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The Bughouse

Lowell Charles Olson and William Carlos Williams among others They would sit with Pound on the hospital grounds bring him news of the outside world and discuss everything from literary gossip to past escapadesThis was perhaps the world's most unorthodox literary salon convened by a fascist and held in a lunatic asylum Those who came often recorded what they saw Pound was at his most infamous most hated and most followed At St Elizabeths he was a genius and a madman a cont. Traitor and patriot poet and madman genius and fool verse and prose beauty and order to all who looked upon him Pound offered such rich contradiction and never was he provocative troublesome than in his years at St Elizabeth sBughouse is fab litnon fict at its best a real who dunnit of detective work to chase down peepsclues long after da crimes of madness were gone committed and yet recalled to fact Pound is the enigma that keeps on giving Cantos as groveled as Wake nor half again as misunderstood

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Rarian and a poet and impossible to ignoreIn The Bughouse Daniel Swift traces Pound and his legacy walking the halls of St Elizabeths and meeting modern day neofascists in Rome Unlike a traditional biography The Bughouse sees Pound through the eyes of others at a critical moment both in Pound's own life and in twentieth century art and politics It portrays a fascinating multifaceted artist and illuminates the many great poets who gravitated toward this most difficult of m. A lot of fascinating information about a fascinating figure I wish the writing had been direct though Haute Chinese Cuisine from the Kitchen of Wakiya poet and impossible to ignoreIn The Bughouse Daniel Swift traces Pound and his legacy walking the halls of St Elizabeths and meeting modern day neofascists in Rome Unlike a traditional biography The Bughouse sees Pound through the eyes of others at a critical moment both in Pound's own life and in twentieth century art and Twisted politics It The Exploration of the Male Anatomy portrays a fascinating multifaceted artist and illuminates the many great

