Ezra Pound: The Solitary Volcano

Ezra Pound: The Solitary Volcano

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Ezra Pound was very likely the greatest spotter of literary talent in all of the 20th century. He was a prolific poetic genius in his own right. He also, however, was the greatest champion of James Joyce and also TS Eliot, before anyone else knew who they were or even appreciated them. He fought very hard, admirably hard, for anyone that he considered a great talent. He wasn't just good at identifying them, but then he went to extreme personal measures to make sure that they succeeded, to make sure they had enough money, to make sure that they met the right people. He is arguably the most important single person in what is now called literary modernism, the personality who really forced into being this revolution in arts and letters in the early 20th century. But his extreme passion also had a dark side. Through a process that we will try to understand, he eventually succumbs to a bitter and vitriolic capital F fascism and anti-Semitism and I'm not giving you some kind of social justice virtue signaling here. This is no joke. He literally just decides that he likes Hitler and he speaks publicly and frequently in favor of the Rome Berlin axis against the United States throughout World War II, at which time he was living in Mussolini's Italy. He did all of these public radio broadcasts in Italy, but he was a genius. There's no doubt about that.

I'm not going to make this whole discussion a big morality tale or anything like that. This is just one of the puzzles that we should try to understand. More positively, though, there are, I would say, four main lessons that I learned from studying the life of Ezra Pound recently. Specifically, I'm referring to a book I just finished called Ezra Pound the solitary volcano. This is a 1987 book by an author named John Tytel.

What's up everybody, I'm Justin Murphy. This is the Other Life podcast. I'm doing these long, deep dives into the lives of the most interesting and impressive writers to try to learn as many lessons as possible from the greatest writers, and especially who have figured out how to get really free from institutions and from all of the various conflicting pressures that, historically, are always trying to suck the life out of writers and domesticate them and pacify them. I'd love to hear from you. Let me know what you think. You can reply to one of the other life newsletters, drop a message in the community, damn me on Twitter or whatever. I want to hear from you. Let me know if you like this. Thanks everyone, peace.

So the first lesson that I take from the life of Pound is the importance of having original, specific, critical opinions about art and culture. This was his greatest strategic asset, I think. Especially when he goes to London, the way that he gets into the mix, the way that he becomes friends with some of the most important thinkers and writers at the time was primarily because he really did put in a lot of work for many years studying poetry, studying different languages and developing unique, specific opinions that people wanted to be around. People found this interesting, people found this intriguing he was. He had a kind of off-putting personality. He was very, had a lot of bravado, was a bit arrogant, a bit overly energetic. He didn't really fit in, especially into the British manners. So in a lot of ways he was. People found him irritating, but he had such forceful and interesting opinions that it was. It just commanded a certain amount of respect and people wanted exposure to that. People wanted to be around that. That was one of the things that I think you see play, it plays out throughout his life. Having truly original opinions that are earned serves him extremely well and is a key element in his force and his success. We'll talk about that in much more detail, and I'll give you some examples with like, for instance, william Butler Yates, who was a somewhat older, much more kind of established poet. Yates didn't, in certain ways, didn't like certain things about Pound's personality, and yet they were very close friends throughout their life, primarily because of the the the forcefulness of Pound's opinions and criticisms.

The next lesson, though, that I take from this which again we'll see in detail is is the importance of not just identifying talent and other people, which he was excellent at, but betting on them, really going to bat for them and investing one's own personality, one's own career, in a way, on these undervalued talents. This was part of his kind of cultural strategy, which might not have been conscious to him fully, but one of the reasons why he was generous in trying to support people he really believed to be talented is because he was allying himself with them and he was trying to build. He was always trying to build movement, so he's trying to create a scene, and he was very good at this, but the specific takeaway is the importance of betting on people and up and comers that you really believe in that the world did not value yet. This is a massive part of his success. The next lesson that I took from this biography is this same lesson, one of the same lessons I took from our previous study of the life of William S Burroughs, which I've talked about on the blog as well in the newsletter a couple times, which is this recurring thing in the history of arts and letters, which is the absolute necessity of having a high intensity private friend group of thinkers and writers who egg each other on, who hand each other up, and pound was always good at creating this or fomenting this or finding, finding these types of situations to embed himself in, and he used it to really pull the best out of himself. And you'll see many powerful examples of that in the study of Pound's life which we're going to develop in the rest of this discussion.

Finally, as I said, I don't want to harp too much on the unfortunate turn that his life takes, and this is not about pearl clutching or virtue signaling or anything like that. But there is an important lesson about the importance of refusing resentment and bitterness, because I think that's essentially what gets pound in the end. And, by the way, pound himself was regretful about his vitriolic anti semitism that he turns to later in life, the very end of his life. He he apologizes for some of these things in private in conversations with people like Allen Ginsburg. He admits that he went off the rails. So this is not me being uncharitable or overly critical. He admits he went off the rails and it's important to understand why.

I really want to get the psychology down, because it's important especially for you know, people like myself, for people who are doing more independent forms of new scholarship today. It's really important that you do not ever allow yourself to become resentful towards the institutions or the establishment or whatever you want to call it. This was, unfortunately, a through line throughout Ezra Pound's life. He really was bitter and resentful from a very early point in his career and my theory is that I'll try to explain how this pans out. But my theory is that he this basically, he allows a seed of resentment very early on and he's not rigorous enough at banishing that, that temptation to bitterness. He allows that seed very early on and it develops and expands throughout his life to the point that before one day you wake up and you're publicly doing radio broadcasts talking about how Hitler is so great. I really do think that is basically the best way to understand it and I'm going to try to show you that evolution. So those are the main lessons that I've taken from the study of Pound's life. What I want to do now is get into the weeds and get deep into how his life really unfolded and I'm going to give you pretty much a complete biography of Ezra Pound. I'll give you that, just the highlights and the details, with an eye towards really expanding on these lessons.

Okay, so Pound's family history goes back to the earliest New England settlers. He could actually trace his family back to some of the first settlers. They were lawmakers, military officers, things like this. He basically comes from a good family, a good New England family with real roots in noble professions, let's say so. This gave him a sense of self importance and a sense of destiny. I think you could say His grandfather, thaddeus, was a very successful speaker, businessman, politician type, one of these kind of early American types that you see traveling, thinker, writer, slash, commercialist, and he was very successful. He was a model of energetic, ambitious, entrepreneurial American accomplishment. And his parents were good people but more modest, nothing too much of great interest there. They tried to impose on him a sense of manners and they tried to breed him well, but of course he was a very rebellious character, which you see very early on with a lot of these great writers and thinkers who have really impractical lives often that they are rebellious from a very young age, and he had a decent relationship with them, but not too much to note here. So we're going to go over it fast. What is interesting, though, is his college days. This is when things start to get interesting. He makes a few really important relationships which will stay with him throughout his life, namely especially with William Carlos Williams, the poet.

