Imagism: Essays on its Initiation, Impact and Influence.

Eds. John Gery, Daniel Kempton, and H. R. Stoneback. U of New Orleans P, 2013.


by David Ewick






     My initial reaction to hearing of a new collection of essays on Imagism was a question: do we really need another book on it? In one of this volume’s very few demonstrably wrong contentions, the editors write in the Foreword that Imagism has been “little studied” (xii). This invites a contrarian footnote.1 Imagism: Essays on its Initiation, Impact and Influence, nonetheless, has answered the question in the affirmative. The volume, which has as its origin a 2010 conference on Imagism, is smart, nuanced, and lively. I cannot name many collections of academic essays which were a joy to have read closely, but this one falls into the category. Any serious student of Imagism or of Pound should read it, and it will be of interest also to students more generally of the literary and cultural history of Anglophone modernism.

     Helen Carr’s Introduction, “Imagism: A Hundred Years On,” provides sound contextualization, and to Carr’s credit she does not simply dust off analyses from her Verse Revolutionaries of 2009, the work which, as the editors rightly note in the Foreword, “has become, and will be for the foreseeable future, the definitive critical history of the Imagist poets” (xiii). Carr’s Introduction, in fact, is a welcome extension of her earlier work. In Verse Revolutionaries she largely avoided rumblings which have been discernable at least since Donald Davie wrote in 1952 that “the development from imagism in poetry to fascism in politics is clear and unbroken” (99). In Verse Revolutionaries Carr noted and briefly responded to “some [unnamed] critics” who have seen “modernism as proto-Fascist from the start,” but this came in the final paragraph of 880 pages of text.Here Carr picks up the thread from that paragraph and turns directly to Davie and also, more importantly, I think, to Daniel Tiffany, whose 1995 Radio Corpse: Imagism and the Cryptaesthetic of Ezra Pound echoes Davie and others but in a practiced contemporary idiom, reading Pound’s “image” as a “‘radiant’” “cadaver” or “corpse” which “becomes the voice of fascism” (21, 228). I was glad to see Carr engage in this way, even if she does tread softly. She argues that Imagism, “conceived on the eve of four dark decades of western history” is “surely rather a critique of what led to those terrible years than a prefiguration.” In “its reach of influences and sources,” Carr writes, Imagism “implicitly rejected nineteenth-century nationalism, imperialism, and the belief in the superiority of western modernity” (5). Emphasizing particularly the “Far Eastern sources” of Imagism, Carr finds that the degree to which the Imagist poets turned to translation, or at least “the reworking of . . . poems” from languages other than English, in effect made Imagism “imaginatively internationalist” (6). This is a point with which it is impossible responsibly to disagree, however one chooses to read, or not to read, for example, Tiffany.

      Christos Hadjiyiannis’s “Ezra Pound, T. E. Hulme, Edward Storer: Imagism as Anti-Romanticism in the Pre-Des Imagistes Era,” which opens section I, “Initiation,” is the thorniest of the essays in the volume, but largely because of contradictions inherent in the subjects Hadjiyiannis addresses. Gery writes later in the collection that Hulme “was an unhesitating proponent of sometimes contradictory principles” (112), and these are in evidence in Hadjiyiannis’s reading of the central texts of Hulme and Storer’s proto-Imagism, particularly in the links both Hulme and Storer made between politics and poetics. Hadjiyiannis shows that Hulme and Storer were both passionately opposed to what they called “Romantic” politics, by which they meant liberalism and socialism, “terms [they] used interchangeably” (22), and that from this political position, both advocated a radically anti-Romantic poetics. Hadjiyiannis is clear on the nature of the “ideological rejection of Liberal England” (18) in Hulme and Storer’s political writing, and he is careful not explicitly to conflate Hulme and Storer’s politics with Pound, limiting positive claims to echoes in Pound’s anti-Romantic poetics. Hadjiyiannis’s essay does not answer once and for all how Storer, for example, got from “a political Monstrosity like Socialism” (qtd. 22) to the “monstrosities of rhythm or rhyme” (qtd. 21), but it does in clear terms demonstrate that political views of the sort Carr called a “seedbed of later totalitarianism” were part of the early stirrings of what would come to be Imagism, and along with many other works raises interesting questions about the relation of anti-liberal politics and modernist poetics.

     In “Editorial Images: Des Imagistes and Ezra Pound’s Imagist Presentation of Imagism,” Justin Kishbaugh refines and extends John G. Nichols’s 2006 discussion of the ways Pound’s editorial decisions in arranging the poems of Des Imagistes represent in themselves, by example, a “poetic manifesto” (Nichols 177). Kishbaugh reads past Nichols, though, and offers a more nuanced analysis of the point. Nichols, drawing heavily on John Gage, had found that Pound arranged the poems “by their thematic and stylistic qualities” so that, for example, “poems imitating classical or Asian verse traditions are grouped together.” But where Nichols found in this juxtaposition a “clashing of traditions” (177), Kishbaugh argues that “Pound’s editorial strategies … were both more involved and intricate” than simply arranging poems according to their geographic or temporal affiliations (31-32). Kishbaugh finds in the end that the arrangement of poems in Des Imagistes “obliquely acknowledges the origins of and influences on Imagism, both ancient and modern … to demonstrate that … Imagism operates as a confluence of . . . poetic techniques,” to such a degree that “even prior to its … name change” Pound’s “concept of Imagist practice already existed as a ‘Vortex’” (41-42).

