document in the line of descent of the text from the manuscript onwards.

I have presented and published pieces of this work in progress in various international venues, and these publications include more than twenty essays published since 1995 that (to quote Peter Nicholls, Henry James Professor of American Letters, NYU) “have shaped in fundamental ways the ongoing reception of Pound’s major poem.” In 2011 David Ten Eyck and I presented an all-day workshop to the International Pound Conference in London on the last difficult cases remaining in the text of the critical edition.

There still remain, however, the last stages of the work, including what will probably amount to a year or more of tying up the loose ends of various narratives and checking and proofing the material before sending it off to OUP. There will then follow at least another year devoted to shepherding an enormously complicated TS and a text composed in two primary and four subsidiary languages (including Ancient Greek and Mandarin Chinese) through the press.

 

Articles derived from the project:

  1. “A Critical Edition of Ezra Pound’s Pisan Cantos: Problems and Solutions.” Textual Cultures 8.2 (forthcoming).
  2.  “‘Young Willows’ in the Pisan Cantos: ‘Light as the Branch of Kuanon.’” Modernism and the Orient. Ed. Zhaoming Qian. New Orleans: UNO Press, 2013. 185-213. Print.
  3. “Between Religion and Science: Ezra Pound, Scotus Erigena and the Beginnings of a Twentieth-Century Paradise.” Rivista di Letterature d'America. XXXII.141/42 (2012): 95-124. Print.
  4. “La Filosofica Famiglia: Cavalcanti, Avicenna, and the ‘Form’ of Ezra Pound's Pisan Cantos.” Textual Practice 24.4 (2010): 669-705. Print.
  5. “Pisa.” Ezra Pound in Context. Ed. Ira Nadel. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010: 261-73. Print.
  6. “Ezra Pound’s Fascist ‘Europa’: Toward the Pisan Cantos.” Europa! Europa? The Avant-Garde, Modernism and the Fate of a Continent.Berlin: De Gruyter, 2009. 210-28. Print.
  7.  “Poetic Metamorphosis: Ezra Pound’sPisan Cantos and Prison Poetry.” Rivista di Letterature d'America XXIX.126-7 (2009): 37-60. Print.
  8. “Art Versus the Descent of the Iconoclasts: Cultural Memory in Ezra Pound’s Pisan Cantos.” Modernism/modernity 14.1 (2007): 71-95. Print.
  9. “Pound, Emerson, and Thoreau: The Pisan Cantos and the Politics of American Pastoral.” Paideuma: Studies in American and British Modernist Poetry 34.2-3 (2005): 271-92. Print.
  10. “The Expatriate in Extremis: Caterina Sforza, Fascism, and Ezra Pound’s Pisan Cantos.” Rivista di Letterature d'America XXV.108-9 (2005): 27-43. Print.
  11. “The Pisan Cantos.” The Ezra Pound Encyclopedia. Eds. Stephen J. Adams and Demetres P. Tryphonopoulos. New York: Greenwood Press, 2005. 41-43. Print. 
  12. “The Pisan Cantos.” The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature. Ed. Jay Parini. Vol. III. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. 415-18. Print.
  13. “Confucius Erased: The Missing Ideograms in The Pisan Cantos.” Pound and China. Ed. Zhaoming Qian. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003. 163-92. Print.
  14. “Towards Pisa: Ezra Pound’s Roman ‘Emperors’.” Rivista di Letterature d'AmericaXXIII.98-99 (2003): 135-59Print.
  15. “Remaking Canto 74.” Paideuma: Studies in American and British Modernist Poetry 32.1-3 (2003): 157-86. Print.
  16. “Science, Epistemology, and Literature in Ezra Pound’s Objectivist Poetics (With a Glance at The New Physics, Louis Zukofsky, Aristotle, Neural Network Theory, and Sir Philip Sidney).” Literary Imagination 4.2 (2002): 191-210.
  17. “Late Cantos LXXII-CXVII.” The Cambridge Companion to Ezra PoundEd. Ira Nadel. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999. 109-138. Print.
  18. “‘Quiet, not scornful’?: the Composition of The Pisan Cantos,” in A Poem Containing History: Textual Studies in The Cantos. Ed. Lawrence Rainey. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997. 169-212. Print.
  19. “Towards Pisa: More from the Archives about Pound's Italian Cantos,” Agenda 34.3/4 (1996/7): 89-124. Print.
  20. “Modernism, Fascism, and the Composition of Ezra Pound's Pisan Cantos.” Modernism/modernity 2.3 (1995): 69-87. Print.
  21. “Excavating the Ideological Faultlines of Modernism: Editing Ezra Pound's Cantos.” Representing Modernist Texts: Editing as Interpretation. Ed. George Bornstein. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1991. 67-98. Print.