Anyway, he went to the University of Pennsylvania. He started there in 1901. And he was pretty much an average student, shy, a little isolated, did not really distinguish himself in any way especially, but he studied poetry. He got real. This is where he got really into reading and the analysis of language and poetry. He studied the Latin poets especially. He was interested in Provençal, and this was when he really found his calling. Basically, when he was an undergraduate, he pretty much decided explicitly. He said to himself more or less in no uncertain terms said I'm going to master language, I'm going to understand everything there is about language and poetry and I'm going to be the best in the world with this, so that's one thing that stands out. Early in his college years he has this sense of vocation. Okay, he was always a little awkward and not very good in school. He transferred out of UPenn to Hamilton College. He did find some good professors, though, who were encouraging to him.

Anyway, he really immerses himself in this Provençal poetry we should pause on this, because you might not know what that is and this is actually a really important element of his personality throughout his life. Basically, he was into the troubadours. Now, I'm no expert on the troubadours, but basically they were these kind of medieval masters of poetry and song. This was pretty much where he was really filled with this fire for poetry and an artistic, beautiful life. The troubadours were always his model for what real poetic flair looked like and how it lived and how it embodied itself in the world, and he saw it as quote unquote he used this phrase of the radiant world where verse and music were united with life itself. Okay, this is important to understand, because this is the ideal mental model that he has throughout his life for what real artists should look like and sound like, and a lot of his life really is just a kind of frustration with the way that modern life and modern institutions and modern sociality kind of prohibit this troubadourian ideal from Provençal in the Middle Evil period, essentially.

So after he's finished with his education this is when I think the first aspect of his personality really starts to shine through is when he takes a teaching job at Wabash College in Indiana. This is in 1907. And, by the way I should have said it he was born in 1885. He was born in Idaho but spent most of his youth growing up in Philadelphia. So for all intents and purposes you should think of Philadelphia as his hometown. And so he goes to take this teaching job in Indiana and at this time he was tempted by the idea of becoming a professor, as many literary types are, and this was the route that he was going to explore. And so back then in academia it was very different. You didn't need a PhD or whatever. So he gets this teaching gig and immediately it starts going off the rails.

The guy was a provocateur, he wore flamboyant clothes, he spoke very radically, he mocked piety of all kinds, and this was a small Presbyterian college in the Midwest, so you could just imagine. And basically what happens was that he because he lived wildly, he had women in his apartment and things like this. There's some debate about what actually really happened Doesn't really matter. The point was he was constantly breaking the norms and the propriety and basically he got fired is what it comes down to. And the reason that this is interesting, though, and very revealing, I think, is because this is where, already his first job as an adult, essentially beginning his career out in the world, he already starts to taste from this bitter fruit of resentment and anger. He, in his dismissal from the university, he sees himself as a legal victim and oh, the establishment is so stupid and out to get me and this type of self talk that he's doing.

And as someone who had a long and quite successful I shouldn't say long a short but quite successful career in academia, I can say from firsthand experience this temptation is very strong. Right it's. If you don't fit in, if you just want to live differently, if you want to live a more wild kind of life, then a certain institution can permit or allow. It's very tempting to feel like you're a victim. In one letter at this time he writes quote I'm so damn natural and trusting and innocent. He writes that I create scandal about my ways continually end quote. He also says in letters that universities solely exist to quote perpetuate routine and stupidity end quote. And this is really just self aggrandizing nonsense.

There are many critiques one can level at all institutions and universities. If you've listening, if you've been listening to my stuff or reading my writing, you certainly know I'm one of the first to do so in many ways. But one has to be super careful about not letting this become a kind of personal vendetta or a feeling of a victimization of any kind, because if you allow that into your heart even slightly, I'm telling you it will expand. You have to be just absolutely ruthless about never, ever, entertaining the mental or emotional phenomenon of resentment or bitterness towards anyone that you disagree with for any reason, even if you're in the right. Because if you do watch what happens Watch what happens over time in Ezra Pound's life it's not good. All you can do is your own work to the best of your ability under the terms that you want to set. So if, for whatever reason, you expressing yourself at your highest ability does not fit into someone else's terms, then let them eject you or choose to walk away. But either way, you're just wishing them the best and you're going to continue to actualize your own project in your own way, to the highest of your ability, and that's really all there is to it.

So in 1908, after just a year at Wabash College, pound leaves for Europe with only $80 from his severance pay and he arrives in Gibraltar. He meets some people who help get him set up. He spends the summer in Venice, living frugally and writing poems, living the young man's high life. He's pretty prolific. He publishes his first book of poems it's called A Loom Spento and he moves to London and seeks to establish his reputation. Okay, and really quite quickly, he starts making a lot of really interesting friends, some of whom are famous and powerful. He's publishing. He publishes another collection of poems in late 1908.

He secures a new lecturing position at Regent Street Polytechnic. He's struggling financially. He has nothing. He's pretty poor, living in boarding houses. But he's really doing the work and he's really starting to make a name for himself. In April of 1909, he's introduced to WB Yates by Olivia Shakespeare and he becomes an active part of this poets group led by a guy named TE Holm, and this group was basically focused on poetic theory and experimentation with Free Verse, which at the time was quite provocative. He publishes a quite admired and successful poem called Cista Altaforte in the English Review in 1909. He meets the famous Ford Maddox Ford, who's the editor of English Review in the spring of 1909. He gets interested in mysticism and has pretty much a brilliant, citing, prolific takeoff to his career as a rebellious new kind of poet from America living in London.

And all of this begs the question of how did he do this exactly? It's not that easy to just go to a foreign country and very quickly start getting publishers, getting a teaching position, making all these really smart and powerful, influential friends, having an active, social, intellectual life in this really remarkable kind of way so quickly. How did he do it? And this is one of the big lessons that I've taken from a study of his life which is the following Just as William S Burroughs would have been nothing without befriending Alan Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, because they gassed each other up it was when no one knew who any of them were.

They sharpened each other's edges, if you will, they energized each other and they created this kind of private pressure cooker environment in which later not only would it force that make them bubble up and over into society. But later that friend group, that friendship was actually the basis for the logistics of publishing and all of that. It was that friendship that made Ginsberg help Burroughs get a publisher and actually help him finish his work and things like that. It's very logistical, it's very practical, this private friendship dynamic. It's a very similar story with Ezra Pound, which really drives home this principle, which is you need to have intense private friend groups. But even this begs the question of how do you get your way into high quality, intense private friend groups of people who are really smart and have a lot to teach you and to share with you and to energize you with. How do you get there? How do you find that? How do you foment that when you're starting with nothing and no one knows who you are?

And this is where we get a really interesting insight from how Ezra Pound's career unfolded and in my reading of his life there's a very clear answer to how this worked for him. The reason he was able to become so, so socially rich, with brilliant people and energy and publishing opportunities and all of these associated benefits, is that he had extremely specific, cultivated, original and provocative ideas about what poetry should be. Okay, that's the only way to understand how he built the platform and the authority and the social energy that he was able to attract around him and multiply around him. So when he read the work of other people in London, he would go to them and he would give them really honest feedback. And it was real. It was rooted in his studious understanding of the history of poetry and it was also. It was frank, it was aggressive. He would say this is bad, this line right here should be removed, or you should change this to specifically this.

For these three specific reasons why this was the kind of really erudite but also just opinionated and convicted attitude. He had a personal sense of what beauty is and how to manifest it, and everywhere he went he would reveal it. If he liked something, he would say I love that, you have to keep doing more of that, it's perfect. For this reason, x, y, z. And if he found something that he thought was good, but it was promising, but it had a certain error, according to his highly refined sensitivity, he would explain exactly why and he would be pretty brutal about it.

