On this day in 1914 Amy Lowell hosted an "Imagist" dinner party in London, attended by Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford and others prominent in the avant-garde movement. Though intended as a celebration of modern poetry and a joining of avant-garde forces, it became an early skirmish in a longer war between Pound and Lowell over who would lead whom, and in what direction.
Lowell, says one critic, was "the Liberace of modern poetry." She had some talent, lots of money and connections, and a Yankee approach to selling the product: "Publicity first. Poetry will follow." From the start, Pound seems to have welcomed Lowell not for her poetic talent or taste -- "the fluid, fruity, facile stuff we most wanted to avoid" -- but for her pocketbook and her promotional abilities:
Re/Amy. I DON'T want her. But if she can be made to liquidate, to excoriate, to cash in, on a magazine . . . THEN would I be right glad to see her milked of her money, mashed into moonshine, at mercy of monitors.
When he found that Lowell had her own ideas about her money, and about making modern poetry more accessible to the general reader, Pound left "Amygism" for Vorticism, and left Amy free to return to America "with the Imagist ark of the covenant, varnished and empty." Pound became foreign editor for The Little Review, and distanced himself from "Amy-just-selling-the-goods" by changing the magazine's masthead to read, "Making No Compromise with the Public Taste."
Lowell's multi-course poem, "The Dinner Party" is a slap at her old world, high society upbringing, but it can also be served as crow to Pound. The meal begins with
"So . . ." they said,
With their wine-glasses delicately poised,
Mocking at the thing they cannot understand.
"So . . ." they said again,
Amused and insolent.
The silver on the table glittered,
And the red wine in the glasses
Seemed the blood I had wasted
In a foolish cause.
Later, just before the exit and door slam of "Eleven O'Clock," there is "Coffee" and "Talk":
They sat in a circle with their coffee-cups.
One dropped in a lump of sugar,
One stirred with a spoon.
I saw them as a circle of ghosts
Sipping blackness out of beautiful china,
And mildly protesting against my coarseness
In being alive.
They took dead men's souls
And pinned them on their breasts for ornament;
Their cuff-links and tiaras
Were gems dug from a grave;
They were ghouls battening on exhumed thoughts;
And I took a green liqueur from a servant
So that he might come near me
And give me the comfort of a living thing.