Pound and Laughlin

James Laughlin with poet Ezra Pound circa 1934 in Rapallo, Italy

Two significant and integrally related figures in 20th Century American poetry, James Laughlin and Ezra Pound were both born on this day. Our spotlight today is on Laughlin
(best known as the publisher of New Directions but, despite Pound’s reservations about it,
a significant poet in his own right)

From 2005 Gregory Barnhisel‘s authoritative study of the relationship between the two men:

“Although James Laughlin came from one of Pittsburgh’s leading steel-making families, his passions were literary rather than industrial – he wanted to be a poet. Laughlin was a freshman at Harvard when he traveled to Rapallo, Italy, in 1933 to meet Ezra Pound and he returned the following year to enroll in the poet’s “Ezuversity”.  Pound dismissed Laughlin’s poetic talents, advising the wealthy young man to make himself over into a publisher. Laughlin did just that, founding New Directions Press in 1936.”


To Rapallo then I came,
That was in 1934, a student
Bored with the academic conventions
Of Harvard, wanting to get to the source,
To learn about poetry from the best
Poet alive, and you accepted me into
Your Ezuversity where there was no
Tuition, the best beanery since
Bologna (1088). Literachoor, you said,
Is news that stays news,
And quoting from some old bloke
Named Rodolphus Agricola,
Ut doceat, ut moveat, ut delectet ,
Make it teach, move the heart,
And please. You taught me
And you moved me and you gave me
Great delight. . . .
. . . You read
My poems and crossed out half the
Words saying I didn’t need them.
You advised me not to bother
Writing stories because Flaubert
And Stendahl and James Joyce
Had done all that could be done
With fiction. . . .”

Barnhisel: “For much of the 1930s prior to World War II, Laughlin and Pound were friends, business associates, collaborators, student and teacher, and even at times son and surrogate father. But Laughlin’s investment in Pound—and their friendship—was severely tested by Pound’s wartime propaganda broadcasts for Italian state radio, his capture and abortive trial for treason, and his thirteen-year stay as a mental patient in St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. Following this scandal and disgrace, the reading public no longer wanted to buy Pound’s books, and the critical establishment dismissed him as a Fascist crank.







Laughlin and New Directions responded by marketing Pound in such a way as to convince consumers that the poet’s importance needed to be judged solely on aesthetic grounds, and that his political beliefs were irrelevant to his accomplishments as a pioneering literary artist. With Pound’s encouragement, and despite the poet’s oft-expressed opposition to the mixture of commerce and art, Laughlin used such marketing tools as advertising, the cultivation of friendly critics, and the development of the trade paperback to enhance Pound’s reputation.”

from 1994 – David Gordon‘s edition of  James Laughlin and Ezra Pound’s letters (from almost three thousand items of correspondence between Pound and Laughlin, Gordon pieced together bits of nearly four hundred letters to form a somewhat cohesive narrative)

Robert L Kelly reviewing the book for Library Journal:

“Personal letters of some longevity have always inspired confidence. Such are the letters between poet Pound and college student and later publisher of New Directions Laughlin. With some effort the industrious reader will discover much from the correspondence, which began in 1933 and continued through 1965. Parts of these letters have been frequently cited, but revelations still abound, partly in Pound’s misspellings but particularly in his paronomastic, or punning, use of words. What Pound is feeling is always there – great misery and ecstasy. There, too, is his seeming anti-Semitism and Laughlin’s opposition to it and Pound’s indictment for treason and commitment to an asylum for insanity. Through all these tribulations the letters continue, full of spirit, insight, and endurance..”

Skip Conover and Jordan Hoggard  use this book as the basis for their 2021 Zoom discussion.

Swedish-born writer and editor, Carl Abrahamsson lectures on the topic of Laughlin and Pound – see here

Here’s a few more notes from Laughlin’s pen about Ez and the ““Ezuversity”

This Tuesday will mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Ezra Pound


  1. New Directions is the most important publishing house in my life. I’M 75. Grove Press is a close second.

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