Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 May 2006
“There they are, you will have to go a long way round / if you want to avoid them”: these lines from Basil Bunting's poem “On the Fly-Leaf of Pound's Cantos” have a slightly ominous tone, preparing us for the complications which haunt the reception of Pound's work in America. You can't avoid The Cantos, says Bunting, if you are in any sense committed to the art of poetry - at least the work you will need to do for yourself which Pound has already done for you will be immense - yet there are at the same time reasons why you still might want to avoid the poem. Tellingly, perhaps, Bunting's poem carries the dateline 1949, the year in which Pound, now confined in St. Elizabeths, received the Bollingen Prize for poetry. The award - for The Pisan Cantos - was bound to provoke controversy: was it acceptable to give this type of recognition to a man who had espoused fascism and antisemitism, or could the remarkable lyric beauty of the new sequence be judged apart, as something transcending political error?
It is within this quite explosive context that we have to consider the nature of Pound's influence on a younger generation of writers. Indeed, the ambivalence which is hinted at in Bunting's lines makes the whole issue of influence complicated, especially if we assume it to connote forms of anxiety and concealment as it famously does for Harold Bloom.