Lives of Ezra Pound are never dull. Inescapably contextual, they are also polemical and political. His life has repeatedly, and perhaps too conveniently, been placed into one of those three slots, anticipating his frequent presentation as an agitator, editor, poet, economist, critic, and even crank.
Early portraits of Pound, often by contemporaries, emphasized his unusual personality and radical approach to poetry. In London between 1908 and 1920, articles spoke of his curious American manner, described as brash, flamboyant, and very much in the image of the radical poet. A parody in Punch (June 23, 1909) describes a “Mr. Ezekiel Ton” eager “to impress his personality on English editors” as “the newest poet going.” His original poetry blends “the imagery of the unfettered West, the vocabulary of Wardour Street, and the sinister abandon of Borgiac Italy.” A month later the Bookman (London) outlined his American pedigree, emphasizing his ancestors who “went out to the New World in the seventeenth century.” He is a distant relation of Longfellow and has supposedly written and burned two novels and 300 sonnets, a sign of his singular self criticism and productivity. And he is only twenty-three.
Pound himself contributed to the myth. In 1913 he published “How I Began” and by 1915 began to appear in Who’s Who with his own self-inscribed entry. It begins with “pound, ezra, m.a.; vorticist,” and continues to stress his education and travel, and that he is “informally literary executor for the late Ernest Fenollosa.” He then lists his publications and ends with “Recreations: fencing, tennis, searching The Times for evidence of almost incredible stupidity.” The entry stood until 1919, when he identifies himself as “poet; London Editor of The Little Review.” He also adds, after his remark about Fenollosa and work on Noh drama, that he is “a follower of Confucius and Ovid.” He also alters his Recreations to read “the public taste and that of Sir Owen Seaman.” Seaman was a parodist and editor of Punch from 1906 to 1932.