Poetry News

Fresh Air Peers Into The Bughouse

By Harriet Staff
Daniel Swift, Bughouse: The Poetry, Politics, and Madness of Ezra Pound, cover

At Fresh Air, Maureen Corrigan meditates on Ezra Pound's controversial status in the literary canon and his relevance within recent debates regarding artistic merit and bad behavior by men. Her reflection on the controversy surrounding Pound is prompted by Daniel Swift's new book The Bughouse: The Poetry, Politics, and Madness of Ezra Pound. "In the winter of 1949, a group of judges — including poets T.S. Eliot and Robert Lowell — met to decide the winner of the prestigious Bollingen Prize for the best book of poetry published in the United States the previous year" Corrigan explains. "They gave the prize to Ezra Pound for his collection The Pisan Cantos. Then all hell broke loose." From there: 

Pound wrote The Pisan Cantos while he was in a prison camp in Italy in 1945. He'd been charged with treason for making more than 200 radio broadcasts from Rome during World War II in which he voiced support for Mussolini and Hitler, and railed against a worldwide Jewish conspiracy.

At his 1945 treason trial in Washington, D.C., Pound, who'd suffered a nervous breakdown, was spared the death sentence because his doctors ruled him "mentally unfit" to stand trial.

That's why, four years later, when Pound won the Bollingen Prize, he was residing at St. Elizabeths Hospital, a government facility for the mentally ill located in c. [sic] The disdainful headline about the award in The New York Times read, "Pound, In Mental Clinic, Wins Prize For Poetry Penned In Treason Cell."

Eliot and the committee defended their decision by insisting that only the "poetic achievement" mattered. Pound himself prepared a cryptic acceptance statement that read, "No comment from the bughouse."

Read more at Fresh Air.

Originally Published: December 5th, 2017