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MLA Convention 2022

Session 276: Ezra Pound Society Guaranteed Session

The City on a Hill: Ezra Pound in Washington, D. C.

Friday, 7 January 2022, 12.00-1.15pm

Presidential Theme: Multilingual US

 

Presiding: Demetres Tryphonopoulos, U of Alberta

Respondent: Mark Byron, U of Sydney

 

Why Pound Was Right

Chris Hall, U of Kansas

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It’s a frequent refrain in Pound scholarship: we study the poet despite his politics, we find enduring value in his work only by disavowing his fascism and racism. Even direct engagements with Pound’s politics struggle with this desire to extricate politics and poetics or to make the case that scholarship can unearth some essentially anti-fascist quality underneath the blatantly fascist rhetoric. In such an approach, we can only see the connections that Pound attempted to forge between US and Italian governance as erroneous—a kind of manifold naivety.

            But what if we were to come at this from the opposite perspective. What if, rather than casting Pound’s fascist anti-Semitism as a personal failing, we considered the possibility that Pound’s attempts to bridge Mussolini’s fascism with Jeffersonian democracy light upon an affinity between the two? I propose in this essay that we try a different sort of Pound scholarship, by entertaining the notion that Pound was not delusional in his attempt to wed Italian fascism and US patriotism, but rather that he perceived as few others have done a correspondence between fascism and US constitutionalism. I examine Pound’s work linking Rome and Washington, and his correspondence with Washington politicians, in a move to take seriously Pound’s understanding of fascist/constitutionalist compatibility, which must be exhumed and examined, not avoided. In our era of resurgent white supremacy and authoritarianism, we would do well to revisit the political links attempted by Pound—not with a more charitable eye, but with a more critical one.

 

Aesthetics, Politics, and Ethics in Ezra Pound’s Poetic Field of Making It New: Feedback Loops between the Prison-House and Writing

Youngmin Kim, Dongguk University
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In 1941, Ezra Pound began a series of radio broadcasting on Rome Radio for the Italian fascists, and he was indicted for treason, arrested and detained and transferred to the American Disciplinary Training Center (DTC) at Pisa on May 1945, held in a specially reinforced cage, and then moved to the medical compound where he gained access to a typewriter. In November 16, 1945, Pound was flown to Washington, DC, transferred to Gallinger Hospital, examined by four psychiatrists and judged insane, and sent to St. Elizabeths, a mental hospital, on December 21, 1945 until his release in 1958. From 1946-1958, Ezra Pound was a patient of the Chestnut Ward at St. Elizabeths Hospital in southeast D.C. Pound wrote The Pisan Cantos (74-84) during his period of “the gorilla cage” at Pisa, and Rock Drill Cantos (85-95) and Thrones Cantos (96-109) at St. Elizabeths Hospital at Washington, DC. Reconstructing this brief timeline of Pound’s forced and imposed temporal and spatial movement and detainment, my contention is that writing poetry creates a transformative “feedback loop” in the poetic field between the poet’s mind and his environment despite the crisis. I would argue that Pound’s structural intentions are dramatized in the Cantos as a voyage, a process of “periplum” during which he can release the forces latent in himself and in external nature in the midst of the caged environment. Blown by Aeolian winds from fragmentation to the whole, the poet suffers from “the wind” of discipline which “also is of the process.”

 

The Capital of the Ruins: Ezra Pound, Eustace Mullins, and the Secrets of the Federal Reserve

Alexander Howard, U of Sydney

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Ezra Pound’s arrival in Washington D.C. on 18 December 1945, facing charges of treason, was the first time he had been on US soil since his visit to the city in the spring of 1939. Pound avoided trial and conviction, but the trade-off was more than twelve years in the place he came to call the ‘bug house’ – St. Elizabeths, the Government Hospital for the Insane. This paper looks to shed light on this important period of Pound’s life and career. Specifically, it looks to do so in relation to a post-war conspiracy theory propagated by Eustace Mullins, an associate of the Aryan League of America whom Pound befriended in 1948. In 1949, Pound tasked Mullins – once described by the Southern Policy Center as a ‘one-man organization of hate’ – with producing an expose of the US Federal Reserve. The volume that Mullins eventually published in 1952 – The Secrets of the Federal Reserve – was in equal measure anti-Semitic and conspiratorial. Significantly, this particular conspiracy theory, which Pound set in motion and which Mullins promoted, has persisted over the decades. (Coincidentally, the ‘theory’ of the Federal Reserve as set forth by Mullins is often cited by QAnon supporters – some of whom were caught on camera in Washington on 6 January 2021.) This paper looks to the volume that Mullins produced at Pound’s behest in an attempt to not only better understand the ‘Washington’ period of the Pound’s career, but what it might have to tell us about the developmental arc of conspiracy theorising in the United States in both the twentieth- and twenty-first century.

 

The Other Ezuversity: Pound and the Network of D.C. Academia

Marius Hentea, U of Gothenburg

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While there has been a great deal of scholarship on the ‘Ezuversity’ Ezra Pound assembled on the lawns of St Elizabeths during this twelve-year stay at this mental hospital, there has been relatively little work examining Ezra Pound’s links to universities in the D.C. metro area. If Pound famously expressed contempt for the dire state of university education in America, he was nonetheless careful to cultivate close relationships with academics, and especially so during his St Elizabeths period when his poetic stock was rising thanks to the efforts of academics like Hugh Kenner. This paper will examine the multiple links between Pound and D.C.-based academics, most prominently among them Giovanni Giovannini, a professor of English at Catholic University who was instrumental in Pound’s eventual release (through his efforts for the Sieber report), Craig La Driere, a fellow Catholic University professor (who went on to teach at Harvard), Amiya Chakravarty, a professor of English at Howard University (who got Pound materials into the Bengali review Kavita), and Aida Mastrangelo, who taught Italian at Catholic University (and lobbied the Italian Embassy in D.C. on Pound’s behalf). Rather than shunning academia, Pound actively intervened with a select group of academics in the D.C. area in order to raise his poetic stock and secure his