Meditation and Poetics – (Imagism and Activism)

Student: (What changes did the so-called Imagist poets go through?)

AG: Well, let’s see. I’m not clear what changes they went through. They apparently went through several changes. That same group of people and friends went through several changes in terminology as they refined their thought – and then there was a lot of literary politics.

Apparently a very interesting poet named Amy Lowell picked up on the idea of Imagism and the ideas of Chinese poetry, and began somewhat vulgarizing it, and formed a school, and declared herself the head of it and I think she made an anthology called Des Imagistes excluding (Ezra) Pound perhaps. [Editorial note – Allen is a little confused here,Des Imagistes was the Pound-edited anthology of Imagism, Some Imagist Poets was the title of Amy Lowell’s anthologies

And so Pound got mad at Amy Lowell and he decided to change the name, perhaps, and say “Activist” – because she wasn’t being precise in her images, actually. He didn’t feel that she understood what was going on, really. He felt that she thought it was all supposed to be, like Chinoiserie, something that looks Chinese – or with funny clipped Chinese-laundry baby-talk (well, no, I’m being sloppy here)

There was an enormous fight between them. She had some money and she had magazines of her own (or she influenced magazines and could get books published), whereas he was poor and he was in England, but he was in touch with much more elegant and intelligent writers, and so I think there was an abandonment of the whole movement called “Imagism” on account of (the fact that) Amy Lowell had invaded it with her big bosom and her perfume and her money and her Boston connections. Something like that, probably.

Also, probably, they’d finally gotten to the notion of active language – not merely sort of passive description, but active language actively presented. They perhaps came to the term “active” for “presentative”

Student: “…The Metro” poem would (that) be Imagist?

AG: Yeah, I think that was one that was considered…

Student: What would be an Activist Pound?

AG: I think in the Active Anthology. I’ve forgotten which poems he put (in) but there was one that ended“the shadowy flowers of Orcus/ be with thee” [Editorial note – “Remember thee”] “Be in me as the eternal moods/of the bleak wind..” was the beginning of it. It’s got a little Greek title and it’s in Personae, I think – “And not as transient things” – “Be in me as the eternal moods/ of the bleak wind, and not/ As transient things are – gaiety of flowers”. Then it ended “the shadowy flowers of Orcus/ Remember thee” (Orcus is Hades, actually).

Probably anything in the (19)20’s would be Activist for Pound. I think that, among them, there were probably more precise distinctions and in my mind there aren’t. What I do generalize it all to become is a sharp focus, mindfulness, a presentation, elimination of inactive phrasing, direct treatment of the object, “no ideas but in things”,concrete particulars, minute particulars, diction of everyday speech or ordinary mind,things symbols of themselves, natural objects always adequate symbol. I’m afraid I’ve probably generalized all these different historic movements into just one working principle or one attitude.

[Audio for the above may be heard here, starting approximately thirty-two minutes in and ending at approximately thirty-six minutes in] 

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