Fun Ezra Pound facts, including his unusual middle name and his even weirder fashion sense
1. Ezra Pound’s middle name was Loomis. Or rather, one of his middle names. Ezra Weston Loomis Pound was born in Idaho in 1885; a childhood friend was Hilda Doolittle, who would become known as an imagist poet under the initials ‘H. D.’ (the initialism was Pound’s own PR idea) and, later, as a novelist. Pound even asked Doolittle to marry him in 1907; she declined (as he was reportedly seeing two other women at the time, it’s not hard to see why!).
Pound would be the driving force behind the literary movement known as imagism in the years 1913-15, and would also contribute to modernist poetry himself with a number of famous poems, among them the two-line imagist masterpiece ‘In a Station of the Metro’, the long poem Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (1920), and the very long poem The Cantos (Pound’s life’s work, and over 800 pages in full). The Cantos is a vast work, described by Hugh Kenner as the chronicle of Pound’s own life, and written over a period of nearly half a century. (It was described by Pound, in an early draft, as a ‘rag-bag’.)
2. Ezra Pound’s first published poem was a limerick which appeared in his local paper in 1896, when he was 11 years old. Unlike his friend and fellow modernist poet T. S. Eliot, Pound was possessed of a swaggering confidence from an early age: he was apparently bad at playing the piano (and had little musical talent in general) but would do so nevertheless, a sign of his overwhelming self-belief. He liked to play tennis, even though his friend Ford Madox Ford describes him playing like ‘an inebriated kangaroo’. Few young writers have possessed more self-confidence than Pound.
3. Ezra Pound coined the word ‘logopœia’, which he defined as ‘the dance of the intellect among words’. He also coined the word ‘periplum’ for a tour or voyage which ends with you returning to where you started out from. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word ‘whoops’ is first recorded in a 1937 letter written by Ezra Pound.
4. His fashion sense – or lack of – got him into trouble. At the University of Pennsylvania, where he went to study in 1901, Ezra Pound contravened college convention by wearing flashy socks, something freshmen were forbidden to do; he was promptly thrown into a lily pond by second-year students (this earned him the nickname ‘Lily Pound’).
And yet for all his outward confidence and vivacity, Pound was a lonely youth who was shunned by his peers at Hamilton, the New York college where he completed his university education: one of his professors later recalled that he only ever saw Pound walking about alone on campus, never with friends. In a sense he would always be a loner or outsider: at college in his own country, and then abroad in London, in Paris, in Italy, and then – following his arrest in 1945 – in a psychiatric hospital. (He was arrested for charges of treason against the United States and later declared insane; in the 1930s, Pound had become a vocal supporter of Italian fascism.) Shortly after Pound arrived in London in the early twentieth century, Ford Madox Ford described the young poet’s clothes: he ‘had trousers made of green billiard cloth, a pink coat, a blue shirt, a tie hand-painted by a Japanese friend and an immense sombrero. All this was accompanied by a flaming beard cut to a point and a single, large blue earring’.
5. In 1945, one American newspaper asked, ‘Should Ezra Pound be shot?’ Because of his support of European fascism, Pound became increasingly controversial as the first half of the twentieth century wore on. His outspoken anti-Semitism in the 1930s and 1940s is undoubtedly one reason why his work is not as widely read as, say, Eliot’s (that, and his poetry is more difficult even than Eliot’s – with less to reward the reader for their efforts, some anti-Pound critics would add). He was also a supporter of Italian fascism and met Mussolini in the 1930s; during WWII he made some radio broadcasts against America and Jewish people while living in Italy. Needless to say, this didn’t go down too well back home in the land of the free, and Pound was charged with treason shortly after the end of WWII and incarcerated in St Elizabeths Hospital, a psychiatric institution in Washington D. C. He would later be released, dying in 1972 with few supporters. However, his central place in literary modernism is assured, and he was championed by influential critic Hugh Kenner, whose detailed study, The Pound Era, puts Pound (rather than T. S. Eliot) at the centre of modernist poetry.
Image: Ezra Pound photographed in Kensington, London, October 22, 1913. Photograph by Alvin Langdon Coburn, first published in Coburn’s More Men of Mark (New York: Knopf, 1922); Wikimedia Commons; public domain.