Coming on the heels of a problematic engagement with the leftist anarchist Kenneth Rexroth, we approached Ezra Pound's potentially fascist poetics with some trepidation. We started by listening to the presentation of a short biographical essay on Pound composed by our group's expert on all things Canto-related & Minister of Brass-Knuckled Information, Nicholas DeBoer:
I am going to attempt to summarize this project without overstaying an introductory welcome.
Ezra Pound. Motherfucker.
Born 1887. 30 October, Idaho. Pennsylvania for a stint, pops working at the U.S. Mint, making coins. Hooked up with HD&WCW in college, smoked pipes in Indiana, hated NYC. London, met up with Yeats, did it secretary style and the War to End All Wars sprouted up, knocked out half of his friends to their deaths. Picks up on Joyce, breaks Gertrude Stein's favorite chair. His energies move toward the idealistic spit of peace on earth, justice. Fair.
By the 1920s, he was totally in love with Benito Mussolini, an atheist who utilized Plato and Nietzche to shore up his new found political organization, the National Fascist Party. Il Duce was a glorified thug, who preferred taking postcard photos with tigers and marching 30,000 men to the door of the King and walking himself into Prime Minister.
I don't know, this helps me. By 1926, Europe is sweating blood on the wall-climbing back-break of getting out of an economic recession. Germany got knocked out by Versailles and the Weimar Republic was a massive fail. Capitalism had sucker-punched America into a gigantic exploit phase, called the Roaring Twenties. Soviet style Communism had just lost Lenin and even though dude, death-bed ordered Stalin ousted, Stalin took over. Stalin tells Trotsky to take a walk and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat joined up with a much darker overtone.
The Italian Fascists offered a 'Third Way.” It was to be in between both Capitalism and Communism, called cutely, Corporatism. Recently, Secretary of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner showcased the proposal of a public-private trust system. This is one of the cornerstones of the economic agenda of Fascism. Go figure.
At the same time, Hitler pitches a fit and somehow convinces German society that not only are Jewish citizens the major problem, but that they are also secret Bolsheviks. Yeah, so when the Soviet's get backstabbed later in the war, it's kind of a no brainer. So, all this shit is going down, and Pound is just eating up every dumb fallout suggestion from the Italian Fascists, even stops writing, and gets up on Rome Radio to espouse his own dumbfuck ideas about the Jewish People, the Jefferson in Rome thesis and how the Americans should go AWOL and join up with the Fascists.
By the time the war ends, he somehow gets listed as a Top Tier Criminal. Eventually, he gets picked up by gunpoint for the reward and is tossed into a cage for six weeks, where he watches the other inmates get hung one after another. Some Pound apologists like to warrant this experience as a vindication for all his mistakes and let him plea insanity, but I think he was totally and absolutely confident in what he was spewing. You have to understand Pound is one of the greatest poets who ever lived, but also one of the craziest, you can't make this up, humans.
Pound spent six months in that American Internment Camp in Pisa and was then carted via air to Washington D.C., where his friends (i.e. Eliot, Williams) convince him to enter St. Elizabeth's Hospital, an insane asylum, to not be executed for treason. Truth be told the USA didn't have a case, but no one knew that at the time. Ezze was 60 and after 12 yrs, at 72 he was released. He might have gotten out earlier, but McCarthyism.
He jumps ship back to Rapallo, Italy and lives out the remainder of his life with his lifelong mistress, Olga. What began as a heartwarming return, by six months became a period of silence that would continue until his death. After 60 some years of never knowing when to think before he spoke, Ezra Pound just stopped talking. His artistic life ended. Who knows why, maybe he wised up, maybe he saw the photographs of the Nazi Concentration Camps and realized what his hand in all that had been, maybe he got tired, maybe he lost the last remaining containers of memory he had. No one knows. Most of his friends died. There is film of him sitting in a church, staring at the cross with serpent eyes, cane in hand. He never bought Christ, but he knew his judgment was coming.
The Pound apologists love to take note of the 1967 conversation Allen Ginsberg had with EzPo, where he apologizes for his 'suburban prejudice of anti-semitism.' I don't think its good enough, but either way by 1972 he was dead. A tragic/comedy. In all actuality, there isn't so much written about Pound's Fascism, and as revisionism goes, that makes sense. But, I will say this, if you fall in love with EzPo like I did, and you could feel his every gesture leak into the back of your thought process, where his every murmur seemed to reverberate back into your heart and warm the imagination like steady California wine, be wise and read The Genealogy of Demons by Robert Castillo. According to him, Ezra Pound was not just an Italian Fascist, but more akin to the National Socialists. Castillo traces Pound's mythology all the way through the legends perpetuated by Nazi Germany.