     Anderson D. Araujo in “‘I cling to the spar’: Imagism in Ezra Pound’s Vortex,” following closely on Kishbaugh’s closing observation, tracks the interstices between Pound’s Imagism and Vorticism. Araujo argues that Pound’s affiliation with Vorticism “was informed by a strong residual Imagism, which he would never quite let go of” (47). The essay closely reads Pound’s poems in both issues of Blast and also the “Vorticist Manifesto” to argue that Pound did not “‘surrender’ his … artistic identity to the trans-aesthetic of the Vorticist brand” or “cast off the poetic primacy that Imagism afforded.” Instead, “his Imagist phase … evolved” and found “a local habitation and … name in Vorticism,” to such a degree that by way of Pound “Vorticist heterodoxy in the arts assimilated the prosodic tenets of Imagism” (51).

     In “Image, Vortex, Radiant Node: Ezra Pound as Lens,” Shelley Puhak begins with the observation that the Imagist poets “were born during an era of optimistic belief in the power of science and an unprecedented interest in artificial lenses such as the microscope and telescope” (63), and from this sets forth a case that Pound “was so struck” by these “that he began to see himself as functioning as one of these lenses” (64). Puhak shows that from 1909 forward, the idiom of science frequently began to enter Pound’s critical writing, and her reading of poems from Pound’s verse of the period shows that his sense of poet-as-lens “emerges in his Imagist poems and grows increasingly sophisticated in his Vorticist poems” (64). Following this, Puhak carries the line of argument through to the emergence of Pound’s much-discussed concept of the “radiant node.” Drawing primarily but not only upon a 1928 essay on Cavalcanti in which Pound equates the “radiant node” with “a world of moving energies … magnetisms that take form, that are seen, or that border on the visible” (“Cavalcanti” 154), Puhak allies the “radiant node” with the high-powered lens of her reading and by way of this tracks Pound as poet-as-lens through late Cantos, particularly 91, 93, 106, and 116 (73).

     Opening section II, “Impact,” Alex Shakespeare’s “‘Poetry Which Moves By Its Music’: Keeping Time with Pound’s Imagism” adds to the growing list of works on the degree to which Pound’s interests in music intersect with his poetics, the tempos and rhythms of the former echoing in the latter. Anticipating Gery’s essay later in the collection, Shakespeare turns to the discussion of Pound’s “technical triumvirate” of melopoeia, “imagism” (i.e., phanopoeia), and logopoeia, as outlined in Instigations,2 drawing attention particularly to melopoeia, which in Instigations Pound defines as “poetry which’ moves by its music, whether it be a music in the words or an aptitude for, or suggestion of, accompanying music” (234). Anticipating H. R. Stoneback’s “Afterword,” Shakespeare discusses the importance of singing for Pound, in reference particularly to Yeats, Florence Farr, and Arnold Dolmetsch (80), carrying the argument through to the suggestion that Pound’s poem “The Return” (Ripostes 53-54) “effectively anticipates Pound’s future in The Cantos,” the “music” of which signals “a … revolution of how a poem sings”(88).

     “Imagism vs. Impressionism: Ezra Pound and Ford Madox Ford,” by Max Saunders, author of what is and for many years will remain the definitive biography of Ford, is a sharp reading of the degree to which the “improbable Imagist” Ford’s “relation to Imagism is best understood in terms of a productive conflict between the ideas of Imagism and the Impressionism with which Ford came to identify himself” (94), and also the degree to which Pound, by way of Ford, came to revise his own understanding of Impressionism. Pound’s early “critique” of Impressionism, Saunders writes, found it “too visual, too superficial, too relaxed and discursive, and too passive” (96), and from this Saunders argues that Pound’s “recurrent” early criticisms of Ford’s Impressionism are off the mark, particularly in relation to The Good Soldier (98-99). Saunders demonstrates that eventually, at “around the moment of Imagism,” Pound began “relaxing his strictures against what he had diagnosed as ‘the flaw of impressionism,’” both “allow[ing] a place for the kind of visual verse he thinks Impressionism conduces to” and “distinguishing Fordian Impressionism from more problematic versions” (99). Saunders shows that among Pound’s well-known debts to Ford may be included helping to “define … Imagist or Vorticist poetics” in relation to Impressionism (101). The essay closes with the well-earned observation that while literary Impressionism has faded from contemporary critical discourse, it “was … much on Pound’s mind in these years of … aesthetic and literary ferment,” and “for Pound and Ford … continued to be the term through which or against which their poetics were defined” (103).

