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Ezra Pound: Poet Volume II, The Epic Years, 1921-1939 review

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In this second volume of A David Moodys biography, the controversial poet, creator of The Cantos, is preoccupied by music and Mussolini

Theres a gut-wrenching moment about 100 pages into this latest instalment of David Moodys three-volume biography of Ezra Pound. It is January 1928, and the long-established literary magazine the Dial has just awarded Pound a prize, describing him as one of the most valuable forces in contemporary literature. Cause for congratulations, perhaps? Not a bit of it. A renaissance, Pound announced in 1915, is a thing made by conscious propaganda. But the writers who benefited most from the renaissance his propaganda had made (Eliot, Joyce, Wyndham Lewis) were no longer in the mood to admit that they couldnt have done it without him. All Eliot could manage, in 1928, was the confession that he found himself seldom interested, these days, in what his old friend and colleague was saying, only in the way he says it. Lewis, the most wildly inventive member of the original gang, and among the neediest, had got into the habit of damning to rather different effect. Pound, he declared, had become an intellectual eunuch. Joyce, meanwhile, was minding his own business, as usual. Moody seems surprised by this negativity. His prose lapses, most uncharacteristically, into cliche, as he ponders the blackness of the ingratitude. The problem he seems unwilling to address is that by 1928, Pound, unlike the others, had little to show for all the propaganda.

The despondency soon lifts. This is a critical biography, and its great strength lies in its conviction that the attitudes and activities of the man are primarily of interest insofar as they illuminate the poems he wrote. Not that there was any shortage of attitudes and activities during the decades covered by the current volume. Pound moved twice, with his wife Dorothy somewhat intermittently in tow: from London (the place lacking in interest, / last squalor, utter decrepitude etc) to Paris, in 1921; and then from Paris (ditto, but with less fog and mud) to Rapallo, on the Ligurian coast, in 1924. Shortly after, two children arrived: a biological daughter, Maria, by his lover, the violinist Olga Rudge, and a legal son, Omar (Dorothys, by another man). Moodys account of the man who had these experiences focuses on the two preoccupations that, in his view, did most to shape the work: music and Mussolini.

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