Academic journal article Style

Toward a Cognitive Rhetoric of Imagism

Academic journal article Style

Toward a Cognitive Rhetoric of Imagism

Article excerpt

"Imagism is dead; long live the Imagists!"

--Glenn Hughes (Imagist 23)

1. On Imagism

"What was Imagism?" is not an easy question to answer. For example, Ezra Pound called Stanley Coffman's 1951 book, Imagism: A Chapter for the History of Modern Poetry, "nuts" several times (Cole 248), and Pound would no doubt take issue with most histories of Imagism. Even so, this has not prevented critics from trying to understand Imagism. For John Fuller, although "Imagism seems absurdly provincial, its aims were at the centre of the whole modernist programme in poetry" (72). Likewise, David Perkins calls Imagism "the grammar school of modern poetry" (329), while Jacob Korg sees Imagism as a "corrective" to nineteenth-and early twentieth-century poetry (127). For his part, Joseph Frank claims Imagism "opened the way for later developments by its clean break with sentimental Victorian verbiage" (10-11). Because Imagism succeeds Symbolism yet precedes Surrealism, it is situated at the dawn of "classical" literary modernism (Zach 229), (1) which is why teleological literary histories regard Imagism as "the beginning of modern literature in English" (Pratt 75). If such claims are true, then clearly Imagism mattered regardless of whatever else might be said about the movement.

Most of the poets involved with Imagism were based in London between 1912 and 1918. Three British poets (Richard Aldington, F. S. Flint, and D. H. Lawrence) and four American poets (Pound, H. D., Amy Lowell, and John Gould Fletcher) were more or less core group members (Jones 13). T. E. Hulme, a British writer who died in 1917 in World War I, was an influential figure for the Imagists before 1914. (2) The word "Imagist" itself might have been used publicly for the first time in 1912, when Pound wrote "HD, Imagiste" at the bottom of "Hermes of the Ways" before sending H. D.'s poem to Harriet Monroe at Poetry in Chicago. In 1915 F. S. Flint claimed, however, that Hulme had actually used the term first at his Poet's Club meetings before 1912 (de Chasca 75), so the origin of the term remains in dispute. What we do know for sure is that four Imagist anthologies were published between 1914 and 1918. Pound edited the March 1914 anthology, Des Imagistes, while Lowell edited the remaining three anthologies, all titled Some Imagist Poets, which appeared in April 1915, May 1916, and April 1917, respectively. Although the Imagists nearly became known as the "Quintessentials" in early 1915 when Lowell was negotiating with Ferris Greenslet, Houghton Mifflin's poetry editor, Greenslet rejected the name change due to his sense that "'Imagism' had a certain mercantile value" (de Chasca 75). This may be why some see Imagism as little more than publicity stunt even if it was more than that.

To keep my terms clear for the purposes of this article, by "Imagist" I mean a poet whose poetry appeared in one of the four original Imagist anthologies. Between Pound's collection (which had eleven contributors) and Lowell's three collections (which each had the same six contributors), "we have a total of thirteen writers who may possibly be considered bona fide Imagists" (Imagist 24). There were 35 poems in the 1914 anthology, 37 poems in the 1915 anthology, 32 poems in the 1916 anthology, and 26 poems in the 1917 anthology. Thus, there were 130 Imagist poems written by thirteen "bona fide" Imagist poets. That excludes Imagist poems the Imagists published elsewhere as well as the thirty new poems published in the Imagist Anthology 1930. (3) These tallies remind us that the number of Imagist poems and the number of Imagist poets are rather limited ones. Why, then, should such a small movement receive so much attention over the years?

One answer comes from literary history: Imagism, a "campaign for free verse" (Roberts, "Lawrence" 82), included some major twentieth-century writers. In his "Foreword" to the Imagist Anthology 1930, Glenn Hughes argued that many Imagists became well-known "world figures" after Imagism (24), which is one reason why Imagism has not been forgotten. …

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