The Bughouse: The Poetry, Politics, and Madness of Ezra Pound - Daniel Swift

Staff Pick

Ezra Pound is perhaps St. Elizabeths most famous inmate, held there from 1946 to 1958. Indicted for treason after his pro-fascist radio broadcasts from Italy, Pound was found unfit to stand trial. His insanity saved him from facing the death penalty, but even now, nearly sixty years after his release, he remains one of the 20th century’s great enigmas. To see exactly how “the pieces do not fit,” Daniel Swift’s engaging third book follows Pound through his thirteen years in what the poet called The Bughouse (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27), but what sounds less like a hospital than like a writers retreat. If Pound was treated for a mental illness, the records have disappeared. In any case, doctors disagreed about a diagnosis. So was he really ill? Was he faking? Pound arrived with a collection of Confucius’ odes and a Chinese dictionary, and settled in to work, all the while entertaining a continual stream of writers, students, and “tourists.” Swift organizes his book around six of these pilgrims, giving us the great modernist as he was seen by Charles Olson, T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Robert Lowell, John Berryman, and Frederick Seidel. Each discussion is a nuanced blend of biography, literary criticism, history, and politics as Swift traces Pound’s appearances in his visitors’ poems, outlines evolving views of mental illness, and most of all deepens his examination of whether Pound should—or can—be judged on either solely literary or political grounds. Ultimately, Pound has it both ways: “you can call him the hero or the villain; both parts are his.”

The Bughouse: The Poetry, Politics, and Madness of Ezra Pound Cover Image
ISBN: 9780374284046
Availability: Not On Our Shelves—Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - November 7th, 2017

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