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This review is taken from PN Review 214, Volume 40 Number 2, November - December 2013.

Stale Creampuffs robert stark, Ezra Pound's Early Verse and Lyric Tradition: A Jargoner's Apprenticeship (Edinburgh University Press) £65.55

J.B. Priestley, in his book Literature and Western Man, criticised Ezra Pound for his tendency to 'collect savoury and rare ingredients, but then to ruin the dish because the heat of the oven, poetic feeling, is too low to cook it properly'. Critics defending Pound's legacy are just as apt to make a meal out of his poetry. Quick to reel off the usual list of herbs and spices (Cavalcanti, Villon, Dante and Arnaut Daniel), they are slow to realise that this sort of cookbook-criticism fails to account for our final taste of the poem. Recently, the trend has been to scribble over the names of those medieval writers with the names of Swinburne, Whitman and Rossetti. Although they have changed the recipe, we are no closer to knowing how to cook an Ezra Pound poem.

Robert Stark, in this study of Pound's early verse, makes a point of avoiding this 'inert list of ingredients'. 'What will be most apparent by the end of this study,' argues Stark, 'will be the fundamental opacity of all talk about sources and originals where Pound is concerned'. He therefore proceeds to tackle Pound's method, rather than his mentors. He focuses on language, or 'jargon' as Stark importantly differentiates, as the true source of inspiration not only for the early verse but for the long and warbling Cantos as well. Stark is not put off by Pound's own valuation of his earliest poetry as 'stale creampuffs'. He attempts to retrieve the vitals lurking ...


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