     John Gery’s “‘Radiance to the White Wax’: The Imagist Contradiction between Logopoeia and Phanopoeia” is the most recondite essay in the collection. I do not intend this as criticism. Pound called Noh “recondite” just after he called it “unquestionably one of the great arts of the world” (“Classical Stage” 201; “Noh” 4). Gery’s “‘Radiance’” also is the essay here which most fully opens possibilities for a rethinking of Pound’s poetics, by way of the 1929 essay “How to Read.” Gery’s insight is that if we read backwards from “How to Read,” in which Pound returns to his conceptions of melopoeia, logopoeia, and phanopoeia (25-26), through to the “original” three “rules” of Imagism (Flint 199), the former may be grafted onto the latter with interesting results. In Gery’s reading, “How to Read” “recasts Imagism” (110), and while I cannot help noting that “How to Read” does not in fact mention Imagism and contains only one reference to “images” (25), Gery’s reading of “How to Read” as a retrospective recasting of Imagist principle and practice is smart. His point is that Pound’s discussion of phanopoeia, logopoeia, and melopoeia may be seen as existing in a symbiotic relation with the three guiding principles of Imagism, “[d]irect treatment of the ‘thing,’ whether subjective or objective” (in relation with phanopoeia), “[t]o use absolutely no word that [does] not contribute to the presentation” (read here in counter-relation with logopoeia), and “[a]s regarding rhythm: to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not . . . of a metronome” (melopoeia). This alone would make for an engaging essay, but Gery follows through with close readings of three poems which allow him to argue that the three “kinds of poetry” in “How to Read” uncover a contradiction in the three Imagist principles, specifically that logopoeia turns back on “to use no word that does not contribute to the presentation” in a way which sets it in a contradictory relation with phanopoeia, “direct treatment of the thing.” The essay is a convincing presentation of the point that “the Imagist aesthetic” has at its heart a “contradiction between perception and cognition” (110), or “sensation and sense” (118) or, in lines from Canto 110 which frame Gery’s argument, the “marble form in the pine wood, / The shrine seen and not seen” (118, Cantos 110/801).

     J. T. Welsch’s “The Formalistic Grounds for William Carlos Williams’s Critique of Imagism” is a straightforward reading of the ways Williams retrospectively distanced himself from Imagism. Welsch begins by noting that the “deceptively unadorned images” of early Williams poems “often are introduced to new readers as straightforward examples of Imagism,” but “beyond his loose affiliation and inclusion in the first Imagist anthology … Williams’s own opinion of the movement was increasingly negative” (123). Welsch traces three “historical points” which characterize Williams’s relation with Imagism. First came his “commitment to ‘orthodox’ Imagism” by way of Pound’s “poetic, philosophical, and personal influence on him” (124). Next came his association with “the Others group” in New York, which brought Williams into contact with the artists associated with Alfred Kreymborg’s circle. Welsh follows several writers, including Williams himself, in placing the 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art, colloquially known as “The Armory Show,” as central to Williams’s awakening to the visual arts, and positions the decade after the Armory Show “as a time of … fundamental changes in Williams’s poetic practice and thinking about art generally,” which culminated in what Welsch calls, in reference to Spring and All of 1923, “the first full articulation of Williams’s post-Imagist cubist-inflected principles” (126). The next major turning Welsch notes comes years later yet, in the thirties and beyond, in Williams’s affiliation with the Objectivist poets, by way of which, “with self-assured hindsight,” Williams was able to announce in 1941 that “Imagism ‘lost its place finally because as a form it completely lacked structural necessity’” (qtd. 127). Welsch closes with well-formulated thoughts about Williams’s Objectivist “concept of structure as the foundation of [a] poem’s very existence” (127-30), which “articulate[s a] revealing and legitimate response” to the “stated principles of Pound’s Imagism” (130).

      Section III of Imagism, “Influence,” is the least satisfying of the sections, although this is not because the essays by Brad McDuffie and Roy Verspoor on Pound’s influence on Hemingway or Ian S. MacNiven on James Laughlin’s Pound- and Williams-inflected Imagism are not in themselves insightful and responsible. One cannot expect a collection of essays on Imagism to be comprehensive on a subject as rich as its later influence, but the influence of Pound and his Imagism is so much deeper and more widely-dispersed than what we have here that surely, despite all good intentions, two essays on Hemingway and one on Laughlin invite attention to much else which is not here.

      McDuffie, looking primarily at Hemingway’s In Our Time, and Verspoor, considering Hemingway’s parodic and “purposefully horrendous” (150) Torrents of Spring, demonstrate that “Pound’s Imagist poetics shaped Hemingway’s writing both stylistically and … thematically,” as McDuffie puts it (137), or, in Verspoor’s terms, that “Hemingway’s parody shows how useful the propositions of Imagism can be by illustrating how disastrous fiction can become when they are ignored” (155). Both essays are intelligent in their exposition, and both include marvellous quotes from Hemingway, which remind of his unstinting support of Pound and his generosity in demonstrating it in print.

      MacNiven in addition to the essay here is author of a new biography of Laughlin, as indeed the new 1,200 page Collected Poems of James Laughlin appeared late in 2014, Laughlin’s centennial year. MacNiven notes that “[w]hen a person’s poetic lineage begins with … Pound and … Williams, and that person goes on to produce a Collected Poems … that will run to 1,200 pages, it should come as no surprise that many traces of the Imagism in verse practiced early on by both Pound and Williams will appear in the work of their acolyte” (157). From this MacNiven demonstrates a shift in Laughlin’s verse after he “had enrolled at the Ezuversity” and learnt “by imitation” and from “Pound’s stabbing pencil” (159-60). In the end MacNiven finds in Laughlin’s later verse an idiosyncratic Imagism which combines “concrete image patterns after Williams; innovation and message after Pound; [and] conversational speech patterns echoing Eliot, Pound, and Williams” (165).

