Louisville Conference for Literatures and Cultures after 1900

February 22-24, 2018

Panels organized by the Ezra Pound Society



Name of the panel: The Cantos of Ezra Pound: History and Culture East and West

Organized by Dr. Roxana Preda, U. of Edinburgh

Chair: Roxana Preda

C4 Friday 23 February: 9-10.30 Humanities 114.



The panel proposed here brings together Pound’s historical and anthropological interests and shows how they connect to his social and political concerns, as well as to the modernist poetics with which he experimented continuously while writing his major work, The Cantos. While in the cantos of the 1920s Pound focused on significant historical figures of the Italian Renaissance, toward the end of his career Pound became more interested in a poetic meeting ground between East and West by appealing to the Asian cultural and historical heritage; the poem is thus a network of analogies and contrasts between the cultural and political axes of two continents. In both these dimensions, he relied on an implicit combination of texts and works of art to present his concerns. The panel illuminates this global approach by relying on documentary photographic and video material.

Keeping the Peace: Borso d’Este as Role Model in The Cantos

John Gery, University of New Orleans


In Canto 17, one of the earlier Cantos which depicts Venice as a paradisal city integrating nature and art, Ezra Pound closes the Canto with an image of “the white forest of marble, bent bough over bough,/ The pleached arbour of stone” (17/79), followed by three figures he associates with Venice in less than paradisal ways – “Thither Borso, when they shot the barbed arrow at him,/ And Carmagnola, between the two columns,/ Sigismundo after that wreck in Dalmatia” – before the Canto ends an Imagist simile for the Venetian dusk, “Sunset like the grasshopper flying” (17/79). While it is evident that Canto 17 follows a Dantean order with Cantos 14 and 15 depicting the Inferno in the trenches of World War I and Canto 16 arriving “before hell mouth” at the “dry plain/ And two moutains” of Purgatorio (16/68), what is curious is why in his celebration of Venice Pound adds these three characters, or “men of craft” (17/78), who visited Venice but are not integral in its history. Of the latter two, Francesco Bussone da Carmagnola (ca 1385-1432), the condottiere from the Piemonte who initially served under Filippo Visconti (1392-1447), third Duke of Milan, in defense of Milan and Venice, is remembered for later being arrested for treason, then summarily decapitated in 1432 “between the two columns” on the Piazzetta at the entrance to St. Mark’s Square, the center of Venice. The third figure, Sigismondo Malatesta (1417-68), the notorious condottiere of Rimini and central figure in Cantos 8-11, Pound here recalls coming to Venice after allying himself with the Venetians, in the face of his having been condemned by Pope Pius II in 1463.

But why does Pound include Borso d’Este (1413-71), Lord of Ferrara (1450-71), among those participating in the Canto’s pageantry in tribute to Venetian beauty? Neither a warrior nor a condottiere, as a Renaissance personage, Borso was one of many illegitimate sons of NiccolòIII d’Este (1383-1441), Duke of Ferrara. To be sure Borso plays a prominent role not only in the Malatesta Cantos, but also in Cantos 20-24, where he appears as a Lord of Ferrara, Italian diplomat, and cultural administrator in the fifteenth century. Yet unlike his father Niccolò and his contemporary Malatesta, he never gets a full treatment in The Cantos but remains, at best, a secondary or a supporting figure. On the other hand, his persistent role as a negotiator, man of peace, and patron of the arts, may suggest something larger – that for Pound, in fact, he ultimately prevails as an advocate for the kind of peace, prosperity, cultural prominence, and individual integrity, even if he eventually failed. Especially as he is portrayed in the Schifanoia Frescoes, which Pound discovered in Ferrara in the 1920s while already writing The Cantos but the form of which he suggested to W.B. Yeats reflect the scheme of his epic poem, Borso can be seen as Pound envisions him. In tracing the figure of Borso, in the Malatesta Cantos, then in Cantos 20-27, and finally in brief references to the Schifanoia Frescoes in The Pisan Cantos, this paper will examine the evolving portrait of Borso as a consistent advocate for both peace and an integrated culture who, whether accurately presented from Ferraran history of not, comes to represent for Pound a significant counterpart to the more feisty, rambunctious Malatesta – not as a religious man, nor as an artistic hero, but as a civil leader of the sort Pound considered himself becoming during the Fascist era before the Second World War. So despite the attempt to assassinate him by arrow in Venice, Pound includes him among those who engage in the terrestrial paradise that motivates The Cantos.