And so this is why he, for some people, he was off putting. He was too aggressive, he was even cruel, you could say, at times a very arrogant and cocky. Right, because who are you to say right? This is one of the reasons why people maybe are not like this as much as they could be or should be, because they feel like, oh, I have no right to tell someone how their work should be, or who am I to say that that is not the attitude of a truly committed, dedicated, high quality artist or thinker or writer. No, you should know exactly what you think, you should know what is good and true and beautiful, and you should have as original and cultivated a framework on all of those topics as much as possible. And then you should go into society with that, with guns blazing, and don't back down and don't apologize, don't be unnecessarily cruel or nasty.

He maybe sometimes verged on that or made that mistake, but the point is because he really contributed his honest, cultivated opinions. What it meant was that the really good artists, the really good writers who also were really looking for the truth, they really wanted to hammer their work into the most polished work possible. Those people always appreciated him and they always wanted him around. It was an invaluable asset to have someone like that, because how hard it is. How hard is it to get good feedback? Have you ever asked someone for feedback on your writing? Even if someone's smart, it's just almost impossible to get forceful, aggressive and educated, serious feedback, critical feedback. And so he was just going around giving it much more than normal people would, and more aggressively and with greater conviction. And so this is, I think, when you look closely at how his relationships unfolded and how his time in London kicked off so brilliantly, the impression I get is that this is why. Okay, so that's the first lesson Cultivate your honest, genuine, studied opinions and perspectives on what is good and what is not good in art or writing or whatever your domain is, and then don't be shy about it.

Be confident and try to help people aggressively. Try to tell them what's not good. Try to tell them what is good and explain exactly why, and don't back down and don't apologize. Some people might not like it, but the really good people will like it and they will want to keep you around, like WB Yeats, for instance, who was more established than him, a little bit older than him at the time and, to this day, one of the most famous and celebrated poets of the 20th century, much more so than Pound. To be frank, I think Yates' poetry in a lot of people's eyes has held up very well and certainly in terms of fame and popular respect. Today Yates is, I think, at the very top, probably top three or top five of 20th century poets.

At that time Yates was inviting Pound to his cottage in the summer months. Imagine moving to a foreign country and you're just hoping to meet someone you really admire or someone who's really great in whatever your domain is. And imagine they don't even necessarily like certain things about you. They find you a little over the top, a little too much bravado, a little bit of arrogance or anger. There's certain things about you that they don't necessarily love because you're a wild, prickly character. But they will invite you to their cottage every summer to write together and to read and to think together, simply because they respect the forcefulness of your criticism and your kind of editorial contributions. That's really remarkable and I think that's the only way you can explain that. All right, so that's the first lesson. Okay, so he's in London, he's meeting everyone.

He meets Ford, maddox Ford, who again is a little bit older, more established, very respected. He was the editor of a journal called the English Review, and something you notice reading this biography is, at this time there were just a ton of little reviews. One of them was actually called the Little Review. That comes a little bit later. But there's all these little magazines and journals and they're very independent, bootstrapped projects. They generally don't make a ton of money, but this is where all the smart people were publishing in and this is how it worked. So in spring of 1909, he appears in the English Review, ford Maddox Ford published some of his poetry there and that was alongside major writers like Joseph Conrad and HE Wells. So this was kind of a step up for him. Basically, he's doing quite well in terms of his career, in terms of getting his work out there and getting recognition and getting into the mix.

And one of the things that really strikes me at this part of the story is pretty much the next lesson that I want to get right into, which is something we've talked about before, but it comes up differently this time this idea of the private, intense private friend groups. It's different in the case of Pound than it is in, let's say, the case of William Burroughs, which we talked about last time, or the dinner club of Samuel Johnson, which I wrote about in a newsletter a few weeks ago. What's unique and special about his conviviality as repellents, friendships and the way that he forged these relationships is that he did it with a much more aggressive and purposeful attitude. He was always trying to start a movement. He always wanted his work to kind of become a brand with other people. He wanted to lead a school of thought and have disciples. This was always kind of the way that he thought about it. He wanted to take the world by storm, and this is very different than something like the Beats or Samuel Johnson's Club, which I wrote about as really being much more modest and humble. The trick there that really worked for those groups, I think, and for many other private social and intellectual groups in the past, is that you're actually not trying to impress anyone. You're not trying to make a movement. You're not even really trying to do anything for anyone else in any way at all. You're trying to truly and sincerely just gas each other up and create intrinsically valuable work and energy within the little pressure cooker. That, I think, is a very healthy model and that often works very well. What Pound did was very different. He had a much more ambitious and publicly oriented mind and frankly, I think it really shows the case for the modest private friend group model, because I don't think it works out very well for Pound in the long it doesn't really make a debt.

And I want to explore two case studies you've probably heard of. One is the school of thought that he's associated with, sometimes for those who even still remember it, which is called imageism. This was a kind of doctrine that he developed and a conceptual framework. Let's say that he tried to build a brand around. And then, not long after that, there was this school called the Vortices, which was a kind of general. Whereas imageism was a poetic school thought, vortices was a more general artistic movement, or at least it purported to be.

Both of these, in my opinion, don't really stand the test of the time and they really were kind of more like branding exercises on Pound's part. That's what's one way to read it. That's my personal impression. Maybe scholars would disagree with that or maybe there's something I'm not fully seeing, but that's my impression. But let me tell you about these two efforts because they're interesting and they teach you a lot about some kind of tactics and ways of thinking about this sort of thing. So, although I don't think that trying to make a branded movement that you sell to the world with you and your buddies is the best way, I don't think that really is the best move, to be clear Nonetheless there's some fascinating little insight that we can extract from how he did this kind of thing and also it's kind of funny or really kind of it's interesting and kind of inspiring in some other subtle ways. Let me show you what I mean.

So what's interesting about the idea of images although it does convey his poetic philosophy in a compelling way and that's cool, basically, real quick the TLDR on imageism is that basically Pound was against the romantics. This is the big opposition. Is you think about, like Wordsworth or something like this, the great English Romantics? It was all about passion and feeling and for people like Pound and TS Eliot, the Romantic tradition was just decadent. It was a bit absurd and ridiculous All of this gushing of emotion. Basically Pound and Eliot and people like that wanted to do something different. That's the main foil against which you should think about the poetic spirit of pound.

For pound, the idea of image ism refers to trying to just basically create objective, forceful images that are not sentimental, it's not trying to teach you something or it's not trying to create some sort of romantic story that fills you with passion. It's not trying to gush about the individual authors, emotions or experiences. It's trying to use words to create the most forceful image in the mind of the reader, that where the image itself produces a sensation. Essentially, now, I'm not a poetic scholar by any means, I don't pretend to be, but that's a very quick and dirty TLDR, just so you know.