      In his Afterword, “On Imagism & Hymnagism: Singing Hymns with Ezra Pound in Indiana and Robert Winter in China,” H. R. Stoneback closes the collection by proposing to “offer … small additions and corrections to the historical record … primarily through anecdote” (170), which he does. The “Afterword” is admirable for its amiable informality, the “Crawfordsville gossip” picked up in 1959 from a Hoosier girlfriend about Pound’s tenure at Wabash College, and most of all for its introduction of the charming Robert Winter, Pound’s student from the banks of the Wabash whom, as the story goes, Pound in 1908 sent off to China. He was never to return: in 1984, when Winter was ninety-five, the young(ish) Stoneback met, sang with, and discussed Pound with him in China (172-77). Stoneback’s “Afterword” is admirable also for its jovial correction of errors in earlier critical writing on Pound, no small matter, either the corrections or the joviality in making them.









The collective strengths of the volume are many. First among them is the degree to which it positions Pound decisively at its center, which is as it should be. Amy Lowell may have won the battle of 1914 but the victory is Pound’s in 2014.3 Each of the thirteen essays has Pound at or near its heart, and several provide compelling new readings of Pound’s work itself. Kishbaugh, Araujo, Puhak, Shakespeare, and especially Gery address in clear terms the ways Pound’s Imagism opens directly into his later work, Puhak, Shakespeare, and Gery in particular by demonstrating the degree to which Pound’s Imagism may be seen as informing The Cantos. Puhak’s reading of the “radiant node” as related to the light which passes through a lens, as noted above, carries it into The Cantos. Shakespeare finds that the element of time Pound found in “the ancient musicians” is intrinsic to “the eternal oneness inherent in human expression [which] rules over time travel in The Cantos” (84). And Gery’s essay both begins and ends with thoughtful lines about Imagism opening into The Cantos. “Just glancing through The Cantos . . .reveals how Pound’s brief but intense engagement with the Imagist aesthetic remained with him for the rest of his life,” Gery writes in his opening sentence (109), and implications of this opening line are a subtle preoccupation through the whole of the fine essay.

     A second major collective strength of the volume is that with one exception to which I shall turn below it is refreshingly free of appeals to authority in preference to reading primary sources, the work of Pound himself, for example. This is rarer than is ordinarily supposed. In a sense, the subject of the collection itself necessitates the point. One cannot rely on appeals to Hugh Kenner, for example, if one wants to claim much for Imagism in general. “The history of Imagism is a red herring,” Kenner wrote in The Poetry of Ezra Pound in 1951 (58), and by The Pound Era of 1971 nothing much had changed. The latter contains a chapter entitled “Imagism” which gives away several of its best Kennerian lines on the first page, beginning with its clever three-word opening paragraph: “A divagation here.” This is followed by the “enigmatic stone called ‘Imagism’” which “created and continues to create its distracting turbulence” and which “made Imagism seem to occupy Pound’s mind much longer than it did” (173). Kenner places the end of Imagism for Pound in mid-1913, when he sent the Des Imagistes manuscript to Kreymborg in New York. Beyond this, we have the obligatory reference to “the Japanese hokku” and those petals on that bough already piled very high (184-85), and then further volleys through to the closing shot:

     A Movement in part defines one’s company, and Imagism, invented to launch H. D., soon entailed negotiating with dim and petulant people: Fletcher, say, or Flint, or Aldington, and eventually Miss Lowell. It is folly to pretend, in the way of historians with books to fill, that they were of Pound’s stature. Vorticism implied his alliance with his own kind: Gaudier, Lewis. (191)

     But the Wizard of Ez was not right about everything. My point is not only that four contributors to the collection directly question Kenner, Carr gently (2), Araujo pointedly (47), Shakespeare cautiously (83, 87, 89n), and Stoneback with a wink (169), or that these and other contributors challenge other determiners of the secondary discourse about Pound. A second and related part of the point is that the collection in general, with few exceptions, spares its readers a tiresome parade of “as A has shown,” “as B observes,” “as C points out,” “as D has argued,” “as E concludes,” and also that this avoidance directly points to a third major collective strength of the volume.

     From beginning to end, the collection turns to close reading both of central and non-canonical texts which illuminate the nature of the initiation, impact, and influence of Imagism, sometimes in surprising ways. I am thinking particularly of Hadjiyiannis not only on Hulme’s relatively well known essays and Storer’s “Essay” appended to Mirrors of Illusion, but also the reading of the hardly-known-at-all political articles which both Hulme and Storer contributed to the conservative weekly Commentator in 1911 and 1912; also Kishbaugh’s careful attention to Des Imagistes; also Araujo on seldom-discussed poems in the 1915 “War Issue” of Blast; also Puhak not only on lesser-studied poems by H. D. and Pound but also on all-but-forgotten scientific works of the nineteenth century which were in the air as H. D. and Pound were writing them; also Saunders in understated mastery of every word either Pound or Ford wrote on Impressionism; also Gery on “How to Read” and then reading it in retrograde back at Pound’s Imagist principles; also Welsch on the whole of Williams. I have left out some in this list of particularities, but every essay in the collection reads carefully a text or set of texts which in other hands would have been passed off to the authority of the authorities, either reproducing the already-written or, in some cases, anyway, leaving that-which-would-illuminate unmentioned and unread at all.






The only exception is the only collective weakness of the volume visible from any position I am able to adopt. It is not specific to this collection, but I cannot not notice it. Like many other works which address Imagism after 1951, this one includes many references to influences “Eastern” or “Oriental” or “Asian” or “Japanese,” scare quotes around those last two because in this context they are as much reifications as the others. The appeals to authority in this case are not conscious. No authority is named or known as their source. But as in dozens of previous works which address Imagism or Pound or both, they reproduce erroneous orthodoxy and badly misread, or fail to read at all, Pound himself.