These twelve murals in the Salone dei Mesi (Hall of the Months) that depict the months of the year and the signs of the zodiac, as well as scenes from daily life in Ferrara that include images of Borso d’Este, were painted by Cosmé Tura and Francesco del Cossa (1469-70), commissioned by Borso for the upper hall in the Palazzo Schifanoia, a summer home in suburban Ferrara, to celebrate his accession to the title of “Duke of Ferrara,” conferred by Pope Paul II in 1470. After the demise of the Este family and their departure from Ferrara in 1598, the frescoes were whitewashed over by the Tassoni family, who took possession of the palazzo. But when the palazzo came into the possession of the Commune di Ferrara after World War I, the city restored them and the palazzo became a museum, although many of the frescoes have faded or been erased. They were only partially restored when Pound first saw them.


Between a Rock and a Pound: An Anthropological Overview of the Naxi Tribespeople of the Southern Himalayas and What They Have to Do with Modernist Poetics 

         Robert Kibler, Minot State University


In the 1920s, the ethno-botanist Joseph Rock made his way up into the Southern Himalayas, eventually settling in amongst the Naxi people living within the first loop of the Yangtze river. There, he became fascinated with the pictographic manuscripts created and used by the Naxi shamans or dongpas to cure every ill, foretell every event, discern any danger. Those manuscripts spoke to an ancient world of Black Bonist Tibetan worship, Indian Buddhism, and Chinese magisterial language, combined with other magical elements of the Tibeto-Burman speaking people inhabiting those high mountains. Rock began a chronicle of those manuscripts and of the lives of those Naxi people. Now fast forward to the 1950s, when an institutionalized American poet, Ezra Pound, stumbles upon Rock’s work and through it, sees an end to his own. 

In this presentation, I will review some of the early work of Rock, show some footage of Rock amongst the Naxi, and discuss the nature of the pictographic characters and Pound’s use of them in his later Cantos. 




Name of the panelEzra Pound and the Arts: Music and Dance

Organized by Dr. Roxana Preda, U. of Edinburgh

Chair: Robert Kibler

G5 Saturday 24 February 2018: 10.15-11.45. Humanities 117



This panel takes an interdisciplinary approach to Ezra Pound’s work, showing new ways in which the poet’s musical interests became fundamental in shaping his understanding of his poetic art. Pound’s innovations in poetic rhythm find their correlates in two arts in which he was heavily invested emotionally: music and dance. The two papers in this panel explore aspects of Pound’s involvement in the sister arts, attempting to gauge particular artistic contexts in which his work can better assessed and understood.


Ezra Pound: Dancer by Proxy

         Evelyn Haller, Doane College, U of Nebraska


With his high crest of golden red hair, frenetic carriage, and impulse toward proclamation, the young Ezra Pound was himself a Golden Cockerel on the London poetry stage while Diaghilev’s Russian company was revolutionizing dance. Not only did he see the Russian Dancers perform, he also saw Pavlova.  Moreover, he refers to dancers and their audiences in his poetry. Dance and the idea of dance informed Pound’s life not only in his poetic imagination but also in his criticism as when he writes of logopoeia as “the dance of the intellect among words” (ABCR 37). Although he admitted to being clumsy, his preoccupation with physical movement was integral to his art.  An example is “The Return” whose splendor is the halting movement of the feet of the gods but recently released from their marmoreal immobility with the running of an archaic hunt as counterpoint.

