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I wrote a ‘criticism’ of “The Pisan Cantos” for a small invisible little mag published by someone at Muhlenberg University in Pennsylvania or Ohio or somewhere,” poet William Carlos Williams wrote to his old friend and fellow poet Ezra Pound, the writer of the cantos, in the spring of 1949.

“It is called IMAGI. About three sheets.”

Six sheets, actually. Making twelve carefully printed pages under a clean white cover, carefully edited by Thomas Cole ’50. Its slogan: “Poetry—sharpens our senses.”


Williams’ review of Pound’s collection praises the poems for “A sense that connects the past with the present, so that the deepest past starts to life.” Written in a military prison in Pisa, Italy, at the end of World War II, these cantos epitomize and mourn a shattered civilization. In them, the poet likens himself to a lone ant escaped from “a broken ant-hill/ from the wreckage of Europe.” (86/472). “The Pisan Cantos” are still considered by many to be one of the greatest poetic works written in the 20th century. To have a review of it by Williams, Pound’s closest friend, in one’s magazine was a coup indeed.

“IM-agi,” as it was pronounced by its energetic publisher and editor, was one of those “little magazines” that still serve as key conduits for the arts. Like the more famous “Little Review,” or “Contact,” of the 1920s and ’30s, Cole’s slim and impeccably elegant publication, which appeared several times a year from 1947-1956, became an important outlet for some of America’s greatest poets. During its ten-year run, “Imagi” published works by Williams, Pound, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, e.e. cummings, Charles Olson, Louis Zukofsky and others.

“Imagi” cost 40 cents on newsstands and bookstores in 1950. Contributors were unpaid, and Cole surely sank a fair amount of money as well as endless time into his project. Cole made it happen anyway. He did it for love—love of poetry, love of literature, love of culture. He has always enjoyed fine music, good food, good conversation.

The edition of “Imagi” with Williams’ review in it soon found its way to St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C., where Pound had been confined after being declared mentally unfit to stand trial for treason in 1945. Half a century later, Cole tells the story of the resulting friendships with Pound and Williams to a rapt audience of Muhlenberg students studying contemporary poetry.

(continued)


BY ALEC MARSH,
ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR of ENGLISH

 

 

 


Eric Brueckner ’03, Carol Shiner Wilson, Alec Marsh and
Tom Cole ’50 in Marsh's Contemporary Fiction class,
March 2003

 

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