So the point here, though, that I want to tell you about is that the way this school thought technically, was launched or created in a kind of explicit way, was really just sort of off the tip of his tongue. Basically, what you do as the publisher is you're taking people who are famous and respected, and then you're using their prestige to kind of smear it in on top of newer people who no one's ever heard of, to make them seem cool and prestigious as well. And so, as the publisher, you're trying to play this game where you're basically peddling influence and prestige, and you're trying to take what's already popular and then control the perception of what's going to be popular and what is considered good. Okay, and then, of course also you get to inject your own style and preferences and maybe your own political beliefs or social beliefs or whatever, and that's kind of the fee that you extract for doing the organizing and the coordinating and the editing. And so this school of thought known as imagism, which maybe appears on a Wikipedia page or something like that, was really just a fabrication of this politics of publishing. It shows you Pound's personality in a way, his very aggressive personality.

The first time the word imagist ever appeared in print was when he signed it next to the name of another author on their behalf, without their permission. As far as I could tell, as the editor of this poetry journal called Poetry, this was a lesser known female poet named Hilda Doolittle, who he goes way back with. He had a personal relationship with her for a long time, but you know he's getting poems submitted from WB, yates and other famous people and so he's got this power, he's got this cultural capital right, and so he edits Hilda Doolittle's poem and then signs it HD imagist and in the words of John Titel quote in the space of a few moments, pound had created a literary movement and its first acolytes. It was only after this stroke of genius that Pound actually sat down to define imagism, realizing quote that he could use it as a banner to advance himself and his causes and to challenge the placid and genteel Georgians and their interminable effusions. So it's interesting for sure, but my main takeaway really is that he was very concerned about perception and very concerned about gaining influence and earning a kind of seriousness and a certain kind of power, but that ultimately, imagism was just a word that he coined and then spun out some theory around.

The bigger and more important element, if you ask me, is the underlying conviviality and the underlying social networks. He was constantly talking with really smart people, amazing writers and poets, all the time, you know, day and night, he's having long conversations, passionate conversations about what makes good poetry, and that's the magic, that's the value, that's what is important here. And all these different journals and magazines there were dozens of them. Everyone was an editor of something and they're all trading poems and submitting to each other's journals. This underlying ecosystem is brilliant and very productive, and that is actually much more valuable, I think.

And then there's this story of Vorticism, and so Vorticism was chiefly a creation between Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis. We haven't talked much about Wyndham Lewis yet. He was also someone who at this time took a kind of hard right turn around the same time as Ezra Pound. He was already, you know, a rather irritable, disagreeable, kind of self-outcasted figure in the scene, if you will, similar to Ezra Pound in this way very disagreeable, had a somewhat anti-social bent in really critiquing and attacking everything. But he was really quite an interesting painter and a writer, really fascinating guy, pretty cool in many ways. But anyway he had these traits in common with Ezra Pound, and there are a few other people in the mix like the sculptor Godier.

So what did the Vorticists believe? Quote they saw art as a force like electricity or radioactivity, a force transfusing, welding and unifying. Elsewhere Pound writes that the image was not an idea. And here you can see Vorticism is kind of a next level elaboration of some of the ideas of imageism. He says the image is a radiant node or cluster. It is what I can and must perforce call a vortex, from which and through which and into which ideas are constantly rushing. In decency one can only call it a vortex, and from this necessity came the name Vorticism.

Nomina sunt, consequentia, riram, and never was that statement of Aquinas more true than in the case of the Vorticist movement and so if you don't know Latin, you're probably wondering what that phrase stands for and what it means is names are the consequences of things. This is kind of interesting to me because there's this popular idea nowadays. I've seen this floated about a few times recently. I think it's kind of trendy, this idea of what they call nominative determinism, which is the idea that when you name something, you're shaping what that thing will become, that things and objects, people, have a way of becoming whatever it is they are classified as or named, and notice that the Vortices are saying the opposite. They're saying create powerful works of art which, if they are good, if they are in fact real and true and powerful, they pull words into them. They are the kind of material, sensational basis for culture which gets kind of spun around it like a whirlwind, and the way that people use names and words will be shaped by the image that is created in the work of art. So I thought that was interesting. They were very influenced by the Italian futurists.

Marinetti had come to London and really the coolest thing that came out of the Vorticist moment, in my opinion, was Blast Magazine, which only ran for two issues, but it was pretty cool, honestly. It was basically a kind of futurist accelerationist zine with some poetry and commentary, and it had very wacky type setting, was very creative graphic design with different sized letters and things like this. It was pretty far out and pretty cool. It ruthlessly made fun of a lot of people and was this angry kind of call to arms. It's worth checking out. I wrote about it recently. You can find it in the newsletter. I included some pictures of it and some deeper showcasing of what was in it. Exactly Real quick.

Something I want to flag for you is that the first issue was published one week before Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo initiating World War One, and given that the magazine is called Blast, it's really quite fascinating. It's really rather something, especially because Pound at other times once said that artists are the antennae of the race, and that seems to think that artists have a certain sensitivity and ability to see what's coming before normal people, and it looks like the publication of Blast was a rather striking and extraordinary example of that. I don't think many people are aware of that little factoids, and so these are really interesting experiments and, whether it's imageism or vorticism, this stuff is cool, it is fascinating and it is high energy, right. It's cool to be doing these different experiments with people, by all means. So I'm not looking down on it whatsoever, it's just again.

Blast magazine only ran for two issues. Nobody really cared about it, by the way, in London or elsewhere. Today I think it's an interesting artifact, for sure it's worth exploring and revisiting. So in that way maybe you could say it stands the test of time. But no one really cared at the time and it didn't really have any impact on the culture. Or you know, it's not like there are people in either one of these groups who are going out years later and affecting the development of poetry or art or painting as a direct descendant of Blast magazine or the imagist manifesto. It's not really the case. And so I say this because I think this is one of the main takeaways is that the really impactful private friend groups and social collaboration vehicles are not really these named, explicit, branded movements or schools of thought which, by all means, if you have one, if you have an idea for one, it can be fun and it can be productive, and sure, go for it if you want to, if somebody comes to you right, if you're having fun with it. But in my analysis that's not really where the real alpha is. That's not where the long lasting original cultural impact really gets generated. Where it really gets generated is in the informal, intense, high trust private friend groups.

So back to the main plot here. He's basically publishing poetry in London for several years. He goes back to America for a little bit. But so far I've pretty much given you a sense of what things looked like and felt like before World War One. Of course World War One kicks off in 1914. He does try to enlist in the British army but he was rejected. Reasons are not quite clear, but a bunch of people that he was close to were drafted, namely the sculptor I mentioned before. Godier was drafted and died.

It was shot and had a rather interesting and kind of romantic life, really a short but passionate and romantic life, quite interesting, and obviously it was a massive catastrophe of the war and it really, you know, shocked a lot of people and really disrupted people's sense of where the world was going. And all of that. And so you know what I'm referring to, of course, is that these were had, these were pretty heady days in the lead up to World War One, you know the beginning of the 20th century, there's a lot of new inventions, a lot of excitement and seeming progress. And then this war, just you know, led to the slaughter of so many people with these new weapons, and you probably know the cartoon history here, I don't need to repeat it. But it was just really striking and surprising to many people just how insanely devastating these new technologically sophisticated weapons would actually be when they were deployed on the battlefield. And so 1914 wasn't the whole war until 1918 was a massive kind of disillusionment and disruption to people's attitudes and ideas and relationships and networks and everything. So everything obviously gets uprooted there.

