I usually hate poetry.

I can never say that out loud; for an English student to say that is pure blasphemy. But, to be honest, unless it’s A.A. Milne, I don’t really have patience for it (mostly). It bugs me when they’re deliberately pretentious or obscure, and when I’m halfway down the first abstract, opaque paragraph it just makes me feel a bit:


So I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the Modernism module. It seemed like all the interesting stuff had happened before this period occurred, and what we were left with was an angst-ridden cryptic mess. Then we got to Imagism. I’d never heard of it before and was already sulking about how difficult it would be, but it turned out I liked it a lot more than I’d expected. Imagism was basically meant to be “uncluttered” poetry: direct writing where every word was there because it specifically contributed to the image. It was writing where every word meant just what it meant and nothing more. The poems we looked at were all reasonably short; one of the first we looked at was H. D’s ‘Oread’:

Whirl up, sea—
whirl your pointed pines,
splash your great pines
on our rocks,
hurl your green over us,
cover us with your pools of fir.
We’d been told to analyse it for a seminar and I was getting absolutely infuriated trying to do what school teachers had always taught and to “find the hidden meaning”- it turned out there was no hidden meaning, and that was the point of Imagism.
The idea was that the writer had seen or thought something that had made an impression upon them, and they then tried to convey this same impression onto paper. It was meant to be an image; a piece of verbal art. You were meant to see that image like you would art at a gallery, and nothing more. It kind of felt like my brain was getting cleansed. After years of being told to pull meaning out of every word of a poem (including the “and’s” and the “the’s”) it felt ridiculously relaxing (and also strangely suspicious) to just read it for what it was. Imagism was meant to be a move away from the flowery Romantic language; basically, to say what they meant. That last bit in particular was music to my ears.

We looked at Ezra Pound’s ‘In A Station of the Metro’:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals on a wet, black bough.
Which just seemed like genius- in two short lines he had put this image so clearly in my head. In true Imagist fashion he’d deleted it from 30 lines to 14 words, and as he later said in some article I can no longer find, it was as a result of a moment of revelation he’d experienced at the Metro at La Concorde in Paris.
We learnt that there were manifestos for Imagism, that Imagist writers edited each other’s works, and that all these things were instigated by Ezra Pound, who then proceeded to ignore it all and do exactly what he wished. Behold the man himself:

(Bear in mind that he actually had bright red hair)

He apparently just galloped through life doing whatever came to mind. Wherever there was poetry happening, you can bet that Ezra Pound would be there, editing, suggesting, going to town on the works of poor blokes like Eliot:

I know, The Waste Land is a masterpiece and clearly Pound’s editing was partly to thank for that, but it is kind of amusing to see how Pound clearly had no patience with verbose language. You can see where Eliot had, in his manuscript, tremulously written ‘perhaps his inclinations touch the stage’; Pound had barrelled in, circled the offending word, and instead written ‘perhaps be damned‘ (underlined). After he’d finished with Eliot he went on to Yeats; in Canto 83 he writes:


so that I recalled the noise in the chimney                                                                                                              

as it were the wind in the chimney                                                                                                                    

but was in reality Uncle William

downstairs composing

that had made a great Peacock

in the proide ov his oye

had made a great peeeeeeecock in the …

made a great peacock

in the proide of his oyyee

proide ov his oy-ee

and basically took the piss out of Yeats’ Irish accent. I was talking to my friend about what it would be like if Pound existed today; what clique would he be in? She said, straightaway, “hipster“- perfect. Pound would love it. Him, his fancy moustache and his red hair, dressed in flannel and riding a unicycle. “But he wouldn’t be a Starbucks-MacBook hipster”, I said, he’d be an old school hipster (MacBooks be damned!) probably with quill and parchment. Anyway. I realise I’ve gone entirely off topic- I think basically my point was that having just finished Modernism, I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would.


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