Category: style

Pound V Frost: Left V Right?


Pound mugshot 1945 whilst under arrest for Treason in Italy

An interesting session last night with Sarah Jackson again focusing on imagery which had an unexpected relevance to me and not in the direct way I might have imagined. There was a good selection of examples and the background reading was interesting if only because it confirmed what I already thought about both Pound and Frost i.e. that Pound was a seminal modernist but a terrible self-obsessed diva and closet fascist from the get-go and that Frost was far truer to the democratic principles I hold dear. Pound probably the more important historically especially in history of modernism but that doesn’t mean I like him one bit and that has coloured my appreciation of his poetry.

I feel far closer to Frost. Reading a small Bantam book I was amazed at how he continually shape-shifted away from easy categorisation even in early poems. His father was a Democratic politician and this democratic Californian start informs a lot of his worldview. He resisted easy labels such as ‘nature-poet’ indeed John Ciardi said ‘Robert Frost is no lollipop’ referring to a saccharine film portrait of the poet as nature poet..barns and fields persona to the fore. His essay ‘The Form a Poem makes’ from introduction to Collected Poems 1939 (also available in ‘The Prose of Robert Frost‘) I knew by attribution purely because of the wondrous and off-quoted line

Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its
own melting.

The Do’s and Don’ts by Pound and Aldington in ‘Retrospect’ I found less inspirational if only because in full document ( the class excerpt missed out much of the full ‘Retrospect’ which available here) Pound spends fifty per cent of the time slagging off or praising all and sundry from a Turkish war correspondent to fullsome praise for anything by Wyndham Lewis who famously ended up driving across marshes pursued by a flying submarine…..which says it all really. Will Self sometimes feels like Wyndham Lewis’s bastard offspring which probably not a link he’d thank me for but I get the impression Self would have been happier in 1913 than now.

The taint of Futurism/Vorticism is like a sickly smell around the sloganeering here and is basically an incipient Fascism in all but name. The famous Imagist poem ‘In a station of the Metro’ is more interesting to me for its title than for the pseudo Japoniste sentiment ( a reflection of trends in art 20 years earlier perhaps?) By locating on ‘The Metro’ Pound not only adheres to the classic Yankee abroad fetishism for the French capital but also links directly to the ‘cleansing’ forces of modernism as represented by the machine. The date of the statement (published in Poetry in March 1913) is telling. This is surfing on the boundless sense of optimism for a mechanical future that ground to a literal halt in the mud of The Somme just a few years later.

Pound did not fight in World War One preferring to view from the safety of Bloomsbury where he continued to promote the nascent ‘Modernism’ and influence the Lewis inspired Vorticist movement ( literally naming VORTEX’ in one article’). As a catalyst,tub-thumper and investigator of obscure European literature he has no equal and save for Ford Maddox Ford no challenger in early Twentieth century influence. However as Hugh Kenner pointed out he also is probably the least read of the avant-garde with William Carlos Williams and Basil Bunting and other Objectivists influenced by him having far greater actual readership. In Great Britain the actions of the allegedly ‘mad’ Pound in the ‘cage’ and his support for the fascist point of view ( LINK)  in the war certainly affected native support for his writing and still does.

What is fascinating is how many of the sounder strictures that Pound evinces in ‘Retrospect’ form the core texts of contemporary ‘Creative Writing’ instruction almost 130 years later. Raymond Carver had a 3×4 inch card above his desk with a Pound quote…

Fundamental accuracy of statement is the sole morality of writing.

This is interesting as Donal Foreman points out here this statement seems unimpeachable but fragments like the supposed compression of his Imagist poems do collapse under intense scrutiny. Pound’s war on adverbial abstraction reflected more of his setting, a forceful ‘clean’ machine-like stringency against the puffy,flabby post-Romantic past than an actually taut new line. He was a brilliant self and general publicist . Alive now, he would be a Saatchi of his times perhaps, constantly ‘branding’and re-branding his own and other artists efforts to fulfill a ‘manifesto’ of his own imagining. Like Saatchi or Brand this kind of messianic delusion leads to madness or breakdown or both.

Yet Pound’s influence remains strong across countless creative writing courses and in countless self-help manuals and online guides with very little acknowledgement of their source. Two occasions of countless there, used deliberately, Pound would spin in his grave no doubt.