     One way to frame the point is strictly in quantitative terms. “Asian poetics” is listed as an index sub-entry under both “Imagism(e)” and “Pound,” thirteen pages for the former, five for the latter. But what Asia, and what poetics? Ernest Fenollosa is mentioned on one page, Cathay on two. Kishbaugh has read closely enough to know that two of Pound’s poems in Des Imagistes are reworkings of poems Herbert Giles translated in the History of Chinese Literature, and in his analysis of the arrangement of poems in the anthology, Kishbaugh notes Allen Upward’s “Scented Leaves from a Chinese Jar,” which Pound included in it. In another essay may be found passing but apparently confident reference to “the Chinese Taoist philosopher, So-Shu” (55), without note that “So-shu” is a presence in Canto 2 (6, 9) or that “So-shu” is a confused Japanese reading of a probably-Chinese name which in Chinese would be unrecognizable as “So-shu,” like a reference to Helmut Kohl as “former-Chancellor Cabbage-head” except that in the absence of the Chinese characters it is less fathomable even than that. So-shu in Canto 2 is obscure enough to have set off an acrimonious spat among Pound scholars which between Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies and Paideuma lasted twenty-eight years and never was resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.4 Beyond this, the only references to China or anything Chinese are in Stoneback’s “Afterword” in reference to Stoneback actually having lived in China. Nowhere in the book is mentioned “The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry.”

     Pound’s attempts to publish “CWC” were a comedy of errors which spanned nearly five years,5 but the manuscript was in his hands by midsummer 1914. By January 1915 he had written that it was “a study of the fundamentals of all aesthetics.” By 20 February, nearly two years after Kenner has Pound quitting Imagism and nine months after “The Vorticist Manifesto,” Pound calls upon “CWC” in a feisty defense of Imagism in which he writes that what “we” have been doing is “s[eeking] the force of Chinese ideographs without knowing it” (italics Pound’s), and “English, being the … least inflected of the European languages, is precisely the one … best suited to render the force and concision of the uninflected Chinese” (“Imagisme and England” 185). If anything Pound wrote after this date may be called “Imagist,” “CWC” is a part of the equation.

     As for Japan—and one may turn to Japan so quickly because nothing else Asian is mentioned save a passing reference to Tagore singing—the source of the “Asian poetics” becomes clear. Six of the thirteen essays call attention to an influence on Imagism from “haiku,” a seventh, quoting Pound, from “hokku.” The latter term, the one Pound used, for the record, if we are to assume any real Japanese tradition or even any real Japan, is the correct one, although with few exceptions hokku was not considered a poem on its own until the nineteenth century. Before that by definition it was a complex part of something larger. Three of the contributors quote the Metro poem in full, a fourth half of it, each noting its relation to haiku. That’s it for Japan but for an accidental reference to Noh, by McDuffie calling attention to something else, in a quote from Pound.

     The final count in my quantitative analysis, then, is lopsided: haiku / hokku = 21; direct suggestions of Eastern, Asian, or Oriental influence on Imagism without specific reference to haiku = 14; anything Chinese other than Stoneback having lived there = 4 (3 descriptive in Kishbaugh + “So-Shu” = no relation to poetics); anything Japanese other than haiku / hokku = Noh = 1; Fenollosa = 1; anything else remotely related to Asia = 1 (Tagore singing).

     This is not as it should be. “Haiku” is a term not commonly used in Japanese until it became something allegedly central to Japanese tradition, which was written about a lot in English and then became something written about a lot in Japanese. Whatever is meant by “haiku” in English, if it has anything to do with Japanese tradition, is roughly the equivalent in Japanese of a couplet ripped out of context from an Elizabethan sonnet. Or a limerick in Chinese. Metrical verse as understood in English is not representable in Japanese or Chinese. The languages do not work that way. Some English speakers have little trouble understanding this, but the coordinate point of a poetics moving in the opposite direction, something not representable in English, seems to cause confusion. Kakekotoba, for example, the “pivot word” as Donald Keene translated it, a central feature of classical Japanese verse, including hokku, is not representable in English. The homophonic word-play possible in Japanese upon which it depends is not possible in English. The best try I know was by Keene himself struggling to represent it by “crude example” in Japanese Literature: An Introduction for Western Readers (4-5). If you look there you might see what I mean. Pound was aware of this sort of thing. He called it logopoeia. It “does not translate” (‘How to Read’ 26).

      The reasons that an iamb, a central feature of verse in the English tradition, is not representable in Japanese, and that kakekotoba, a central feature of verse in the Japanese tradition, is not representable in English, differ somewhat, although both have to do with the fact that languages do not, in Pound’s terms, melopoeaically or logopoeiacally overlap. Pound understood this early on, but his terms for describing it did not emerge until after his work with Fenollosa’s manuscripts. Metrical verse as understood in English is impossible in Japanese or Chinese, because of, in Pound’s terms, melopoeaic differences in languages. Japanese and Chinese have no stress accent. An English metrical foot is impossible except in some clumsy way which in an attempt to represent it would invoke confusion or laughter or both, like Keene’s explanation of kakekotoba. Kakekotoba is impossible in English because of logopoeiac differences. Japanese has hundreds of homophones for every two in English, and this opens the way to play upon them which only vaguely can be imagined in English.