But one of the interesting implications is that Pound's income from poetry took a shock and so he had to get a little, a little bit more creative in terms of making money with his writing. And this is when he begins to turn a little bit more towards journalism. And even Blast Magazine was one of his first forays into commentary kind of writing different than poetry proper. With World War I he goes a little bit deeper into journalism and I think it's fair to say this is not his strong suit. He has an aggressive, opinionated nature. But as we're going to see this path to observing and commenting on social and political issues. It was not his, it was not his expertise right.

He spent his entire young adulthood studying poetry and he set out to be a great poet. He did not set out to be a great commentator on social and political affairs, but he starts dabbling, in part from World War I pressures to make money and get creative, as as the poetry career was a little bit harder to sustain in that time. But, as we're going to see, it had somewhat ominous consequences. Him experimenting down this road, he starts meeting with political leaders. For instance, he met with the Irish nationalist leader, arthur Griffith, found him interesting, started studying economics and started developing strong opinions about society and culture and economic I'm sorry, society and politics and economy rather than just culture. And it was also at this time that he starts writing the cantos. The cantos are his big magnum opus. It's his long, epic poem that he really intended to cement his legacy. He worked on it for many, many years throughout his entire life.

Really, starting from this point on, this has started in London. Around this time he meets a wealthy patron named John Quinn and he really convinces John Quinn to support all of the great unknown writers at the time, like Joyce and Elliot. And this again is another data point worth pausing on, because remember when I talked about how his strong opinions and his educated taste that he argued for very forcefully was a part of his success, this is a really good example of that. How are you going to find wealthy patrons and how are you going to actually explain to them what is worth supporting and what's not if you don't have really strong opinions? And not only is this the kind of person that the wealthy patron type generally likes to talk with and hang out with, but, more importantly, he has a sense of what is really important and what is valuable and he passionately feels that sense.

And guess what happens to people who have that kind of sensibility? Resources tend to appear. People who have resources don't know where to give those resources. They maybe want to support the arts, but they don't know where or how exactly or to what they should be giving resources. And so when there is a person with a strong, strong opinion and strong taste and the passion to talk about it and to solicit resources and all of that, it tends to be an attractor. It tends to that type of personality tends to be found and connected and tends to kind of rise the ranks of social power for these reasons, and so this happened with Pound. John Quinn was one big example that supported many writers from that time onward through Pound, but there were a few other examples as well, so that's an important data point.

Corroborating what I argued before is one of the big lessons of his success. And so this is when Pound starts thinking about moving with his wife his new wife to Paris. And the reason why is because throughout this time, although he was very successful in London in many ways, he felt like he just wasn't going to work there. It just wasn't going to be what he needed, and it's important to understand why. Basically, he was clearly gaining influence, he was clearly respected by many people. In some sense, if he could have just stepped back, he might have appreciated that he was succeeding, he was doing very well, but he had this very restless energy, had this very restless kind of attitude, and no amount of success ever seemed to be quite enough for him. He was always kind of anxious and angsty and always feeling a little not quite where he wants to be. Maybe he's feeling a little insecure, like people don't respect him enough.

This is the impression you get reading the biography, and, to be fair, people had very mixed emotions about him in the United States and in England. In the worlds of arts and letters. A lot of people thought he was a charlatan. A lot of people did think that he was full of hot air, nasty, a questionable, dubious charlatan, and so another part of the problem, though, is that English culture in Britain is known to be very tight lipped, very insular. In a way. There is, in England, a kind of old boys club of the proper, well bred British gentleman, and it does seem to be the case in England then as in now.

Another kind of interesting point that I happen to have in common with Pound, having lived in England for five years and worked there as a professor, is that this is real. It is real when, even if you're American, even if you speak the same language as you're an American, there is this real cultural reality in Britain that, at the very top of the social and cultural structures, it is essentially defined by and governed by this very informal, soft spoken, usually implicit network of certain types of British men from certain types of families, who speak in certain ways and have certain mannerisms. It's this little implicit cultural code, if you will. And this is what it is in most places right. This is, this is how society functions. It's not outlandish or unjust or anything like that. This is this is how society often functions. And there's a unique kind of British version of this.

And I think for Pound he felt this. He felt that there was a ceiling on how far he could go in England as a poet. He was not going to rise to the, to the very top of the totem pole in British arts and letters and I think he was probably right about that. He was probably right to sense that, especially because he was so controversial and so provocative. And the other thing is that you have to understand in Britain the personalities are just much more mild mannered. There's a way of you're not supposed to say too much, you're not supposed to be too honest, you're not supposed to be too forthright or energetic. This is all seen as gauche, it's all seen as improper and poorly bred. And he had this kind of natural American zeal and energy that in Britain is seen as a kind of lower class, animalistic tendency where the British hot shots always want to kind of keep that at bay. Essentially, again, I can relate a little bit to this, but I think Pound really suffered from this and it was just not in his personality to really be able to thrive in the long term in Britain. Now, that's the more charitable way to understand his restlessness, but I do think there's something deeper here and more problematic, and this is something that you might think about in your own case.

A lot of people, I think, have some version of this where we often want to change locations. We often want to move somewhere else as a way of coping with some of our own personal shortcomings and limitations which we can't quite solve. So we're just like, let's start fresh somewhere else so we can get away from the fallout of our own shortcomings that we've accumulated in this one location. And I think the larger course of Pound's life bears this out Because, as we're going to see, after he goes to Paris, he spends a few years there and then he goes to Rappallo in Italy, and so if you look at his entire life, he basically is running from one place to the other.

He has this short lived teaching gig at Wabash College in the United States and gets in trouble there, doesn't fit in there, feels aggrieved, feels anxious and restless. So he runs away from that. He goes to England looking for a more successful, interesting, satisfying poetic life into advanced his career. And he does that. He goes there and he does a pretty smashing job. He has more success, I think, as a poet and socially and intellectually and then in every way, than I think anyone could have hoped for in that short amount of time. But still there's something in him that can't really feel satisfied. He can't put down roots, he's anxious, he's insecure about something.

It's a little mysterious because he's doing so well, but part of the problem is that he was so aggressive and so he was very critical of many people. With Blast Magazine, for instance, they really attacked a lot of people. Wyndham Lewis was, more seriously, blacklisted from Plight Society in England, Sort of canceled, if you want to use that word, or that's the best way to think about it. A lot of people the fancy editors and the fancy reviews, the fancy magazines would not touch Wyndham Lewis. He was a little bit more toxic, as we might say in today's parlance. He was even more out there than Pound. But these are the kinds of people that Pound is interested in and he is associating with them, he's publishing with them because he does have that part of things in him and he's being very provocative and he's saying this is worthless and this person is stupid and this is trash.

And I think when you do that for a few years in a particular culture, in a particular location, it just starts to feel like, sure, you have some friends and you have some success and there are people who respect you, but then there's also a bunch of people who think you're full of nonsense and think you're charlatan and think you're cruel and nasty and they don't like you. And I think at a certain point you just want to escape that and you want to get away from that. But there's a lesson there. There's a really important lesson there, which is that this is the price of the kind of radical, rambunctious, very frank, aggressive attitude and lifestyle that he's living. The lesson here is that you want to always speak in a way that you can be content with everything you say. Potentially, for the long term, you shouldn't feel like you have to leave a location because of the mixed emotions and the mixed relationships and attitudes that you've accumulated in that node of the network.

