Laurence Inman reveals he is: “In love with Ezra Pound”

By Laurence Inman.

One night in the late sixties I told my then-future-mother-in-law that her political opinions were the most wilfully stupid I had ever heard, or even heard about. She had disagreed with my view that the only way to deal with society’s ills was to smash everything up.

It wasn’t my fault. My then-future-brother-in-law had earlier taken me down to the village pub, where I had sampled a local brew called something like Old Brainshredder (Extra Strength). Try saying that after nine pints.

Even though my then-future-wife soon married somebody else and I haven’t seen or heard of those people for decades, the memory of that exchange refuses to go away and die. It rears up, unbidden, at any time of the day or night it chooses, bringing with it that wince and grimace we all know so well, followed by an involuntary ‘Ach!!!!’ In The Middle Ages they called these moments agenbite of inwit and I couldn’t have put it better myself.

I must have done and said stupid things when I was very small, but all memories of them have simply disappeared, like rabbits scampering down a hole, never to be seen again. After my mid-teens however, (or roughly the time I was introduced to alcohol,) images of my past embarrassments have tended to loiter in rat-like packs and leer back at me with evil grins. Not only that, they get their mates over: memories I’d forgotten I even had pop their bright clean heads round my door, sharp as razors and keen to slice open old scars of grief and remorse.

Agenbite of Inwit. Think the Macbeths and their sleep problems. But for most of us it’s not big things like regicide that come back and bite us. As with the rest of life, it’s the littlest moments that sting sharpest: a blurted laugh in the wrong place, a tiny betrayal of immaturity, a careless hand straying on to a forbidden knee.

It sometimes seems that the whole of the past is composed of such moments. Often I’m convinced that the only reason the past exists in the first place is to torment me through the ever-dwindling present.

Maybe that’s the point of it all: to make each nano-second such an unbearable torture of self-loathing that death is a welcome release.

Anyway, I was just settling down to a period of meek acceptance that I shouldn’t feel puzzled or aggrieved by this, and that it was the normal lot of everyone, when blow me I was hit below the water-line by a memory which wasn’t even a bad memory to begin with! Technically speaking, it was a forced re-adjustment in perception of a memory previously classified as innocuous.

Here follow the pitiful details. If you’re the kind of person who can’t stand to see a grown man’s toes curling, then you’d better look away now.

At that point in one’s youth when one feels the need of a hero whose poster one could pin on one’s bedroom wall, I spurned the claims of Dylan, Lennon, Che and Marx, and plumped instead for Ezra Pound, the American modernist poet and part-time fascist sympathiser.

Why ? Well, he was so clever, so modernist and none of my mates had heard of him. He wrote poetry which used many exotic forms and languages, even Greek and Chinese! He was praised by T.S.Eliot for chopping out the easy bits in The Waste Land. Best of all, he was almost impossible to understand.

This went beyond mere hero-worship. In its total acceptance of the worshipped one and all his works and words it was more like Platonic love.

At University I cajoled hapless girls back to my room and solemnly read aloud from my copy of his Selected Poems, the one with the delicate light-blue cover which Faber brought out in mcmlxvii.

My favourite was ‘Francesca.’ This is the first stanza:

                              You came in out of the night

                              And there were flowers in your hands,

                              Now you will come out of a consion of peouptle

                              Out of a turmoil of speech abofuouy.

Astute readers will notice some unfamiliar words in that passage. I cannot now remember how I pronounced them, but pronounce them I certainly did. I must have read them out to a dozen girls, but not one of them ever asked, ‘What do those odd words mean ?’ before finishing her coffee and hurrying out.

If she had I was ready with the answers.

‘The modern world is complex….poetry demands a complex new language…. great poets like Pound extend the vocabulary….even destroy old words and out of them create new, bright, vibrant ones, if they are to….and anyway, it’s not his fault if we cannot respond to…..’

That would have shut her up.

Over the years my infatuation with all things Ezra gradually evaporated.

I remained puzzled by those words, however, and when I saw that the Library of America had published a glossy new edition of Pound’s Poems and Translations, with over a hundred pages of notes, I was on Amazon before you could say ‘Pisan Cantos.’

That book cost $45. When it arrived I turned immediately to ‘Francesca.’

Here are the two lines with those words:

                              Now you will come out of a confusion of people,

                              Out of a turmoil of speech about you.