My dear Miss Monroe,
Ezra Pound was the one with whom you may have fought most memorably while you were the founding editor of Poetry and he was the magazine's foreign editor. Maybe you fought most memorably with him because of Pound, or maybe it was because of you.
Did you hate him? Did he hate you?
Yes, there were other antagonists. But when I happen to mention to a noted Pound scholar that lately I've been paying close attention to Harriet Monroe, the tall man only stoops and titters. His amused contempt for you is amazing. Normally, he is the king of cool.
When you wrote to him on August 7, 1912, inviting him to submit his poems to your as-yet-unpublished new magazine of poetry, he replied promptly, "I am interested."
He asserted that your "scheme" for a journal was "not only sound, but the only possible method."
He claimed that there was nothing else like it already.
He declared that of American magazines in general, none "is not an insult to the serious artist and to the dignity of his art."
In other words, he acclaimed in stringent terms a magazine (yours) before there ever was one.
He warned you, too.
He insisted that "during my last tortured visit to America I found no writers and but one reviewer who had any worthy conception of poetry."
Pound admonished, as well, that it might be impossible to "teach the American poet that poetry is an art, an art with a technique . . . ."
Was it clear from the beginning, then, that nothing and no one was likely to measure up to his hopes?
I think it was.
SomebodyMy dear Miss Monroe,
If you couldn't measure up to his hopes, then how would you ever work with Ezra Pound as your foreign editor at Poetry?
The answer: since you met him only once, you would write him letters, and he would write you letters.
The experience of reading these letters now, even if only selectively, differs dramatically from reading any other letters I know.
For one thing, the element of contrast--contrast in your tone and his, in your character and his, in your taste and his, even in penmanship--sets yours apart from his, and his apart from yours, with a musical fervor. But as the pages turn and far-off years pass, the two of you seem more and more to be uncommonly well matched. You weren't supposed to be, were you?
Indeed, you commented to T. S. Eliot frankly in 1934, ". . . I don't wonder that you find Pound's letters 'mysterious' and that 'little emerges in apprehensible form.' Those he sends me are incredibly violent and abusive, but I am used to that and usually don't mind."
You often wrote to Pound in neatly typed, concise paragraphs. Pound often wrote back to you with pulpy black ink in words as boldly vertical as they were extravagantly horizontal. His handwriting cantered. It looks like a disciplined sculpture. The t's cross with a flash in a phrase like "the only possible method." His y's, g's, f's, and capital I's are architecturally confident. The writing on a page is centered surely with a fluid momentum not at all like your well-managed pencil afterthoughts.
When Pound did type, he didn't bother with (or couldn't care about) the niceties of conventional, consistent spacing. As if compelled to hit the spacebar over and over again on the typewriter to satisfy his inner sense of rhythm, he also hit it, possibly, in answer to his inner sense of wisdom. To him, either was imperative.
My dear Miss Monroe,
All too obviously, Pound fought you, and you fought him, even though he would affirm in 1916, "We have started a new period in American poetry, which was I believe what was intended . . . ."
One letter of Pound's to you began, "Dear H.M. With this last imbecility I will have nothing to do." Miss Monroe's reply promised to "[obey] your orders." But Harriet noted to him, too, "Irritation is inevitable in any enterprise big enough to include more than one person."
What was Pound's response to your rather fine, upstanding letter? Without informing you, he "gave" away his job as foreign editor of Poetry to another writer, asking him to "please take over as foreign correspondent of 'Poetry' & communicate with them to the effect that I have turned it over to you." He wrote this summons on Poetry stationery!
The chosen recipient of the job, Ford Madox Hueffer, wrote to you with Pound's letter to himself enclosed: ". . . Could you not make it up with him or reinstate him--or whatever is the correct phrase to apply to the solution of the situation, whatever that may be?" Hueffer added, ". . . I think it would really be much better for you to go on with Ezra."
You invited Pound to return as foreign editor, and he accepted.
As you put it in a letter to somebody else in 1930, Pound "has been stirring the rest of us for twenty years." He did it with an exile's necessary rancor, as when he exclaimed, "Personally I favor the assassination of all Americans over fifty, with the sole exception of Henry James."
In 1928, writing to you, he demanded, "When is the balarsted and devasted repooblik going to put me in charge of its eddykatn in licherchoor?"
Actually, you'd done almost that--as much as could be done, perhaps. As a quasi-professor of poetry at your magazine, yet endlessly free to roam, Pound made incredible finds on your and his own behalf. So good was he in this limited role that at age seventy you admitted, "[P]robably I made the mistake of my life in not giving [Pound] complete possession of the magazine . . . ."
If you had given it all to him, then Poetry, you speculated, "would perhaps have cut a wider swathe through the mud and mire of the world's fullness." But you were a realist. You observed, "Mr. Pound, who puts his shoulder to the wheel with such dynamic energy, invariably gets tired of the job after a few turns." You watched as he "wearied of POETRY, of The Little Review, of Blast, of The Dial, even of his own Exile." To him you declared quite early in the partnership, "You are your own worst enemy, alas! Something in you fails to realize that a little rudimentary tact is not compromise . . . My very respect for your work makes me wish you would not plant yourself so violently in front of it."
The upheavals of your many disagreements led to his editorial exit just shy of seven years after his appointment. But he had threatened to resign only one year into it. The pathos of your pairing with Pound lay in the aftermath.
Late in December of 1932, you wrote in confidence to him to explain that you expected to step down in a year from editing the magazine, which might not survive. To him you acknowledged, "But it would be a great satisfaction to me, and a distinct enlivenment to the magazine, to have you as foreign correspondent for even a few months. Also it would round out our history, complete the circle, so to speak."
When asked who might succeed you as the magazine's editor, Pound maintained that "the only person in amurikuh who cd / continue your periodical is Marianne [Moore]." He added, "I don't see exactly why you shd. retire . . . At any rate I see no other successor who wd. do you honour and who is a practical proposition." He concluded, "M. M. ideal presiding officer."
Except for you, he meant.
My dear Miss Monroe,
Kay Boyle remembered when you first met Ezra Pound. You met him just one time, more than a decade after you'd begun to exchange all the letters with him.
The place was Paris in 1923.
"Miss Monroe," as Boyle reported the incident, "was drinking fine old madeira out of a beautiful globe-like glass when someone remarked that Ezra Pound was outside."
Boyle recalled, "With an urgency Miss Monroe arose. 'Ezra, I must meet Ezra! Will he be the way I have imagined?' She went towards the door of the Stryx, and Ezra, hearing his name spoken, came forward to meet her."
Afterward? "Miss Monroe returned, eager and happy to have another fine old madeira."