Pound’s aspirations for literature were grand. He believed that bad writing destroyed civilizations and that good writing could save them, and although he was an élitist about what counted as art and who mattered as an artist, he thought that literature could enhance the appreciation of life for everyone. He was vain and idiosyncratic, but he had no wish to be a prima donna. No doubt Eliot, James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, H.D., Ernest Hemingway, Ford Madox Ford, and Marianne Moore would have produced interesting and innovative work whether they had known Pound or not, but Pound’s attention and interventions helped their writing and sped their careers. He edited them, reviewed them, got them published in magazines he was associated with, and included them in anthologies he compiled; he introduced them to editors, to publishers, and to patrons; he gave them the benefit of his time, his learning, his money, and his old clothes. “A miracle of ebulliency, gusto, and help,” Joyce called him. It’s true that he was flamboyant, immodest, opinionated, tactless, a pinwheel of affectation; he made people crazy and he became crazy himself. Gertrude Stein’s description of him is frequently invoked: “A village explainer, excellent if you were a village, but if you were not, not.” In his devotion to the modernist avant-garde, though, he was selfless. “A bombastic galleon, palpably bound to, or from, the Spanish Main,” Wyndham Lewis wrote about meeting Pound. “Going on board, I discovered beneath its skull and cross-bones, intertwined with fleurs de lys and spattered with preposterous starspangled oddities, a heart of gold.”
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