Ezra Pound’s Composition Exercises for Young Writers

From Ezra Pound’s literary study, ABC of Reading

1. Let the pupil write the description of a tree.

2. Of a tree without mentioning the name of the tree (larch, pine, etc.) so that the reader will not mistake it for the description of some other kind of tree.

3. Try some object in the classroom.

4. Describe the light and shadow on the school-room clock or some other object.

5. If it can be done without breach of the peace, the pupil could write descriptions of some other pupil. The author suggests that the pupil should not describe the instructor, otherwise the description might become a vehicle of emotion, and subject to more complicated rules of composition than the class is ready to cope with.

In all these descriptions the test would be accuracy and vividness, the pupil receiving the other’s paper would be the gauge. He would recognize or not recognize the object or person described.

Rodolfo Agricola in an edition dating from fifteen hundred and something says one writes: ut doceat, ut moveat, ut delectet, to teach, to move or to delight.

A great deal of bad criticism is due to men not seeing which of these three motives underlies a given composition.

The converse processes, not considered by the pious teachers of antiquity, would be to obscure, to bamboozle or mislead, and to bore.

The reader or auditor is at liberty to remain passive and submit to these operations if he so choose.

2 thoughts on “Ezra Pound’s Composition Exercises for Young Writers”

  1. Apart from this book, which I love (mad and brilliant in almost equal measure), who reads Pound anymore? I am sure he is studied in Academia, but does Pound have new readers? I keep picking up the complete Cantos and dipping, but a few stanzas aside, it never compels me to continue reading.


    1. pound is like someone’s crazy cranky old great great uncle, and the ABC of Reading is like him shouting aesthetic opinions at you as if they were absolute truths. but it’s funny and wise.

      but, no, his poetry is not so compelling, and i suppose his politics soured his legacy (although he was hardly the only modernist to embrace fascism, i suppose).

      for what it’s worth, my students almost universally express contempt for the few poems we read by him (“In a Station of the Metro” they seem to hate in particular, which cracks me up).


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