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A captivating biography of Ezra Pound told via the stories of his visitors at St Elizabeths HospitalIn 1945 the great American poet Ezra Pound was deemed insane He was due to stand trial for treason for his fascist broadcasts in Italy during the war Instead he escaped a possible death sentence and was held at St Elizabeths Hospital for the insane for than a decade While there his visitors included the stars of modern poetry T S Eliot Elizabeth Bishop John Berryman Robert. If you are lucky to have a substantial used bookstore near by check out the poetry section under P s Most of them will have about 3 feet of books by but mostly about Ezra Pound Hugh Kenner s The Pound Era will be the bedrock of the shelf with Pound s New Directions issues in black c 1961 modern covers along with a host of academic and uasi academic studies to either side Like the vacant brick factories and crumbling smokestacks of a rustbelt town here are the sad remains of what was once a thriving Academic Cultural Pound Industry Entire careers were founded on unpacking Pound s Cantos and to this day there are no doubt gray securely tenured professors who never ever bring up the perhaps now embarrassing or pointless or too politically incorrect Poundian topics of their dissertations So Daniel Swift has decided to stroll the ruins and see what he can pull together in The Bughouse The Poetry Politics and Madness of Ezra Pound I found this book to be a real chore to read so awkward poorly organized and sometimes incoherent it was Swift who has spent his life teaching literature see below nevertheless has no feel for actual writing We might see in this gesture another striving for position as William Carlos Williams s final triumph over Pound the moment at which the doctor owns the traitor We might in it also see the mirror of a familiar poetic strategy to take Pound in incorporate him shape him for oneself To take possession to rewrite pp 106 107 In the narrow terms sometimes set by literary critics to chart influence between poets Lowell is nothing like Pound Pound is sprawling prosy loud Lowell is sharp shiny raw p 186This is how Pound s broadcasts had been heard They were confusion and broken speech and if this poem is a Fascist monument it is also like all monuments acutely aware of the ease with which its history may be forgotten p 216Gusts of such gaseous uasi academic afflatus afflict the book Lowell is sharp shiny raw Some of it simply doesn t make sense when are monuments aware of anything Swift also likes to huff and puff and tell us what a Bermuda Triangle meets UFO mystery all this Ezra Pound in the bughouse is This is a History Channel fake cliff hanger before the commercial break move at its worst To recover the whole of Pound s years in the bughouse means at time these detours through the Pound underground We must sift the dust and swirl of fantasies and trace the shapes of older patterns through the tales spun about him Those conspiracy theories which flock to Pound suggest the tenacity of secrets and their persistent pull upon all of our imaginations but hey eually hint at another sadder truth The pieces do not fit however hard we try This was the problem of the Pound case and in 1954 and 1955 under the pressure of the new science and taxonomies if mental illness it suddenly became visible He is the skeleton in the closet the only sane man in the madhouse a rational lunatic a victim and a villain and all these at the same time Perhaps this is precisely why he keeps the power to make paranoiacs of us all p 182Gadzooks This is really hard to take although once you sort through the incontinence and ineptitude what Swift is saying is not true Pound s stay in the bughouse is very well documented True many of these documents are sealed because of patient privacy laws But as far as what he did to wind up there in the first place and his multitude of encounters with visitors over the many years he spent there we pretty much know all there is to know There s no news here really Just a botched re telling Sometimes Swift contradicts his own book Some readers are hostile some documents betray you One minor irony of the trials of Ezra Pound is that it was precisely his restless self narration both in poetry and in the broadcasts which led him into trouble His own belief held as a poetic principle that the hidden self is shown in speech was turned by the doctors and lawyers into a political and psychiatric test He was caught precisely because he was so endlessly willing to reveal his mind in words This is surely the hard way to catch a poet but Pound s case is also a parable of the dangers of speech and its contaminations p 73I cannot recall a single instance where Pound s poems got him into trouble It was the broadcasts and the broadcasts only that led him into trouble the US Government indictment was I think pretty clear about this Yeah the shrinks took a stab at interpreting the poems to use them in a Rorschach y way but I don t recall Swift reporting anything of substance coming from this Was Ezra Pound really interested in hidden self shown in speech Swift says so but I am not so sure Pound was very much into tradition the legacy of Western Civ this hidden self stuff came later And what exactly are the dangers of speech and its contaminations Again the danger for Pound at least as the US Government saw it was that he was aiding and abetting the enemy during a time of war via radio broadcasts Swift wastes a lot of energy trying to make it all so much literary and spooky Efforts are also made to discredit the St Elizabeths leadership particularly Dr Overholser who was in charge of things All that happens is that Overholser was culturally dazzled by Pound and his famous literary friends The superintendent as we know moved Pound into a room on Chestnut Ward which was next door to his own private uarters there are friendly letters between the two men as well as from Overholser to the celebrated literary figures who came to visit Here is Overholser to T S Eliot in July 1946 I am looking forward to seeing you myself as well A portrait begins to suggest itself of the superintendent as toad flattered by grand writers a snob in a white lab coat pp 173 174How does a portrait suggest itself Why toad Does Swift mean toady How in Overholser a snob But yeah I d agree that Pound s privileges at St Elizabeth s were expanded over time is sickening by the