I think that is an important lesson here, also because it starts to enter into his perspective. It enters into his emotions and what he's saying because, as I said at the beginning, he has this resentment towards people who reject him, who don't like him, who see him as a charlatan or see him as inadequate. He kind of has thin skin in a way. But you can't have thin skin if you're making yourself an active firebrand, right. If you're going to go around being super critical of everyone and being really aggressive, you can't also feel emotional at all about people not liking you, right.

And so that was kind of part of his tragic imbalance, I think, is that he wanted this kind of radical, artistic, frank speech, but the fallout and the consequences of that leads to it produces all the kinds of unhappy emotions and uncomfortable, anxious emotions, and he continued to process that as a kind of beleaguered attitude. He felt like he was not being understood or not being appreciated or people were out to get him. But in fact it's quite an expected consequence of the way that he's working and the way that he's trying to express himself, and so be it. You know that's fine, as it should be. You just have to be able to take your licks and not run from them. I think is one important lesson here, and it's hard. I really do understand this in my own little way, I think.

So he builds up these little pockets of discomfort and anxiety and tension and antagonisms with all these people through his style of speech and art, and then, once it reaches a point where he just can't tolerate it anymore, he feels oppressed by it he just goes to a new location and kind of starts over. But each time he does that, he gets a little bit more angry, he gets a little bit more frustrated that the world is not accepting him or that the world doesn't understand him or that he doesn't have the status and the respect that he thinks he deserves at that point. And so this is the tragedy and we're going to see this continue and notch up over time. The tragedy really is that he was succeeding, he was doing so well, he was at the center of things, right, and I just wish that, reading this biography, you wish that he could have a broader view, you wish that he could have zoomed out a little bit and really appreciate it like, wow, I'm still pretty young People really. I'm having a big impact, I have the respect of key players. Maybe some people don't like me or appreciate me or understand me yet fine, but I'm doing really quite well. I have players in my corner who are really important, who I respect, I have friends, I have all these publishing opportunities. Let's just focus on producing the best work and getting the rest of my life kind of stabilized and ironed out and being content and grateful. Right, that's what he probably should have done. That's one of the big lessons here in my opinion.

But he's unable to make that transition to real adulthood in a way. And, mind you, he and his new wife they do have a kid and, mind you, he does absolutely no fathering whatsoever his entire life. And I'm not even judging him moralistically. I understand this is how the lives of a lot of great male writers throughout the ages look. I mean, this is a story as old as time, especially, you know, before the contemporary era it was just not much of an expectation for men to do much parenting work. That's a very, very new thing really. So you look at the biography of any great male writer in history, they almost never do any real childcare. So that doesn't surprise me. It's not that notable even.

But here I do think it is important thing to reflect on in passing, and it's one of the benefits of being a father and being a good father and an attentive, loyal husband and wife I'm sorry, husband and father it is that it sort of forces you to stabilize. You really don't have much of a choice. You have to calm down just a little bit. Ideally, you've built your life up enough to give yourself some freedom and to give yourself a material basis for continuing to take risks and continuing to speak your you know frankly and to express yourself creatively. Ideally you've built that up for yourself and you're not completely trapped in a highly, highly oppressive material lifestyle situation. But either way, wherever you are, it's good to stabilize at least somewhat when you have a kid and when you have a wife and family.

And in a way he is harmed by the fact that he never does this, because it's what allows him to kind of keep going deeper and deeper into this well of frustration and resentment. Really, he has two kids, if I recall correctly, I think with two different people, and one of them they don't talk about this much, but one of them he just sends the girl off to be raised by a peasant family in Germany. It feels very bizarre. They didn't actually go into too much detail on that, but, yeah, very, very little fathering that this guy do. Another way to put this is that he really wanted to dominate. He didn't just want to succeed, he didn't just want to be a great artist, he wanted to dominate socially and politically as a poet.

And this, I think, is the lesson maybe this is the best way to put it, perhaps is that he confused social and political domination with greatness as an artist. I think this is the language that Tytel uses. He says that he had to leave London because he failed to dominate literary London as he hoped to, and I think that this is maybe the most concise way to summarize this lesson, which is this is a path to destruction. You have to be able to separate artistic greatness and producing your best work possible over the course of your life to the highest level of your ability. You have to put that on one side, in one box, and then you have to put the social and political success of your work in your own lifetime in a completely different box, and the first box is much more important, and if you ever confuse those two or tend to believe that the second box is more important, you are probably going to tend toward a trajectory like Ezra Pounds, which we're about to see now starts to get darker. So I'm going to go fast through the Paris years, because it's not that interesting from our perspective. The main interesting thing is that he meets a lot of cool people. Again, he, the guy, got to meet pretty much all of the great artists in Europe in this time period and many in America as well. But really the next great turn of his life is when he gets infatuated with Mussolini and Italy and moves to Italy real quick, though. So he leaves England in 1920. That's when he goes to Paris and he meets everyone. He meets Gertrude Stein, he meets the Cubists like Picasso and Shuriko and Delani Picasso, stravinsky, miro.

1922 is the year that Ulysses and the Wasteland are both published. For many people this is kind of the year of literary modernism, the Wasteland, of course, being Eliot's magnum opus. And, by the way, the Wasteland is dedicated to Pound. And you know, pound is feeling envious, he's feeling, he's feeling jealous. He even testifies to this in his letters. He's working still on his cantos, which in his mind would be as great as Ulysses or as great as the Wasteland, and remembered just as well. But he's not really working on them as hard as he could. He's not really making progress on them and I don't think it's a coincidence that at this time he's becoming more elitist, more messianic in his judgments and writings and he becomes increasingly political.

He really starts making political and economic endorsement. At a certain point he will become infatuated with this economic political philosophy known as social credit. It's been completely passed over and no one talks about it today, but I suppose it was a somewhat trendy idea. I did not look into it too deeply. It's almost something kind of like modern monetary theory a little bit, and basically he just becomes obsessed with this idea that the government, through strong control of the economy, can pretty much solve all of these different problems. He becomes infatuated with this one particular theory and starts shilling it everywhere pretty much. He becomes absolutely fixated on it and all of his poet friends are kind of like dude, you're getting sidetracked. This is like focus on your poetry dude. But it does seem to be that his increasing infatuation with politics and with social and economic control is linked to his envy and his jealousy, I think, because these things are kind of ratcheting up at the same time and the lesson here would just be don't allow yourself to be envious of others. This is just old fashioned Gerardian memetic trap. Just don't allow for that.

And of course, 1922 is also the year that Mussolini marches on Rome and also at this time many of the radical artists are becoming increasingly left wing. So if you think of surrealism, for instance, surrealism is increasingly tied up with the Communist Party. Pound meets Tristan Zara, who conceived of Dada. He meets Brancusi. He's very impressed by Brancusi and he also meets Lincoln Stephens, who was one of the American writers who would become a very infatuated with the Soviet Union, stalin or Lenin, rather. Anyway, the more admirable trait of Pound's, which he continues in his Paris years, is that he is militantly, ruthlessly attentive to the writers, that he believes in continuing to support them and doing everything he can for them. And in fact, what I'll leave you with before we move on to Ezra Pound's fateful turn to Capital F, fascism in Italy is a kind of eulogy for Pound's Paris years. And this is from Hemingway, one of the many people who Pound got to know. Here's what Hemingway has to say at the time that Pound is leaving Paris, he says quote, so far we have pounded the major poet devoting, say, one fifth of his time to poetry.