      Plays on tone patterns in Chinese or the kakekotoba of Japanese are what Pound calls, in regard to logopoeia, “poetry that is akin to nothing but language which is a dance of the intelligence among words and ideas and modifications of ideas and characters” (Instigations 234), an “ironical play” which “holds the aesthetic content which is peculiarly the domain of verbal manifestation” (“How to Read” 26). No better definition in English yet. Japanese and English do not dance in the same way. The play of the intelligence among words is not a difference of degree but of kind. The genomes of the languages are not coordinate. A tenuous grasp of hokku in translation helped Pound arrive at the Metro poem, no denying that, but it was nothing close to the most important of Pound’s debts to Japanese tradition, in the Imagist period or any other. “Haiku” in English, unless part of something larger, a series, say, as in Muldoon, for example, making something dance in the ways that English can dance, ordinarily is a signifier which functions to make the writing of small poems easy for someone who knows what a concrete noun is and has a passing grasp of the relational field of the colon or dash.

     A further point is that the dance and music of traditional Japanese and Chinese verse are allusive in a way which is practically irreproducible in English. The best modern scholarly translations sometimes try to handle it with explanatory footnotes, but they fail and know it and admit it. A simple way to put the point is that much of the most delightful play in Bashō’s Oku no hosomichi, for example, and a haibun, for the record, simply is not recognizable without identifying first its joyous dancing and singing along with Saigyō, who died 454 years before Bashō was born. Collapsing this richness into “haiku” in English, seventeen easy phanopoeiaic syllables in a homophone-poor language, is a shame. It is also something for which Pound is not responsible. It is something which has been done and continues to be done by others, many of them invoking Pound’s name.

     We all know the primary-source origin of this lop-sidedness as well as we know the Metro poem without having someone quote it again. Pound used the word “hokku” exactly eight times in anything he ever wrote which has seen print, including the whole of the periodical publications and all the volumes of letters. Four of these references, the famous ones, are in the same essay, “Vorticism,” of September 1914. The first three span nine sentences on one page and the fourth is in a footnote about Noh. The essay was reprinted in Gaudier-Brzeska in 1916 and again in later collected editions but those four references and four later and lesser-known uses of the word, each in passing and not in reference to his own poetics,6 are the beginning and end of Pound’s “hokku.” Never once did he write the word “haiku.” And after “Vorticism” he did not use the collocation “super-position” again, while I’m at it, nor, to try at least to wound a couple of related sacred cows, does anything in Japanese verse tradition have anything whatever to do with Aristotle’s peripeteia, any more than the ideogram of “Chinese Written Character” “inheres in Aristotle on metaphor” (Kenner, Poetry 62-63, 76).

     At around the time Pound wrote the word “hokku” four times in one essay he was at work on Fenollosa’s Noh manuscripts. The first of these published was “Nishikigi” four months before “Vorticism,” May 1914—“the most beautiful verse ever produced by an American” Kenneth Rexroth called it years later in a letter to James Laughlin (87)—then “The Classical Drama of Japan,” October 1914, then “The Classical Stage of Japan,” May 1915, then emended and together with plays from other periodical publications and additional material these came together as “Noh” or Accomplishment: A Study of the Classical Stage of Japan, dated 1916 but printed in January 1917. It ends with twelve pages of musical notation, in introduction to which Pound correctly “doubts” that “Noh music can be rendered intelligibly by our notation” system (257). For those keeping count that’s four references in one essay of September 1914 and four fleeting reference elsewhere for “hokku” and just under three years and a book of 268 pages for Noh, followed by dozens of further references in critical articles and letters and explicit allusions woven through The Cantos, principal threads of the mythos of the fabric at Pisa, in Drafts and Fragments, and elsewhere. The years of the early Noh work coincide with the four Imagist anthologies and the birth of The Cantos. During those years Pound also wrote some Noh of his own and helped Yeats out of a rut he had been in about verse drama.

      Kenner wrote in The Poetry of Ezra Pound: “The Pisan Cantos are full of hokku” (63). It was the first time that more than passing note had been made of Pound’s “hokku.”7 Kenner mentions Noh in one passage there, in passing (222-23). In the “Introduction” to Pound’s Translations two years later, he found “traces of Yeats” in Pound’s Noh but otherwise had a “sense” that Pound had a “sense” that the Noh plays were “thin” and “exotic” (13-14). Fascinating deflection in the etymological field of that last adjective. No way to divagate to Aristotle. And in any case Pound already had set his sense of the Noh “form of perception” specifically against Aristotelian categories (“Affirmations VI” 19). In six hundred pages of The Pound Era Kenner gave one-and-a-half to the Metro poem and its derivation from hokku (184-85) and nine in passing short shrift to Noh. He did not have the slightest idea what Noh was, but this did not stop him finding that it was hardly worth notice.

     People who write about Pound have been chasing after hokku ever since, morphed into “haiku” somewhere along the way. They keep discovering it in the Metro poem, like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, and not reading Pound on what he gained from Japan and China. The repeated discovery of haiku has spiraled through to supersets of people who write about Imagism in general, or John Gould Fletcher, for example. Some Japanese scholars who write in English have made it a centerpiece of their career, bolstering the whole wrong thing with the authenticity of a Japanese voice. A slim line of counter-intelligence began in an essay by Myles Slatin in 1963 and in English has been carried forward and expanded by people reading Pound, Ronald Bush (Genesis 102-11; “‘Rhythm’”), James Longenbach (197-250), Wendy Flory (193-98), Akiko Miyake, Peter Stoicheff (96-122), Peter Nicholls, Akitoshi Nagahata, and most recently by young scholars such as Andrew Houwen, RékaMihálka, and Diego Pellecchia. But in the meantime, on the main thoroughfare, haiku, the real red herring of the story, keeps being discovered anew, a critical commonplace if ever one existed, ad nauseam, proof by repeated assertion, as it has been now for sixty-three years.

