Ezra and Dorothy Pound: Letters in Captivity, 1945-46

Ezra Pound, Author, Dorothy Pound, Author, Robert Spoo, Editor
Ezra Pound, Author, Dorothy Pound, Author, Robert Spoo, Editor Oxford University Press, USA $35 (448p) ISBN 978-0-19-510793-7
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In 1945, Ezra Pound was arrested for his pro-Axis radio broadcasts and sent to a U.S. military prison outside Pisa. Incarcerated for treason in an open-air ""death cell,"" the psychologically fragile poet suffered a mental collapse. He was transferred to the prison's more humane medical compound, where he was permitted to write (composing The Pisan Cantos) and to correspond with one person, his doting and stoical wife, Dorothy. This important collection of letters, co-edited by the Pounds' son, Omar, provides the only first-hand account of Pound's initial year of captivity, from his feverishly productive days in Pisa to his confinement in Washington's St. Elizabeth's Hospital for the Insane, where he remained for the next 12 years. Readers familiar with Pound's letters collected elsewhere will recognize his quirky spelling and stylized Yankee dialect, and his cranky, charismatic didacticism. But these letters reveal him in a new light: shattered by his isolation and the suspicion that the public had not ""heard or if hearing they understood... one single word of [his radio] talks,"" he is often mute with melancholy (one letter simply says ""it is long long long""). In lucid moments, he frets to Dorothy about his mistress Olga Rudge's financial straits, and begs for ""news, personal gossip anything,"" which Dorothy generously supplies. Dorothy's letters are no less fascinating. Clearly the more grounded one in the marriage, she nurses his ailing mother, funnels money to Olga and dissuades him from representing himself in the legal proceedings. She arranges the publication of the Cantos, which won the prestigious Bollingen prize in 1948, touching off one of the greatest literary controversies in American history. The editors' annotations of Pound's often fractured prose are helpful throughout, and Spoo's insightful introductory essay illuminates what was doubtless the darkest year in the great poet's life. 54 halftones not seen by PW. (Jan.)
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