end he basically was living at a resort with a staff at his beck and call with almost limitless visiting hours Disgusting yes But I m glad we didn t hang him Alone among the WWII combatants the USA let this malignant nincompoop off the hook The Germans Japanese Soviets would ve hanged him high Despite the heated up leftovers nature of this book there were things that surprised me Perhaps most astonishing is the fact that Pound apparently continued to publish fascist racist anti Semitic crap while incarcerated And in addition to hanging out with eager young poets such as Robert Lowell and John Berryman and reliving old times with T S Eliot Pound was also cultivating malignant trolls such as John Kasper who busied himself with such things as separation of the races and mongrelization and The kike behind the N word p 199 Eustace Mullins less heinous than Kaspar if only because he was foggier was another wretched friend of Pound s I did not know this Pound biographer Donald Gallup tracked down a host of Pound pseudonymous publications in small lunatic fringe publications all while he was a patient under comfy US Government care I did not know this and felt historically outraged by the vileness of it as well as Pound s cowardice But it was Gallup who dug up this stuff not Swift let me add that Swift is commendably very careful in citing his sources and provides not only an index but an admirable Essay on Sources the foundations of this book are very solid Another thing I did not know was how Pound carried on with the ladies to a surprising extent given the bughouse surroundings Sheri Martinelli a character of pure pink melodrama whatever that means who would sit on his knee when she visited and sent him a bikini picture all p 241 She was dumped for Marcella Spann though Swift doesn t report any bikini photo incidents That Pound s wife Dorothy moved into a basement flat to be near him throughout his incarceration didn t seem to impress Swift much although it is pretty noble of her Dorothy being perhaps the only noble figure in this whole sordid tale She accommodated the girl friends although Swift doesn t expand on this my guess is Mrs Pound was relieved not to have to listen to the old coot blather on the pink melodrama giving her a break from Uncle Ez and his monetary theories When Pound was released from St Elizabeths he ditched Mrs Pound again and took up with his long term pre war mistress Olga Rudge another long suffering woman when she paid him a visit in the bughouse he ignored her since Martinelli was there p 243 Pound was not only a fascist but a cad as well Swift does a pretty good job demonstrating how Pound s famous literary friends and eager young poets who would become famous later were not exactly the bedrock of support that is sometimes suggested The book starts out with a Prologue somewhat confusingly and vaporously with Elizabeth Bishop s visits and her famous poem Visits to St Elizabeths Swift gives the poem extensive undergraduate workshop treatment The poem mimics a visit We start by looking upon the hospital and expect to meet the patient but the peculiar motion of these crablike stanzas thwarts our approach Each stanza swells adding an extra line and changing the adjective ualifying the manp 12 Once you sort through the obvious and the slightly incoherent I suppose Swift explains the poem about as well as anyone I admire Bishop greatly but this one always got by me What he does a better job doing is describing what transpired between these poets and wannabe poets and culture vultures who visited Pound For this I gave Swift an extra star because he does do a pretty fair job Charles Olson another big name I ve never ever been able to appreciate comes across as a vaguely creepy sycophant full of Big Ideas than much of anything resembling poetry Robert Lowell who had been rebuffed by Pound in the late 1930s when Pound was in Italy and he was a nobody characteristically later sought out Pound during his manic phases and generously tried to help the old coot Lowell a Caligula sometimes as he and others would tell you had very generous impulses and didn t ever seem to carry grudges On the other hand John Berryman was pretty much seeing what he could get out of Pound and when he saw not much he stopped visiting or writing though Pound seems to have been taken with him Berryman went on to ungallantly note in a poem that he owed Pound three letters I admire some of Berryman s Dream Songs very much but as he says somewhere in them Rilke was a jerk Yeah so was Berryman Another problem is that Swift doesn t seem to grasp the phenomenon of Ezra Pound he doesn t seem to get it And yet he must be very young in one of the many non essential and always annoying bits of autobiography he salts the book with he describes after telling us If you spend your life teaching literature as I do you cannot avoid bumping into Ezra Pound that he had a real dark night of the soul as a studentin 2011 p 16 I have a ratty used copy of Guide to Kulchur that I bought circa 1984 Ah the young shall inherit the earth and now I am old enough to be dismayed Yes indeed I suppose one is bound to bump into Ezra Pound if one teaches literature good to know actually I hope T S Eliot still gets bumped into these days although my two recent encounters with current English lit college instruction demonstrates that modern literature only goes all the way back to 2004 But I ll spare you my despair over this Also I don t want to be a hypocrite those ratty New Directions books by Pound I was accumulating and occasionally dipping into back in the 1980s were already 20 or years old it is most certain that like young Professor Swift I did not get Ezra Pound either But as time goes by why a particular writer was important often fades Occasionally literary reputations expand mostly they collapse Thirty years closer to events I get the brouhaha over Pound s 1948 Bollingen Prize win at least to some extent Reading years ago some of the accounts of the participants the angry letters and editorials I have a feel for how important it all was Swift devotes two sketchy inadeuate paragraphs to it But this was a big deal American Literature s Dreyfus Affair to this day it is almost unimaginable It would be like Harvey Weinstein being presented with a special Lifetime Achievement Oscar four or five years after the me too scandal broke For Pound did some awful things and harbored some nasty nasty ideas and yet a