Have you ever felt like certain books or movies don't really deserve to be as popular as they are? Do you ever think that maybe the world would be a better place if good art were rewarded more often? Well if you do, Ezra Pound is totally with you. If you don't feel this way at all, and think that the majority rules when it comes to artistic quality, Pound is definitely not with you. After all, the dude was modernist just like T.S. Eliot or Wallace Stevens, and he wrote during a time when he saw classical art getting its rear-end whipped by trashy novels and radio soaps.
Like our friend T.S., Ezra wasn't all that happy about the situation. So in 1920, he decided to write the poem "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley" to express his frustration with the crumminess of modern culture. Basically, Hugh Selwyn Mauberley is a sort of poetic persona Pound made up to focus his frustration. It's basically the same thing T.S. Eliot did with J. Alfred Prufrock, where you have this modern guy going through life and showing you all the modern world's problems along the way.
The similarity doesn't just end there, though. Like Eliot, Pound also likes to jump around a lot in his poem, shifting between different subjects without any clear links between them. What you end up with is a sort of collage that a young Pound made to bring together everything he thought was bad about the modern world and everything he still thought was worth preserving.
Deep down, "Hugh Selwyn Mauberley" is all about feeling at odds with the world. And who among us hasn't felt that at some point. Nowadays, any career coach will tell you that becoming successful is all about networking and creating your own "brand" so you can sell yourself to other people in every second of every social interaction. Bashful people need not apply. Now some of us might think that this kind of world suits us just fine; but others might not want to spend their lives selling themselves as if they were a product.
The great thing about "Mauberley" is that even though the poem mostly whines about how terrible modern culture is, its writer (Ezra Pound) wasn't satisfied with sitting around and feeling hard done by (we're looking at you, Eliot). He knew he didn't fit very well into the modern world, so he decided that the world would have to change to suit his needs.
So he went ahead and completely revolutionized the publishing industry in the '20s. There was hardly any important literature coming out at this time that didn't have Pound's fingerprints all over it, either as a writer, editor, or promoter. It's almost impossible to think of anyone today wielding the kind of publishing power Pound did back in the day, especially someone under the age of forty.
It's totally cool to criticize something if you're willing to step up and try to change it for the better. And that's exactly what Pound did in his poetry career. That kind of fighting spirit kind of makes you want to ask, "What do I stand for?" Think about it for a while if you need to, and give our "Mauberley" learning guide a good read while you're at it. Who knows? You might just be inspired to go off on a poetic rant and try to change the world.