October 30, the anniversary of the birthday of the forever-controversial, impossible-to-dispense-with Ezra Pound. There’s a new book coming out (it appeared in the UK earlier this year), focusing on Pound’s long post-World War II incarceration at St Elizabeth’s – Daniel Swift’s The Bughouse – The Poetry, Politics and Madness of Ezra Pound.
Typically, it has elicited some “mixed” reviews. Robert McCrum in The Guardian found it “enthralling” but “sometimes awkward”, (noting Swift’s “idiosyncratic biographical analysis that marries lit crit and memoir”) Mark Ford, in the same newspaper, was more damning -(“Pound’s arraignment for treason and spell in a psychiatric hospital is a great subject, so why write such an annoying book? “)
That both Pound and Swift elicit such a visceral response is interesting – and understandable – Swift’s account is personal (one might argue that’s what makes it so readable) . The contradictory, contrarian, stance of Pound he accepts, and acknowledges:
“You cannot write the history of twentieth-century literature without giving Pound a starring role in the story, but you can call him the hero or the villain; both parts are his. Writing in Poetry magazine in 1916, the celebrated American poet Carl Sandburg claimed “All talk on modern poetry, by people who know,, ends with dragging in Ezra Pound somewhere. He may be named only to be cursed as wanton and mocker, poseur, trifler and vagrant. Or he may be classed as filling a niche today like that of Keats in a preceding epoch. The point is he will be mentioned.”. In 1916 Pound was thirty years old and already the contradiction is set. For those who care about poetry, Pound is either the sign of all that is wrong or the best thing going, but he cannot be ignored.”