The Bughouse

The Bughouse

The Poetry, Politics, and Madness of Ezra Pound

Book - 2017
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In 1945, the American poet Ezra Pound was due to stand trial for treason for his broadcasts in Fascist Italy during the Second World War. Before the trial could take place, however, he was pronounced insane. Escaping a possible death sentence, he was sent to St. Elizabeths Hospital near Washington, D.C., where he was held for more than a decade. At the hospital, Pound was at his most infamous, and most contradictory. He was a genius and a traitor, a great poet and a madman. He was also an irresistible figure and, in his cell on Chestnut Ward and on the elegant hospital grounds, he was visited by the major poets and writers of his time. T. S. Eliot, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Charles Olson, and Frederick Seidel all went to sit with him. They listened to him speak and wrote of what they had seen. This was perhaps the world’s most unorthodox literary salon: convened by a fascist, held in a lunatic asylum, with chocolate brownies and mayonnaise sandwiches served for tea. Pound continues to divide all who read and think of him. At the hospital, the doctors who studied him and the poets who learned from him each had a different understanding of this wild and most difficult man. Tracing Pound through the eyes of his visitors, Daniel Swift’s The Bughouse tells a story of politics, madness, and modern art in the twentieth century.
Publisher: New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017
Characteristics: 302 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Edition: First American edition
ISBN: 9780374284046 (hardcover)
Call Number: 811.52 SWIFT


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Dec 09, 2018

I can't improve on Sherman's comment of March 30: this is an excellent read. But I am left with the feeling that the author ignored the elephant-in-the-room explanation for Pound's behavior: he wasn't mad, he was just a rancid, run-of-the-mill bigot and conspiracy theorist. He didn't deny he made the traitorous broadcasts and didn't recant what he'd said. He just went with the wrong side and by sheer force of personality avoided a lesser person's fate.

Mar 30, 2018

Idaho-born Ezra Pound wrote some of the most difficult poetry of the 20th century, exemplified by his unfinished, lifelong project, "The Cantos." He was also an incredibly important modernist who advised and promoted fellow writers. Even if he hand't written a thing, his reputation would be secure for helping Eliot edit "The Wasteland" and serializing parts of Joyce's "Ulysses" in "The Little Review." He was also, like Eliot, anti-Semitic. He moved to Italy during the fascist era and gave a series of anti-American radio broadcasts, which led to his arrest and imprisonment after the war. Pound spent over a decade in St. Elizabeth's Hospital, which is the focus of Daniel Swift's excellent, insightful book. Swift takes a nuanced view of Pound and neither damns him nor lets him slide, which is no easy task. He structures the book around the many visitors who came to see Pound, including luminaries like Eliot, William Carlos Williams, and Charles Olson. To understand modernism, you have to understand Pound and this book makes sense of both his artistry and his often vile politics. Excellent.


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