With the rest of his time he tries to advance the fortunes, both material and artistic, of his friends. He defends them when they are attacked. He gets them into magazines and out of jail. He loans them money. He sells their pictures, he arranges concerts for them, he writes articles about them. He introduces them to wealthy women. He gets publishers to take their books. He sits up all night with them when they claim to be dying and he witnesses their wills. He advances them hospital expenses and dissuades them from suicide and in the end a few of them refrain from knifing him at the first opportunity. So that's very well put.

He was weirdly generous with his time and energy doing all of these things that Hemingway talks about. And how is he rewarded? Well, he did have some loyal friends to the bitter end, even after he's completely disgraced for his associations with Hitler and Mussolini. Even after that he does still have a few friends who will go out and see him and take him out to dinner and things like that, and even defend his honor as a poet. And you have to figure that's really only because of this underlying generosity of spirit that he does seem to practice materially when push comes to shove. So he could be an ass, he could be an excessive firebrand and kind of nasty interlocutor in many ways, but he was, at the end of the day, always extremely generous. Where rubber hits the road, he always did more than anyone could be asked to do to support the artist he believed in and here Hemingway is testifying to that in his Paris years.

So this is the paradox of Ezra Pound consistently throughout his entire life more generous and passionate and supportive of the artists he admires than anyone you can really think of, ever at least that I'm familiar with. He really was remarkably admirable in this regard, and it was often silent too, as private is not necessarily publicized. He wasn't looking for credit and he often didn't get much credit. He probably had some strategic political motivation in a way. He knew that these things were part of a political network in a way implicitly, but nonetheless he was really quite a saint in this dimension. And at the same time he's harboring this nastiness and this frustration and resentment which is really going to come full force when he moves to Rapallo, which is the next part of the story. Okay, so they move. He and his mistress, olga Rudge, moved to Rapallo in 1924. He brings his wife also as well, of course, and the mistress and the wife know about each other, but it's kind of just an awkward affair essentially. It's a little complicated, doesn't strike me as worth getting into for this podcast. He has a child with each one of them and at no point does he really take care of either of them. They're sent to live with other people.

So the real inflection point, I think, is when Pound gets to meet Mussolini person to person, face to face, in 1933. And Mussolini had been given a copy of some of Pound's poetry and it's a funny anecdote here when they first meet, pound walks into the amazing palace in Italy and Pound notices his poems sitting in a volume on Il Duce's desk. And apparently the way the story goes is that Mussolini told Pound that he had been reading them and that he found them entertaining, as the Italian word. And apparently Pound was very flattered by this. He thought, wow, this is incredible. Mussolini is a fan of my poetry, he's a genius, he's the benevolent dictator who finally understands the arts. This is amazing, whereas in fact it was really a kind of rather weak and polite way of saying nothing. Really it was like an empty compliment for small talk or something like that. So it's kind of a funny and revealing anecdote. But basically Pound leaves that meeting feeling like, wow, this is what I've been waiting for. This is the strong leader who's going to be able to build a culture and a society and a nation that finally understands the value of real art and the hierarchy of great art and he's going to be able to provide resources and support the finest artists to protect them from the market and from capitalism and democracy and all of these compromising and leveling factor.

And you can see at this time his letters, his tone, everything in his attitude and his written work starts changing the way he's writing his correspondence in America and Britain. He starts getting really nasty just in terms of personality, not even politically necessarily, like he's just mean. Now more than ever he writes these really vitriolic and almost cruel letters to people and it's a very clear personality shift which is not just political, and to me this is more data suggesting that there is a larger story here about resentment. It's not just a matter of political conviction At this time. He also finds Hitler kind of promising. He's not looking into Hitler too much yet, but he sees Hitler and Mussolini both as strong characters who are possibly going to clean up the mess of democracy. He also becomes increasingly anti-American and publicly so he pretty much hates Roosevelt. He also starts speaking critically about Jews and the influence of Jews and banking and that whole narrative. He calls Roosevelt Rosenstein, kind of mocking him as being controlled by the Jews. And this is when the anti-Semitism really starts to kick in. So he's now writing for some fascist publications in Britain.

Of course there's the rise of Oswald Mosley and the British fascists. Again, he's kind of interested in all of these things. He's kind of like this is healthy, vigorous, masculine forces coming to solve the problems of all this chaos from too much capitalism and democracy and for what it's worth. A lot of people thought that at the time that was a general vibe. I'm not justifying it whatsoever. It's just nowadays we think believing in capital F fascism is a truly rare and evil thing.

Back then there was a widespread sense by many people that capitalism and democracy and all this cultural chaos was getting really bad and something needed to be done, and so a lot of people were interested in some kind of strong leader swooping in and strongly, firmly, using some kind of social and legal force to just clean things up and impose some order. This was a very, very popular feeling and need, of course, and America of course has its own version, with everything that Roosevelt does, in a way, is kind of responding to that need. With the New Deal and all of that, it was a strong leader in that regard. So this is the context, and where things really start to go wrong is when he starts doing radio broadcasts for Mussolini's son-in-law named Gianno, and that starts in 1936. So, mind you, he's also becoming a little bit more aloof, he's becoming a little bit more distant from the connections in Britain and America and France, and his income is starting to become questionable, and so he's doing these radio broadcasts in part for money.

It's not just about money, though, as we're going to see later on. When he's in the deep of this kind of fascist moment, he actually has an opportunity to get a very lucrative teaching job back in America I think it was or England, and he has that opportunity and he actually declines it. He chooses voluntarily not to take it. So money and the need for money plays a little bit of a role, it seems, at the beginning, as he gets kind of more into the role of the paid speaker. But it's not really about that.

And also, at this time, something he's doing is he's writing tons of letters to politicians, to senators in America and elsewhere, to editors, to thinkers who write about economics. He's really going all in on politics and economics and kind of reinventing himself as a political, economic intellectual and he's just really, really convinced that these ideas about social credit are true and he's shilling hard for them. And this is when a lot of people in his personal networks are starting to talk to each other like, okay, he's going off the deep end. This is a problem and a lot of people understandably start taking even more distance from him. This was already true a little bit when he was associating with people like Wyndham Lewis in Britain. But once he starts going off on politics from Mussolini's Italy, it's a different level and he really starts burning bridges here and here you can watch a kind of downward spiral take place. It's a kind of cybernetic process, it's a feedback loop and you can watch it.