      To turn to Pound himself instead of what other people keep writing about what other people have written about him, if we look in a direction not already pointed at or to by Kenner six decades ago a number of texts present themselves. To choose among them those representing one line of textualised thought, not random because it is suggested by the subject of this book and is turned to directly by three of its contributors, what about a relation of Imagism and The Cantos? Pound himself never wrote exactly about that, using “image” and “Canto” or “Cantos” in the same sentence or paragraph or essay, but he did three times, no more and no less in anything which has seen print, directly link his concept of the image with the possibility of a long poem.8 Each is concurrent with the earliest unmistakable references in Pound’s letters to work having begun on The Cantos. Unless something new is discovered these are the only three things we have by Pound himself on the subject:

     1) September 1914: “I am often asked whether there can be a long imagiste or vorticist poem. The Japanese, who evolved the hokku, evolved also the Noh plays. In the best ‘Noh’ the whole play may consist of one image. I mean it is gathered about one image. Its unity consists in one image, enforced by movement and music. I see nothing against a long vorticist poem” (“Vorticism” 471).

      2) before February 1915: “I have been challenged as to whether ‘imagisme’ was ‘any good for anything save very short poems.’ Obviously the dogma that poetry should be as well written as prose applies to all poems regardless of length. Questioned as to ‘the image itself,’ I have been able to reply that the Japanese ‘Noh’ plays seem to me in many cases to be built ‘out of the image.’ That is to say their structure in many cases seems to me to be built from a single image, or from two or three images in dramatic relation. And the image, or the succession of images in relation, is in each case reinforced by the metric of the Noh speech, by the line of the movements and of the dancing” (“Affirmations VI” 17).

     3) May 1915, on “Unity of Image” in Suma Genji: “This intensification of the Image, the manner of construction, is very interesting to me personally, as an Imagiste, for we Imagistes knew nothing of these plays when we set out in our own manner. These plays are … an answer to a question that has several times been put to me: ‘Could one do a long Imagiste poem, or even a long poem in vers libre?’” (“Classical Stage” 224; “Noh” 45).

      Numerous other primary texts could be rolled out here to bolster the point but I’ll let those stand. If anyone finds another substantive word Pound wrote on hokku let me know and I’ll issue a public apology, but until that happens I would like to call a moratorium on haiku-chasing, and for goodness’s sake enough about haiku and the Metro poem. Everybody knows that already. A dim undergraduate who could not distinguish another two lines of modern verse from an avocado knows it.






I hope that I have not done disservice to this very good book by focusing at length on these issues. I would like to repeat and to extend the point that not only is the error not specific to this volume but that it is flatly worse in the same and many other ways in many other texts. It represents a general malaise in English literary criticism on “Japanese” subjects in English literature, and to a degree on “Asian” subjects in general, although in recent years some fine work has appeared on Pound and China, much but not all of it by Chinese scholars. Some explicators represent these and like errors with a glad dash of pomposity tossed in as a side-dish, but nothing close to pomposity here, only careful attempts to explicate, at worst a few unthinking reproductions of an ignorant old dust which inheres in the air, illiterate intertextuality, overdetermined from the start. The merits of the individual essays and the strengths of the collection as a whole outweigh shortcomings encompassed in the conceptual field of my sense of its one collective weakness.

      Two corrections in closing: Sturge Moore was fifteen, not “forty years Pound’s elder” (80); and the author of Modernism and the Museum, which includes scholarship as extensive, cultural history as detailed, and analyses as intelligent as any ever written about Imagism in its avant-garde contexts, including particularly Pound, in particular in relation to Asian subjects (103-63), is Rupert Richard Arrowsmith, not Richard Arrowsmith (11 Works Cited; 185). He is Rupert Arrowsmith in his forthcoming critical edition of William Empson’s long lost The Face of the Buddha.






I am grateful to Rupert Arrowsmith, Eiichi Hara, and Dorsey Kleitz for conversations written and spoken which have helped with this essay. Errors and indiscretions, of course, are mine.

