When Ezra Pound died in 1972, I was – well, I was alive, but I wasn't old enough to be reading him. I grew up on Pound in those tatty New Directions paperbacks, some of them handsome, some of them – like the Selected Poems that came out in 1948, & kept getting reissued, year after year – you know the one, with the profile snap surrounded by black space – among the ugliest books in my library. I read the selections – the Selected Poems, and then the Selected Cantos – and then turned to the full monty: Personae, the Collected Earlier Poems ("stale cream-puffs," he called them in an author's note), The Cantos (in a thick, brick-like rust-jacketed hardcover).
I was turning over a small pile of recent issues of Paideuma (used to be the Pound journal, now a more generally modernist poetry-oriented thing) and came across a review of Pound's Early Writings: Poetry and Prose, edited by Ira B. Nadel, published five years ago by Penguin. I picked up a copy of the book earlier this year at the ALA in San Francisco; it's been off & on lunchtime reading – mostly just to kind of remind me of how good Pound can be, since it's been a couple of years since I've read him intensely.
There's some problems with the collection. Yes indeed, as Paideuma's reviewer notes, the introduction could have used some serious copy editing: the editor actually uses the Rastafarianism "prophesized" at one point (something I spend at least 15 minutes banning from my students' vocabularies when I teach Bible). And there's the delicious typo (?) where he describes Pound's "logopoeia" (you know, "the dance of the intellect among words") as "the dance of the intellect upon words."
And the notes, while perfectly copious & for the most part very useful, have some odd lacunae. It's good to know that "And the great domed head, con gli occhi onesti e tardi / Moves before me, phantom with weighted motion, / Grave incessu, drinking the tone of things..." is quoting Purgatorio VI & Inferno IV, but it would be even nicer for a student reader to know that Pound's describing Henry James as he knew him in London before the Great War.
But overall it's a very solid collection, which manages to get in practically everything, prose & poetry, that the ordinary reader would want to tackle of Pound's productions up thru 1922. But I'm still not used to seeing Pound in that banded, combination matte/gloss standard issue Penguin cover. It's even more unsettling than seeing him in the Library of America (as welcome as that was). What the Penguin edition means (as did the Dover Thrift Edition a few years back) is that Pound is chunk by chunk going out of copyright, and his works are being thrown open to every promotional hand that speculates a buck can be made – and of course, every editorial hand who feels s/he can do a better job of presenting the work than's been done earlier.
The more the merrier, my readerly/scholarly side sez. But there's part of me – death-bound subjectivity, as I explained to my Milton class yesterday – that's regretting the editions of yesteryear (les neiges d'antan), Pound in those black & white paperbacks sporting their "New Directions Paperbook" numbers and the number of their printing, Wallace Stevens in that powder blue Knopf dust jacket, Beckett behind those horrid Grove Press cover designs. "They used to call it An-tig-you-ah," snarled the elderly Robert Frost when Guy Davenport mentioned that Archibald MacLeish was in Antigua; "they've changed everything."