large segment of the literary establishment backed him on being awarded the Bollingen Only suares such as Robert Hillyer complained Hillyer was a prominent poet of the 1940s pretty much forgotten now Even Robert Frost who harbored some pretty harsh anti New Deal opinions supported Uncle Ez in a half assed way Most of the establishment poets did They supported Alger Hiss too and hated Eisenhower etc leftist political lockstep being pretty much a hallmark of American poetry since the 1930s There are other moments where despite Swift s pedagogical claims he seems to have a sketchy idea of 20th century literature A little later he Pound scrawled in the margin georgian which was all these young men hated the patterns and pomp of those decorous pre war poets p 129 Actually the Georgian poets also flourished during the war an on into 1922 when the last anthology by Harold Monro and Edward Marsh was published I m cribbing this off Wikipedia For that matter I don t think patterns and pomp characterizes the Georgians They were trying to hang on to a 19th century idea of poetry but bring it into the 20th century Sometimes dismissed as reactionary and clueless they were actually attempting something that goes on today create a poetry that does not jettison the past I don t care for their poems but I respect what they were trying to do I respect them than Ezra Pound s Cantos Swift should also keep in mind that Robert Frost who lived in England just before World War I was also considered a Georgian they weren t all third raters Sometimes Swift s historical ignorance beyond literature reveals itself in his flights of descriptive blah blahSt Elizabeths has fallen into a doubled neglect These old formal buildings are used no longer and neither are the methods for which the hospital was designed what has been abandoned is the idea that a mental hospital needs breezeways for the summer days a farm and screen porches p 85Those breezeways and screen porches had nothing to do with psychiatric methods and everything to do with the way the world worked before air conditioning in Washington DC especially Virtually all hospitals and sanitariums of that era had porches screens breezeways etc And while we re at it what is a formal building Swift s typing often gets ahead of his thinking So what were these horrible things Pound did You will find out in Swift s book but it takes some effort despite chronological section headings things are scattered all over the place On page 180 181 in the 1954 1958 section we get Pound s broadcasts I think it might be a good thing to hang Roosevelt and a few hundred yidds IF you can do it by due legal process declared Ezra Pound on air in Rome in April 1943 and his broadcasts often turn upon the condemnation of that yaller hound Dawg and chief war pimp Frankie Finkelstein Roosevelt Pound s anti presidential attitude found an oddly fitting home hereSo Pound never took up arms against his countrymen he just talked and talked and talked and a lot of his talk was clearly treasonable The mere fact he was broadcasting for a declared enemy of the USA during wartime makes him a traitor by most definitions even if he was mumbling through some poem about Confucius This while GI s and Allies were dying at Anzio and elsewhere in Italy Swift does not sympathize much with Pound rather the contrary one of the few coherent ideas that comes out of this book is that Pound was uite sane at least sane enough to stand trial Gertrude Stein once famously said about Ezra Pound A village explainer Excellent if you were a village but if you were not not Explaining things can create its own momentum especially if the explainer has an audience or thinks he has an audience it is hard to tell what if anything the Italian people thought about Pound s rambling broadcasts I doubt very many Americans were able or willing to tune in stateside during the war Explaining is easier than poetry much of the time explaining is also easier than teaching but that is another subject Pound s poetic gifts which were considerable although often overestimated by his mid 20th century admirers Pound s ambitions were very 19th century when he was starting out Yeats transformations and Ford Maddox Ford rolling around on the floor saying No No No showed him another way which was brilliant for a time Cathay is a beautiful work despite what might now be considered cultural appropriation Then came the Cantos which after a promising start turned into explanations the Pisan Cantos being a detour from their general drift Poets turn into explainers all the time survey the contemporary American poetry scene a recent issue of Poetry magazine and you ll see what I mean The best poets resist this impulse in their verse even that old explainer Robert Frost was too shrewd to go that way Swift s book was a slog but finish it I did for the book does have some virtues For one I found Swift s research to be impressive even if usually poorly deployed or even wasted For instance he tracked down an elderly lady in Manhattan who used to play tennis with Pound at St Elizabeth s He talks to a guy who remembers Pound in his GI holding pen in 45 He winkles out the fact that slices of Mussolini s brain had been sent to St Elizabeths around the same time Pound was sent there said slices have since disappeared alas He did a good job gathering up information even he doesn t really know what to do with the material and leaves these bits of living history stranded here and there Swift also seeks out those odd places where Pound s legacy still lives since it is pretty much dead if not outright forbidden in the official halls of academe He visits a sort of collective suatters group in Rome who live in a building called CasaPound they believe that politically Pound had the right idea This group is surprisingly adroit in a PR sort of way and Swift seems to rather enjoy their company He also seeks out a group devotees of Pound s actual poetry as opposed to his fascism academics most of them geriatric who still ponder their gray heads over the Cantos in little conference rooms and over pizza Swift does not seem to enjoy this company as much as the Roman Poundians and pokes fun at these folks in a supercilious way which seems odd given that he is a teacher of literature Or maybe not odd perhaps this is just the way the culture ahem kulchur falls away in little dandruffy flakes Real professors don t bother with pitiful Ezra Pound seminars apparently


