Not a Pound Cake

February 25, 2012

“His chief enemies were literary language, poetic inversion of word order, and adjectives.” wrote Paul L. Montgomery in his 1972 New York Times’ obituary of Ezra Weston Loomis Pound. Montgomery was describing the poet in 1910, before his fascist turn, when we could still approve of him more or less unmitigatedly.

My experience with Ezra Pound is very superficial. I first knew of him through T. S. Eliot‘s dedication, “il miglior fabbro”. One night while procrastinating at Green Apple Books, I purchased some nicely covered, roughly illustrated collection of Pound for my father, who has a penchant for reciting the beginning of The Wasteland every now and again. This was not the most successful gift, but was how I learned of the poet’s political leanings.

We could batter Ezra Pound with a whole slew of adjectives. In brief, I do not like him but I am awfully grateful for his existence.

If only, one might muse, he hadn’t lived quite so long. Mr. Pound circa 1920, he wasn’t so bad. Let’s invite that man, the one who demanded writing stripped of rhetoric, for the simplest of cakes. Pound cake.

Except this one isn’t.

If I had made a pound cake, I would have combined a pound of butter, sugar, flour, and eggs. Such a recipe is certainly in line with Pound’s principle: “2. To use no word that does not contribute to the presentation.” There is nothing superfluous in a real pound cake. No hidden rising agents or flavor enhancers. On the other hand, pound cakes are (surprise, surprise) notoriously dense and heavy.

This cake has salt, baking powder, milk, and vanilla too. It also has changed the memorable ratio. In following with the first principle–“1. Direct treatment of the ‘thing’ whether subjective or objective”–this cake will henceforth be called “cake”. You will notice it is topped with frosting.

So Ezra Pound came round for cake. Or maybe not. The truth is, I do not want to meet Ezra Pound, not even in his prime. They say he was a great seducer of women. What if he tried something, or worse, what if he didn’t? Better to send a slice by post and get to know Pound through his poems. This is the only one I’ve read, and I only read it yesterday.

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;

Petals on a wet, black bough.

(1913)

P.S. Of the fascists more commonly taught in university, I’d rather read Pound than Heidegger any day.