Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

A Return to the Scene of the Postmodern: Ezra Pound Reading

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

A Return to the Scene of the Postmodern: Ezra Pound Reading

Article excerpt

In the summer of 1952, Barbara Holdridge and Marianne Mantell visited St. Elizabeths Hospital in order to persuade Ezra Pound to make a spoken-word LP for their record company. Founded in March of that year, Caedmon Records specialized in recording modern poetry as the verbal content of the LP, the first medium to reproduce the complex harmonics of the human speaking voice. Spoken-word LPs reproduced the sound of poetry and responded to the modernist complaint (advanced notably by Pound) that the medium of print was incapable of accurately recording and representing prosody. Indeed, the liner notes to the 1961 Caedmon Treasury of Modern Poets Reading suggest the entire Caedmon venture could be seen as a response to Pound's critique of the limitations of print media. As they observe, "Decades ago, Ezra Pound strove for the same effect when he introduced a sort of musical notation system, placing phrases slightly above or below one another" (Caedmon).

Caedmon's founders met as humanities majors at New York's Hunter College. Before she co-founded Caedmon, Mantell (nee Roney) was pursuing a doctoral degree in comparative medieval literature at Columbia while working part-time in the classical record industry. Holdridge (nee Cohen) was pursuing an M.A. degree in the same field while working full-time as an assistant editor at Liveright Corporation, which was then headed by Horace Liveright's former accountant, Arthur Pell. The two founded Caedmon with a recording of Dylan Thomas, who was then travelling across America with his popular poetry-reading series. They reasoned that audiences who enjoyed poets' live readings would purchase spoken-word recordings. The economics of LP publishing favoured the enterprise: sales of only five hundred copies were required to break even, and sales of one thousand led to modest profits. From humble beginnings, Caedmon became the largest company of its kind before it was sold to the military industrial conglomerate Raytheon Corporation in 1970, for a value in excess of four million dollars.

Dylan Thomas Reading established the label, but Caedmon soon began to specialize in recordings of modern poets and prose stylists whose works Liveright had published in print during the 1920s. A constellation of cultural enterprises--including Random House, New Directions, Anchor Books, and the Reader's Subscription Book Club--popularized Modern Library works and authors during the post-war era, as part of a publishing formation Raymond Williams labelled "the second face of 'Modernism'" (130). Caedmon enjoyed connections with all of these institutions, but New Directions was a particularly important ally. James Laughlin distributed Caedmon LPs before the company could afford national and international distribution. He also provided Caedmon with previously recorded material that featured New Directions' authors, including material from several recording sessions that Ezra Pound made in June of 1958, which Caedmon published in 1960 and 1962. That moment of publishing history is the subject of this essay.

Greg Barnhisel has demonstrated that Laughlin was at the centre of efforts to remake Pound's literary reputation during the post-war period (Barnhisel, James Laughlin). This essay will argue that Holdridge and Mantell were part of this project, even as it suggests they were at the forefront of a separate effort to rehabilitate the poet's voice image. Both projects were haunted by Pound's status as America's "designated fascist intellectual," a status that arose largely as the result of his wartime radio broadcasts on behalf of Mussolini (Flory 300). Pound was committed to a hospital for the criminally insane as a consequence of these broadcasts--with an imprecise diagnosis many thought was arranged to prevent his trial for treason and the death sentence that would have been its likely outcome (Torrey 193). Arguably, Caedmon's publication of Pound's voice image was central to the post-war rehabilitation of his reputation. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.