Ezra Pound’s Manifest

Ezra Pound, Allen Ginsberg and Fernanda Pivano, Portofino, September 23, 1967 Photo: Ettore Sottsass

AG: So here’s another comment on it (“To Mr Henry Lawes And His Airs”) – and then I’m comparing that with a little thing I saw copied out – “A Preface to Poems by Basil Bunting 1950, from the Cleaners Press, Galveston, Texas”, a brief essay by Ezra Pound which is also lost in leaves of history, never been reprinted, called “A Manifest As of 1950”, signed by a guy named Dallan Flynn, because, I think that Ezra Pound was by then in St Elizabeth’s bughouse and not supposed to be running around writing prefaces to intelligent poets’ poetry because he’s supposed to be crazy, on account that that was his gimmick for not being tried for treason.

Student: What was the title of the book?

AG: Basil Bunting – Poems, 1950 – a book which was published as part of a series, (the) Square Dollar series, instigated by Pound to his disciples who visited him in the bughouse, St. Elizabeth’s in Washington. It was one of a series of books, and the first American collection of poems by Basil Bunting, and Bunting now [1980] two years ago, or three years ago, his Collected Poems appeared with Oxford, Oxford University Press, [Editorial note – now superseded by the definitive Faber edition of the poems, The Poems of Basil Bunting (2016)], without this introduction, which includes this formulation by Pound:

  1. We must understand what is happening – (Well, he’s in the bughouse – “You gotta understand what’s happening!” “They don’t understand!” – We must understand what is happening)
  2. If the verse makers of our time are to improve on their immediate precursors we must be vitally aware of the duration of syllables of melodic coherence, and of the tone leading of the vowels (“the tone leading of the vowels”, we’ll figure out what that means in a minute)

Number 3 – The function of poetry is to debunk by lucidity – “debunk by lucidity” – being so lucid, so clear. that anything that’s unclear, foggy, and stupid looks like bunk – so to  “debunk by lucidity” (which, actually (Daniel) Ellsberg did yesterday, or Saturday, yesterday, at Rocky Flats)

Student: (All of them copy down?)

AG: Ok.  I would copy the second one down, the other ones are just philosophy but the second one is really important. [Allen begins to dictate – “If the verse makers of our time…” –  (It’s, like, rare, I’m the only one in town who’s got this book)- “If the verse makers of our time – comma” – “are to improve on their immediate precursors” – (the guys who went before, just before, are to improve on their immediate precursors – comma) – “we must be vitally aware” – “of the duration of syllables – comma” – “of melodic coherence – comma” – “and of the tone leading of vowels” – “and of the tone leading of vowels” – (a mysterious phrase)]

Has everybody got it who wants it? ok, then, ” 3 – The function of poetry is to debunk by lucidity” – (that’s a big slogan for Pound – “debunk by lucidity” – signed – (D-A-L-L-A-N  F-L-Y-N-N, Galveston, October 20th, 1949)

Student: That’s not Bunting?

AG: Pardon me?

Student: That’s not Bunting?

AG: I can’t hear you

Student: It’s not Bunting who says that?

AG: No this is Ezra Pound’s Preface to Basil Bunting’s collection, Poems 1950, the first collection of Buntings poems ever in America published in a little cheap sleazy paper edition in Galveston Texas

Student: Allen,  how can you tell it’s by Pound?

AG: Oh you can tell by the prose and his way of talking, you know. Just reading it, that’s Pound, you know, and that was the time that Pound was at St Elizabeths. So copies of this filtered up by 1954 to San Francisco and Philip Whalen and Peter… Gary Snyder and I found it at City Lights and other bookshops and started reading it because we;d heard about Bunting from reading Pound’s ABC of Reading but we’d never seen this book and all of a sudden there was   Bunting’s poetry (which I think we have upstairs in the library)

Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately three-and-a-half minutes in and concluding at approximately eight and three-quarter minutes in

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