And during all this, starting in around 1919 for forty yrs, Ezra Pound wrote his masterpiece, The Cantos, a book so dense that the scholarship has never stopped. 824 pages embarking on his entire vision and quest to find peace and justice on earth, to find Paradiso.
We started our work with the first canto. Pound opens this work with a retelling of Homer's scene from the Odyssey where Odysseus is first met with Elpenor returning from the underworld. What does it mean that Pound is in the world telling this story? He is making the action of retelling it, but as he goes into it his retelling becomes more of a viewing. It seems that he is taking a frame of Homer and setting up certain philosophical dualities. When these dualities engage with the world in a truthful way, it works.
There is also a curiosity in that he enters and exits the poem. This work restarts the epic tradition, which had been in dormancy for about a hundred years. In this poem he not only pulls us in and out of the work, but he drops us into the world. This is the purpose of his arc-work.
Pound's self-confidence offers a strange look into his offerings to the poetic world. His confidence acts as a restoration of poetry into the world again, but also signals his own fathering of it. This oddity and strangeness is coupled with his presence in the upcoming movements or generations of writers. His whole body of work seems to be at the top of so many cookie jars.
What can we take from Ezra Pound? The layering techniques of myth and history, the audacity of his talents? Is it the talent of entering and exiting a retelling of history, the relation of the poet to the subject matter, the telling of a fiction story inside the basis of his work or the difference that he creates inside the variations he is retelling? Is it the way he deals with the center versus the lack of a center?
This first poem was written between 1909 and 1926, with the initial three poems being debuted in Poetry magazine and then reworked for the 1926 unveiling of A Draft of XXX Cantos. So much of the first canto works to express the Great War through the eyes of Homer. We enter the poem on a ship and the darkness of the sea. This retelling asks, “Where are you going to take me?”
As a group we were very engaged with the style of work and the way he takes us with him on a journey through history. His use of comma and rhythm keeps you in the present tense. It was as if we were in the library reading with him into the world. Pound speaks to us of the present with an archaic language and then speaks of the past with the language of the present, as if he is trying to modernize the past and archaizes the present.
The first piece focuses partly on Elpenor and his death and the pouring of libations for the dead, the action of honoring them. He could be seen as some form of a Frontier Shakespearian. We spent some time listening to Pound read his work aloud. In this the poem gives the emotion to the poet, in the way the poet learns how to read the poem. A poet knows their craft. They might not understand how it would be said, but in this way they learn it. What is Pound's context to read? In reading Rexroth, we were displeased with his use of references, but how should we view Pound's success? Is it of its time?
There is also the question of Pound's feminism in the way that he objectifies the canvas. It seems that in Pound, he embeds the references, where Rexroth does not. Pound's world view is primarily exclusionary. In talking about Elpenor, he showcasing an image of the pathetic man. We then find Tiresias, and Tiresias has the gift/curse of future sight. Pound also makes an importance in putting women on a pedestal, putting them in power and treating them with a respect. Yet, they are often off-shoots, thus making them unimportant. In Pound, the men are of more importance. William Carlos Williams describes a visit he once had with Pound in Paris and how he seemed to admire women, that there was an objectification but an impotence in Pound's sight.
It is with this that we see how Pound constructs the persona. He enjoys posing. He contains a fascinating beauty that moves his voice to very particular notes. He made a mistake and there is no way to solve this mistake. If you are reading something and you realize you are from the outside, a kind of outside of an audience, what do you do? How do you navigate? It's within Pound's world view that he pushes you out. If his career is built out of persona, that he is a being of two minds, how does one handle his errors? Does one view it as merely one part of his persona or something deeper. In some ways, the companion text to the Cantos can be seen as an apologist for him.
We also discussed From CXV which is a fragment from the end of his life. These pieces were derived as an almost posthumous work that became available out of a number of 'pirated' copies through Ed Sanders 'Fuck You Press' The poem seems to question what the audience is to take away, but builds off a concise refutation of our difficulty with the references. The second half seems to be stronger in its referring of concrete universals. This ending is billed as a redemption of Pound. After 40 yrs, this poem has become a place to lose oneself in the particulars. Pound's flaws brought him antisemitism and fascism. These qualities brought him to barbarism where he thought it brought him out. He wanted to do good, but ended up on the opposite side of history. There is some admittance to this wrong doing at the end of the 60s, but his blindness had a way of holding him and never lifting.
In the same way that in the first canto, we find a journey to the underworld, at the end of the book, we find that the dead are living cardboard, that there is a ambiguity. These last poems are written when Pound is in his early 70s and there is an aging in him that seems to showcase the guilt of his choices.