1 Extensive critical study of Imagism precedes extensive critical study of Pound. The first book-length work on Imagism, by Glenn Hughes in 1931, would not be anyone’s starting point now, but it remains readable. In that year only one monograph, a thirty-one page pamphlet, had been produced on Pound, the originally-anonymous Ezra Pound: His Metric and Poetry of 1918, which of course turned out to have been written by T. S. Eliot, under Pound’s guidance. Twenty years later the second major critical study of Imagism appeared, Stanley Coffman’s Imagism: A Chapter for the History of Modern Poetry, 1951, and even then only two further monographs had been published on Pound. Alice Steiner Amdur’s The Poetry of Ezra Pound of 1936 was a sideshow in several ways. The other, the third monograph on Pound, published in the same year as Coffman’s Imagism, was Hugh Kenner’s The Poetry of Ezra Pound, the book which “got Pound listed on the academic stock exchange” as James Laughlin later put it (xii), and which opened the floodgates to Pound scholarship. But despite Kenner’s dismissal of the importance of Imagism to Pound, he was not able to close the gates on continued study of Imagism. The third major book followed in 1975, J. B. Harmer’s Victory in Limbo: A History of Imagism, 1908-1917, then John Gage’s In the Arresting Eye: The Rhetoric of Imagism in 1981, then Daniel Tiffany’s Radio Corpse: Imagism and the Cryptaesthetic of Ezra Pound in 1995, then Helen Carr’s Verse Revolutionaries: Ezra Pound, H. D. and the Imagists in 2009, then Andrew Thacker’s much slighter The Imagist Poets in 2011. Along the way have been other book-length studies of Imagism in relation to particular poets, many dozens of studies in dozens of journals and book chapters, more pre-1980 postgraduate theses from American university English departments than any other subject save Yeats’s debts to Noh—and until 1967 more of these on Imagism and Sandburg than Imagism and Pound—and post-1980 more than on any other subject save studies set in orbit by Edward Said’s Orientalism. The list of titles includes some which would play well on the comedy-club circuit, and in this way a part of the problem is exactly the opposite of Imagism having been “little studied.” In books from Hughes to, especially, Carr, and in many journal articles and book chapters along the way, though, Imagism often has been studied extraordinarily well. It is a subject rich enough that it may continue to be studied well, as the Gery, Kempton, and Stoneback volume itself demonstrates.

2 Pound’s melopoeia, phanopoeia, and logopoeia have a convoluted lineage. In the 1920 Instigations, the text to which Shakespeare primarily turns, Pound calls his three “sorts” of poetry melopoeia, imagism, and logopoeia. Phanopoeia is not mentioned, although Pound by then had published a poem under the title “Phanopoeia” in Little Review, November 1918. By 1929 in “How to Read,” the text to which Gery will turn later in the volume, Pound has replaced “imagism” with “phanopoeia.” A comparison of texts makes clear that the concept is the same, even though the terminology is not. In the ABC of Reading (1934) Pound explains the shift: “I have taken to using the term phanopoeia to get away from irrelevant particular connotations tangled with a particular group of young people who were writing in 1912” (52).

3 I almost feel sorry for Lowell. I may be nearly alone among people who study Pound in admiring some of her poetry. She has been much revived in recent years after years of obscurity, in new editions of selected poems, new critical studies, and new biographies, and some of those who have done the reviving revile Pound, but the interest has been occasioned more by her cigars and sexuality than her vers libre and poetic theories. In this volume she is mentioned several times in Carr’s Introduction, but in each case in gendered, not literary terms, and in passing by others. Only Carr mentions the title of one of her poems. No one quotes one.

4 For most of it see Achilles Fang, “Fenollosa and Pound,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 20 (1957): 213-38; Akiko Miyake, “A Note on So-shu,” Paideuma 6 (1977): 325-28; Eva Hesse, “New Light on Old Problems,” Paideuma 7 (1978): 179-83; Forrest Read, “‘When will they ever learn …’: So-Shu Again,” Paideuma 9 (1980): 327-28; and Michelle F. Cooper, “Ezra Pound and the Japanese Cosmogony,” Paideuma 14 (1985): 259-72. Terrell braves a stand in Companion vol. 1 (5), but read the entry to see the nature of the confusion. The best guesses of Chinese scholars seem to be that “So-shu” in Canto 2 probably is a corrupt Japanese reading of Zhuang Zhou (莊周), also known as Zhuangzi (莊子), who was indeed a 4th century BC Taoist philosopher. Araujo’s “So-Shu” is in reference to Pound’s poem “Ancient Wisdom” which appeared in Blast 2 (22), in which “So-Shu’s” dream of becoming a butterfly, according to several sources, has a corollary in a passage in the writing of Zhuang Zhou.

5 See my “Instigations of Ezra Pound by Ernest Fenollosa.”

6 “Remy de Gourmont” 419; “D’Artagnan Twenty Years After” 452; EP&J 113.

7 Two earlier critics, Taketomo and Schwartz, in all-but-forgotten periodical articles of 1920 and 1928, had made reference to a likeness between Pound’s Imagist verse and hokku, but their claims were far less grandiose and immeasurably less influential than Kenner’s. Among the most knowledgeable responses to such misunderstandings remains Kanaseki, who as early as 1967, and with considerable eloquence, already had grown weary of their repetition.

8 Some confusion on this point has entered the discussion, but three is the correct number.  Bush, citing Slatin, has Pound between September 1914 and April 1916 “five times suggest[ing] a connection between the Noh plays and his projected long poem” (Genesis 104), and this has been repeated several times. In fact it was four, the three I quote here, which explicitly bring Imagism into the equation, and a fourth which does not, a still unpublished letter Pound sent to Harriet Monroe early in 1916 in which he wrote that his long poem in progress would have “roughly the theme of [the Noh play] Takasago” (first qtd. in Slatin 186; for more on this see especially EP/ACH xxii-xxvii, 107-17, and Houwen). Bush’s extra fifth reference is understandable to anyone following the thread. It involves an April 1916 letter from Pound to his mother, quoted in Slatin, in which Pound wrote that he was “doing some ‘Noh’ of [his] own” (EP/P 367). For about twenty years this was taken by several critics, in the wider context not unreasonably, to be a reference to The Cantos. But then Donald Gallup found in the Pound Archive at Yale and in 1987 published Pound’s 1916 Plays Modelled on the Noh, which shifted the context of the 1916 letter. It was not a reference to early Cantos. Pound was doing some Noh of his own.


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