That a self-confessed Fascist should be the originator of the fundamental’disciplines’ so many left-wing leaning courses is an interesting irony. There is, I believe, a deeper meaning at work here. What Pound did was clear a path away from the mawkish, sentimental effects of mass publishing. It was literary elitism. Wheat and chaff approach which why it popular now in a time of similar uncertainty and mass cultural overload. The second coming of the Victorian. Frost was an instinctive democrat he did not impose strictures and he benefitted from Pound’s storming of the gates’ of the Edwardian syrup-masters but never aligned himself with his politics.

Pound as stated in Retrospect had no problem with people writing sentimental and mawkish drivel but he had a big problem with it being respected and ‘published’ that is the key. He was a golden age medievalist intent on holding the fort against the barbarism of the modern age as exemplified in the photograph, the cinema and the penny broadsheet.

It is ironic that William Morris more enthusiasticly embraced technology than Pound. Morris used photography to examine Italian fonts and also called it up when needing to prove ‘copyright’. I cannot recall Pound ever discussing the new visual technologies. Frost had several engagements with film and not least just before his death in ‘A Lover’s Quarrel’ (LINK) where he honoured by J.F.Kennedy. Hard to ever imagine Pound doing this. Chalk and cheese.

Right now, 100 years exactly on from Pound’s proto-modernism, I feel Frost’s shape-shifting and non-alignment pact has far more to teach us than Pound’s ranting from the battlement of elitism. Let us take the common-sense and filter out the stridency as suits us but we ignore the darker art in Pound at our peril. At root it believes in a new order.

How Novelists mine don’t


The first fiction session last night and a shock to the Belcher system…(unecessary elipsis there) asI am not a practicing fiction writer. The samples (vignettes, prose poems) I offered for appraisal were three very old items that I happened to have. ( ellipsis attempted but stopped mid-dot….!)

I quickly understood that writing fiction feels very different to poetry…( second uneccessary elipsis).Maura Dooley’s ‘different bus’ comment from the Seren ‘How Novelists Work’ book rang true.I took heart from a John Harvey chapter in the book where he said that he used to ‘fly off the handle and over-react’ to start with when edited but learnt to live and appreciate it and shows examples. I did not have any sulky moments and the round-table criticism was careful and appreciated. I hope I gave equally good comments back.


Maura Dooley Ed. How Novelists Work – Recommended

Because of the time lag between the examples it is hard to say why certain things are at fault. The David Belbin cardinal sin of using ‘as’ I simply never been told about before so that should be easy to correct as is ‘just'(note second deliberate use of as there hopefully correctly.(Smillie removed) These are basic errors that I need to learn and stamp out. Also The most basic of all is a lack of full stops but this may be a hangover from free verse poetry where frankly I hardly ever use punctuation. The same applies to commas so I getting my ‘Oxford Guide to Style’ out and keeping by the desk at all times. (Smillie removed)

Finally there is and perhaps a bigger worry and one that my friend Mik Godley would be more than happy to see eradicated. I have spent a long time online and have picked up a lot of bad habits and lazy text-speak mannerisms. Short-hand thinking not good enough any more. A lot of this from pure lack of time and I do not have that excuse any more so self-editing and replacing missing words starts now. Even writing a ‘blog’ entry of five hundred words better than filling a text box on a social media site with garbage so I will concentrate more on entries here which acting as a reflective journal and creative diary.

I have deliberately marked up mistakes in the above text in green or by strikethroughs to remind myself to think before writing NOT afterwards which would save me a great deal of time in the future. I have spent time improving my ‘academic’ style and can cope with academic papers now but this a different type of fish…I actually hope people will read this. (Smillie removed). 



OLS= over long sentences

NO full stops

ellipsis overkill

REDUND =redundant words/ repetitions.

AS = too many- delete

JUST- just-isms.

Also – not at start of sentence = redundant.

Adverbs – like ‘frankly’ redundant


Here links to the original unedited fragments. I will over the rest of the week re-edit them into newer versions and post links next to original links. I doubt if any will make it off the first page in future but never say never. As David said concentrate on some new stuff and I have an idea and a title ….it is a start.

One was an intro introduction to a failed ‘Great British Rural Novel’ which got to staggered to ten pages in 1990 before going in the draw.
Crow in Barley

Crow in Barley Edited

The second was a strange historical snippet inspired by a true account of a landowner in Oxfordshire and his pet monkey and also inspired by Nick Cave songs. 2003.
Chalkfish and Monkey

Chalkfish and Monkey edited

The third was an aborted first draft of a non-existant Trailer Star movie or graphic novel. 2003.
Moon over the Downs

Moon over the Downs edited


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