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April 25, 2011 2:35 PM   Subscribe

Is there a good (definitive or even just interesting, really...) companion reader to Ezra Pound's Pisan Cantos?

I've been attempting to read poetry for the first time since first year university but I've jumped in a little over my head... Is there a good reader that explains his many allusions and orients you in the era/situation he was writing under - complicated and personal as that may have been? A cursory internet search points out one but I'm wondering if there are more...
posted by RollingGreens to Writing & Language (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Carroll Terrell's A Companion to The Cantos of Ezra Pound is the standard companion volume. I assume that it's the one you've already found, but you really should start there.
posted by RogerB at 2:41 PM on April 25, 2011

For me, what makes Pound's poetry so fascinating and so difficult is how intensely contextual and allusive it is. Two major helps:

Hugh Kenner's The Pound Era does, I think, a brilliant job of recreating the intellectual and political process by which Pound came to be the poet he was -- as well as the Fascist propagandist in the cage at Pisa, trying to come to terms with the utter collapse of his vision and his art. One of the few books in which you'll come across Henry James, social-credit schemes, Troubadours, and various little-known Renaissance worthies, and have them all fit together. Totally illuminated EP's work (and much of the early 20th century) for me. Sometimes funny, too, which helps.

The other, harder to track down (and ridiculously expensive used) but available in most uni libraries, or by inter-library loan (and there may be a PDF floating around, winknod): the introduction and Pisan section Guy Davenport wrote for his study of Pound, Cities on Hills. Davenport knew pound personally, helped to get him out of the asylum, and even helped him move; his intro offers a great broad-strokes vision of how all the Cantos fit together and his close reading is superlative.

posted by finnb at 3:02 PM on April 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Pound had his own, rather difficult, expectations for an ideal reader which he wrote a book about.
posted by juv3nal at 5:16 PM on April 25, 2011

Seconding Kenner's The Pound Era (for general context and brilliant insights) and Terrell's Companion to The Cantos (for line-by-line explications). And feel free to drop me a line; I can check my heavily annotated edition for extra nuggets. (I was once so into the Cantos I was providing info to Ben Kimpel, who was working on Pound in the '70s. Don't give up; some of it's a tough nut to crack, but it's gorgeous and mind-expanding poetry!
posted by languagehat at 7:04 AM on April 26, 2011

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