Though Pound was attracted to all the arts, he knew his limitations and gauged that his strength was in poetry to which he had committed himself early on.  Nonetheless, he composed two operas as well as writing music criticism. His “Preliminary Announcement of the College of the Arts” published in The Egoist November 2, 1914 included The Dance.  Mabel Dolmetsch, wife of the instrument maker, was to teach XVI Century dances.  His elegiac memoir of his friend the sculptor Gaudier-Brzeska published in 1916 includes photographs of Red Stone Dancer and The Dancer.

Eventually, Pound ventured into choreography with The Dance of the Birth of the Dragon which he composed in French, presumably for Michio Ito. Pound’s plan includes drawings of patterned movements as well as costume design, stage settings, and musical accompaniment by the biwa (Chinese lute), drums, and temple gongs. Of his own choreography Pound wrote, “Symbolizes at the same time the evolution of Chinese art and the evolution or the liberation of the soul or the principle of air.”

Despite being described as playing tennis “like an inebriated kangaroo,” eye witness accounts such as one by Caresse Crosby, testify to his ability to arrest the dancing of others to watch him as when he went into a trance-like state moving to Caribbean rhythm.


Ezra Pound and Igor Stravinsky

           Roxana Preda, University of Edinburgh


“Stravinsky is the only living musician from whom I can learn my own job” (Ezra Pound, 1935)


The more recent studies of Pound’s work in musical composition have revealed his lifelong preference for old, medieval music, from the scores of Arnaut Daniel and Bernart de Ventadour to his absorbing interest in composing music on the poetry Guido Cavalcanti and François Villon. Pound’s regrets about the early disjunction between music and words during the thirteen century and his efforts at repairing this rift in his own translations and musical compositions have been firmly signaled and extensively analyzed in Pound scholarship.

Much less known and discussed is how Pound related to modernist composers who were his contemporaries: how did he perceive them, how much did he know about their work, whom did he like and more importantly, did his cantos benefit from models in modernist musical composition? I start my argument by establishing principles of Pound’s musical ideology, which belonged to a certain milieu and therefore implied a series of choices. Pound schooled himself in musical composition during his Paris years: though he was aware of contemporary music, his meeting George Antheil and Olga Rudge in 1923 began a decisive musical turn in his own work. Antheil’s ambition to take Stravinskian experiment to new lengths and further experiment with noise found its way into the cantos: Pound introduced abrupt switches of rhythm in the poem, as well as direct reproduction of noises (like, say, the purring of leopards in canto 17 and the noise of the cataract in canto 20).

Pound was also influenced by the wider Paris artistic milieu, in which Jean Cocteau was orchestrating a turn away from the symbolism of Debussy (and Ravel, who was perceived as his follower) toward a new classicism presided by Stravinsky and Satie and practiced by the younger composer group, Les Six. Pound was championing a similar position against Debussy before coming to Paris. Once in the city, he attended performances, went to Le Boeuf sur le Toit, and networked at parties. As his Paris Letters for The Dial document, Pound was very well-informed about everything that was going on in the Paris musical world. This interaction with the Parisian milieu shaped his profile as a dual artist whose own musical compositions would run in parallel with the elaboration of his poetic oeuvre in The Cantos. Both would be impacted by Stravinsky’s musical innovations: Pound discussed them first with Antheil in 1923, but completed his education by translating Boris de Schloezer’s article suite on Stravinsky for The Dial in 1928. Schloezer’s detailed analytical articles would map and consolidate Pound’s own knowledge and understanding of Stravinsky’s art. Its principles and practices are similar to The Cantos in many superficial respects: continuous technical experimentation adapted to the task at hand, the recourse to primitivism, the cultivation of various timbres in juxtaposition, the neoclassical pastiche, are obvious points of contact between the two artists.

Going a step further, I will argue that Pound’s poetic innovations in Cantos 17-27, which he was writing at the time of his education in contemporary music (1924-1927), can be understood as an application in poetry of Stravinsky’s practice of polytonality, with which Pound was certainly familiar in this period. 



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