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Ezra Pound in Italy

By Harriet Staff

“On May 24 1945, distinguished U.S. poet Ezra Loomis Pound found himself locked in a special cell – a cage, really – in the United States Army Disciplinary Training Center in Metato, a few miles north of Pisa, Italy.” Thus begins a long and in depth article about Ezra Pound, Italy, Pounds marriage and affair, his collaboration with the fascist government in Italy, his imprisonment after WWII, and much much more, over at Open Letters Monthly. The opening of the article paints a vivid picture of the conditions Pound lived under after his capture at the hands of US forces, having been charged with treason:

The USDTC stockade, which stateside newspapers had dubbed the repository of “the dirty sediments of our troops in the Mediterranean theater” was used to incarcerate U.S. military personnel who had committed serious criminal offenses and were awaiting either court martial, transfer to a penal institution in the United States, or execution. Most prisoners were housed in tents, but those suspected of suicidal tendencies, considered a danger to others, likely to make escape attempts, or condemned to death, were housed in so-called “observation cells,” commonly known to inmates as “death cells.” The 7103rd Disciplinary Training Company, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John L. Steele, a graduate of Harvard University, manned the camp.

Pound was the only civilian in the stockade. Instructions from higher-ups stated that Pound was to be put under “special and permanent surveillance to prevent escape or suicide. No contacts with the press. No privileged treatment.”

Pursuant to those orders, Pound was placed in one of the camp’s “death cells.” These were outdoor steel-mesh cages, about 6 ft. by 6 ft., which were open to view on all four sides and covered on top with a metal plate. Spotlights lighted the cages all night, and the occupants were kept in isolation, with guards forbidden to speak to them. Pound’s cage had been reinforced with the type of steel mesh used to lay down aircraft runways in temporary war zone airfields. The reason was later given that this had been done to thwart Fascists from attempting to free him.

To prevent suicide attempts, the prisoners had no belts or shoelaces, and no bed, sleeping, as they could, on the concrete slab floor with only blankets. They were fed once a day and they used a can in a corner of the enclosures to relieve themselves. Once every three days, Pound was let out of the cage for a while to go and take a shower and exercise by walking to the shower’s enclosure. No books or other reading material was allowed, except for the Bible. One of Pound’s cell neighbors was a soldier who apparently had been tried and condemned to death and who in his despair kept cursing aloud. Of course, Pound did not know why his neighbor was so agitated.

The guards, not knowing the details of why Pound, then close to sixty, was held like a hardened criminal, were puzzled, particularly since Pound’s behavior, although erratic and sometimes bizarre, was peaceful, courteous, and non-threatening.

After about two weeks in such environment, on or about June 7, Pound apparently suffered some kind of nervous breakdown. The heat during the day, about 75-90F in Tuscany in June, the comparatively cold nights, the dust, the lack of privacy, and the social isolation had gotten to him. Some years later, Pound made light of his Pisa detention:

Yes, they believed I was a dangerous person, unpredictable, and I observed that I really scared them. Sometimes I noted that the guards looked at me as judges. Their look translated to me as ‘gorilla, stay in your cage!’ When soldiers were off-duty, they came to gawk at me with a sense of wonder. Sometime they would throw me a piece of meat or something sweet, just like to an animal. The old EZ: an exciting and fascinating sight.

Make the jump and find out how Pound ended up in the “cage” and what happened after…

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Posted in Poetry News on Wednesday, September 12th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.