Tag Archives: Ezra Pound


Pounding away

An Immortality

Sing we for love and idleness,
Naught else is worth the having.

Though I have been in many a land,
There is naught else in living.

And I would rather have my sweet,
Though rose-leaves die of grieving,

Than do high deeds in Hungary
To pass all men’s believing.


-Ezra Pound


There are any number of reasons why TS Eliot would claim that Ezra Pound was the greatest poet of the 20th Century. To my mind, we can include the humility of  a person like Eliot not wanting to claim title to such an honor himself. Pound had no such compunction. I heard an interview with Pound where he claimed that by the thirteen (I believe it was) he’d decided to become the greatest American poet and that by twenty, the greatest poet of his age. The debate rages to this day about whom lays claim to that title. Eliot, whose English humility prevented him from choosing himself, would naturally quest for the greatest poet who was not himself. So, at the very least, if we think Eliot is the greatest poet of the 20th Century, we know he thought Pound was the second best poet.

Beyond this rationale, we can argue another point in favor of Pound. Eliot is read more often than Pound. As opposed to making Eliot more eligible for the title of greatest poet, hear me out about the opposite. As an historical average, never more than three percent of humanity regularly reads poetry. It has a small audience base. Pound is notoriously dense and obscure and difficult. In the Cantos, he wrote poetry to the history of Western man. Poems about medieval love and lore; about people few today outside of very learned historians would remember. This is part of his charm, in fact, and a part of my argument.

Pound went so far into the profession of poetry that, after he invented a style out of whole cloth, he pressed on and delved deeper. He never stopped moving forward. Pound wrote and wrote and wrote until there were so few who could read or understand him that he became an obscurity to all but those who shared his craft. If you read his Cantos, you will find need of several European languages as well as an understanding of written Chinese, for example.

Eliot was great. Eliot is more popular. Eliot is eminently more readable and understandable. If greatness is determined by these factors, Eliot wins without debate. But if we allow to vote only those qualified to have an informed opinion, we can at least admit the possibility that Pound will win. Viewed through this lens, I find Eliot’s choice of Pound as the greatest poet of his century to have the ring of a concession, not just humility. Knowing his craft, he can see in Pound’s writing things that mere readers cannot.

I would agree with Eliot. There are those who do and there are aficionados.  When those who do choose the best among them, we should take them at their word. They know, in a way we cannot, how challenging and difficult it is, what they are judging.


Flash Fiction I argue Poetry

Ernest Hemingway and Flash Fiction

Recently, I have read a few criticisms of what is currently referred to as flash fiction. Flash fiction is any short story that is really short; less than 500 words, depending on the publisher. Criticisms generally revolve around complaints about our society’s lack of attention span. Readers, the argument goes, cannot focus long enough on something to read a normal length short story. Or, worse yet, writers cannot hold their own focus long enough to craft a story of sufficient length.


Flash fiction is derided as merely one scene or vignette from within what should be a longer story. How can anyone built up a plot or characters a reader can understand and sympathize with? True, quality, stories need some essential elements and writers cannot, cannot, I have read, build any such depth into a story that is less than one page long.


As with any complaint one can make or any rule a professor or writer tells you to follow, you need not look far for proof against that complaint or rule. Stephen King tells us to avoid adverbs in his book on how to write and yet there are tens of adverbs in that very book. To be fair, I would argue that his real point is that the average writer uses adverbs too often and he figures that if he tells the reader to ‘never’ use them that the reader will expend great effort to comply, improving their writing. The argument, as I see it, is that instead of writing that a character was ‘hugely incompetent’, there is another word that can describe that extreme level of incompetence, maybe ‘inept’. The hallmark of good writing is economy of words. Never say in a paragraph what you can say in a sentence and never say in a sentence what you can say in a word. Adding an ‘ly’ to a verb is lazy writing if there is another word that can capture the same message a writer is attempting to convey.


I heard an interview with Ezra Pound years ago. In it, he relates the story of how upon the first day of his arrival to Paris he arose out of a subway station to be confronted by a park filled with the beautiful faces of women and children and flowers in bloom. He says that he absorbed that scene in one gestalt moment, walked to his hotel room and wrote a two page poem about what he saw. Six months later, he produced his famous, In a Station in the Metro:


The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals, on a wet, black bough.


Believe it or not, this poem marked the groundbreaking moment of his career as an innovator. You do need to know why unless you love poetry and, if you do, you can find answers to the ‘why’ elsewhere. My aim is simply to illustrate how a two page poem can be boiled down to its essence. This economy holds true for all forms of writing.

As to this complaint about ‘flash fiction’ ‘short shorts’ or ‘nano writing’, we need look no further for the glaring exception that proves this complaint bootless than Papa Hemingway. Ernest Hemingway’s writing is quality not because he writes about bullfights or big game hunting or fascists in Italy in 1930. Hemingway is considered great for the parcity of words needed to convey his story to the reader. To this point, when asked once what was he considered his best work, he said it was an unpublished piece that he wrote to win a bet at the Algonquin in New York while dining with other writers. The short story needed a beginning, a middle, and an end were the rules of the bet. Hemingway claimed he could write a short story in only six words. When the bet was taken by his fellow writers, Hemingway wrote this down on a napkin from the table, saying it was an ad in the classifieds:


For sale: baby shoes, never worn.