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This review is taken from PN Review 108, Volume 22 Number 4, March - April 1996.

IMAGES AND RIDDLES Sons of Ezra: British Poets and Ezra Pound Edited by Michael Alexander and James McGonigal (Rodopi)

In an age of canons and top-ten favourites, uncertainty can easily doom a figure to oblivion. Ezra Pound runs the greatest risk of this. His shadow over twentieth-century poetry is not that of a leader as much as a feared and unknown enemy. Eliot may have pronounced him the motivating force behind modern poetry, but most of the contributors to this book pay witness to the way he was thoroughly ostracised by the literary establishment. Through media reports of his trial in 1946, Roy Fisher's first impression was of a man both in name and nature, 'an outlandish crank, a shabby charlatan'. Tomlinson remembers how 'for all Cambridge knew Pound may never have existed'. Michael Alexander recalls how even as late as 1960s Oxford, 'it was not safe to mention Pound's name in the museum', not because of his fascism but because of his literary eccentricity.

The first difficulty of Pound's reception is ethical. The anxiety of his influence extends 'to the notion of discipleship implied in the learning of a craft, and to the judgement which may be revealed in the choice of a master'. For Edwin Morgan it made Pound 'the most problematic of poets'. The qUickest resolution of this dilemma is to throw Wilde's maxim at it: 'There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all.' This was certainly Davie's position. But if some poets and readers can detach ethics from ...


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