10 thoughts on “The Bughouse

  1. says:

    There is a certain type of book freuently seen these days which I believe has yet to acuire a single word or short phrase to describe it like for example “chick lit” or “microhistory” This book is a member of this as yet unnamed genre individual examples of which often have elements of history biography autobiographymemoir and comedy to greater or lesser extentsThe shortest description I can give is

  2. says:

    If you are lucky to have a substantial used bookstore near by check out the poetry section under P's Most of th

  3. says:

    Pound is the Zelig of literary modernism The American born European emigre gave his imprimatur to anything and everything that was being created around him Pound’s massive volumes of poetry critical essays and idiosyncratic translations are still vital to understanding what his problematic catchphrase “make it new” meant for an entire generation many of whom Pound mentored promoted and edited For all his literary fecundity

  4. says:

    Traitor and patriot poet and madman genius and fool verse and prose beauty and order to all who looked upon him Pound offered such rich contradiction and never was he provocative troublesome than in his years at St Elizabeth'sBugho

  5. says:

    The Bughouse is the result of Daniel Swift’s research of the St Elizabeth hospital records and the accounts of the literary figures visiting Ezra pound the poet during his stay thereEzra Pound was accused of treason for his broadca

  6. says:

    As with studies of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit I am willing to follow any brave soul into the thickets of the famously difficult

  7. says:

    In Vonnegut's Mother Night and Slaughterhouse Five there's a character Howard Campbell who is loosely based on Pound I've never read his poetry because of his fascist and anti Jewish attitudes This book conveys his brilliance without apologizing for the negative elements of his character and it also paints a comprehensive picture o

  8. says:

    While the mental institution history was interesting this book reminded me how little I care about poetry

  9. says:

    A lot of fascinating information about a fascinating figure I wish the writing had been direct though

  10. says:

    Come for the obtuse modernist poetry stay for the fascism and anti Semitism

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