It's very clear in the biography that as he loses some of his old friends who think that he's going off the deep end, he then just increases his sense of the world being out to get him and he feels increasingly isolated and increasingly cast aside and unjustly neglected and unjustly perceived and that leads him to, with even greater anger and vitriol, double down on his fascist instincts and you can see it really play out. It is this kind of dynamic process where he gets a little bit more crabby, a little bit more nasty, becomes a little bit more confident in ideas that are a little bit dumber and a little bit more cruel and malignant, alienate some people. He feels a little bit worse, he feels a little bit more insecure, he feels a little bit more resentful and then he goes out further on the bad branches that he's already started to venture out on. And another data point worth mentioning is that you can see in his literary writings which he is still doing somewhat, the stuff he publishes in this time period. You can see his ideas are visibly obviously getting more disjointed and chaotic and nonsensical, like, read his books from that time and you'll see everything is just a little bit more disillute, it makes less sense, it's less forceful, it's less useful, it's less compelling. And when I say useful, I'm talking about kind of the nonfiction stuff that he's writing. He writes some books about reading and writing and things like that and some criticism, some nonfiction stuff like that. It's visibly noticeably more deranged and lower quality essentially, and again that's an important data point that shows that we're not talking about a man who's at the height of his powers, who is choosing fascism as a sharply intelligent, in control, calm judge of things.

Okay, he's clearly falling into fascism as part of a kind of downward spiral of confusion. And, frankly, derangement I think is a fair word to use. As we see, when this whole saga is over, he really does kind of collapse. He has many months of silence where he's suddenly mute, doesn't speak for a prolonged period of time. It's quite fascinating, and so this is a kind of spiral of derangement, I believe, rooted in a kind of frustration and resentment.

And the final thing I'll say in the interest of being comprehensive is if you go and look at what he's saying during World War II in these radio broadcasts from Italy, it is pretty nasty stuff. It's hardcore antisemitism. It's hardcore basically speaking very ill of the United States and speaking very favorably of the Berlin Rome axis, and the antisemitism is virulent. So it's not some kind of dredge or pearl clutching where he's just. This is not just demonizing his free speech or something like that, as we might think about that sort of thing today. No, this is like. He goes hardcore into capital F, antisemitic, fascism and he's shouting it from the rooftops publicly and aggressively throughout a international conflict where his home country, the country of his citizenship, is a combatant and he is preaching against them aggressively. And so what happens is there is eventually a charge of treason that comes down from the United States government.

The US goes to where he is in Rapallo At the end of World War II. The US goes to arrest him. He is held in a US Army detention center near Pisa in Italy, where he suffers from a nervous collapse. He has hallucinations, he's unable to eat or sleep. He is allowed to write and to read. He's reading about treason, trials and executions in Europe. It was a very live possibility that he would be executed as a treasonous war criminal, essentially. And at this time in Pisa he starts writing what are now called the Pisan cantos, which are actually some of his most interesting poems. I mean, this is a deep, unique part of his life here, and the Pisan cantos are really quite interesting for this reason. They show a lot of just pain and suffering and defeat and isolate and so he's kind of shuffled around.

That's a bit of a convoluted legal story, but basically where a rubber hits the road he is airlifted to Washington DC in November 1945 for a trial treason trial and specifically he's facing a treason charge for the wartime broadcasts. And basically there's this debate among his few remaining friends and the legal counsel about how to defend it. A lot of people just saw him, his friends saw him as kind of a tragic clown, that this was just a kind of absurd, tragic comic development and that he was not malicious at all. That was one perspective. Plenty of people thought he absolutely deserved to hang and he very well could have received a death penalty, and so the way it finally pans out is that he was able to receive a judgment of being unfit to stand trial due to mental illness. So essentially a kind of insanity defense.

And the story background is kind of interesting because the legal players who were behind this really were people who respected Pound as an artist, and I won't go deep into it. But basically there was a sense from some activist lawyers that this was a great mind, he was a great artist. Sure, he went off the deep end, but he did not deserve to be hanged. And so the defense was basically organized and resourced by this little network, really, of sophisticated, erudite lawyers who basically wanted to protect an artist from dying, from being killed. And also, just to give you a sense of the moment, at this time, pound arrived in Washington DC two days before the Nuremberg trials began.

So this is all happening at the same time, and so what happens is he is put in a psychiatric hospital for prisoners essentially. So he escapes execution, which is good, but he is still locked up and he will stay at St Elizabeth's Hospital, a dilapidated old asylum with pretty harsh and nasty conditions. He will stay there for 12 years, and what's interesting about his time is that he's rather manic about his beliefs and what he had said over the war years. Sometimes he seems apologetic, sometimes he doubles down and he's still from St Elizabeth's, speaking ill of politicians and Jews and universities and going on these tirades. So it's kind of a manic alternation of these kind of enthusiastic outbursts, which are sometimes vitriolic, like he used to be, but then also sometimes just feelings of despair and meaninglessness and resignation, and perhaps some and funny enough when he is let go and then returns to Italy. Apparently he when he gets off the plane, he gives the fascist salute. So it's it's very unclear, it's what he really thinks in the end.

But we do get some resolution in a way, because he was 72 years old when he returned to Italy after being in the US for 13 years confined total for the wartime broadcast and he basically sinks into a deep melancholy combined with silence. He just won't talk to anyone. He tried to give an interview to Donald Hall but he embarrassed himself, essentially felt he couldn't do it. He was nervous and fatigued in a way he had never been before. He was obsessed over disease and his own mental decline. At one point he believes that microbes haven't haven't invaded his body and so for many months he just stops talking. People would go to visit him and the best he could do is sort of mumble inaudibly. It was a kind of melancholic catatonia or something like that.

But one thing we know is that before he goes into the silent period, he believed that his work was a failure. Of course he's clouded a bit by all of this depressive feeling that he has, but he was regretful in this way. He thought that he had failed. He thought that his work was a failure, that he did not accomplish what he set out to accomplish and he was regretful. So I'm not imposing my judgment when I tell this narrative about him coming to this tragic end, which, in my view, reading the biography, was really a long process that started with certain attitudes that he allowed into a soul at a very early stage of his career. It's not really me judging, I'm not trying to judge and I don't think I'm being too harsh when I say this. It's in respect to his own judgments that he comes to at the end of his life.

He does finish the cantos and in fact at the very end of his life he will read a post script to the cantos where he regrets, talking about usury and blaming usury as a cause of his lack of focus. He takes responsibility for this and pretty much cops to the fact that a lot of his political anger and political frustrations and the various individuals and entities that he raged against, he takes ownership of the fact that a lot of that was a kind of cope for his own struggles, his own inability to focus or his own inability to work at the level that he sought to work at. So these are his words, not mine and in my view, most importantly, or most revealingly, after this period of prolonged silence where he's unable to talk to anyone, he does at one point tell Alan Ginsberg, of course, a famous poet in his own right, who we discussed in passing in previous episode on William S Burroughs. He tells Ginsberg Ginsberg is quite a fan of Ezra Pound and Ginsberg goes to visit him. And Ginsberg is a Jew and Ginsberg, you know, free spirit himself, certainly no social justice warrior, he doesn't really care that much. I mean, I'm sure he cared, but the point being he respected Ezra Pound for his genius as a poet and in Ginsberg's view, you know, that was more important than anything, which is why he would go and see him and spend time with with Pound, despite his infamy.

But in this meeting between Ginsberg and Pound, pound admits explicitly to Ginsberg that his anti-Semitism was a mistake, and this is from one of the most intransigent people of the entire 20th century. Pound is never going to say something like this unless he meant it. This is certainly not being polite. The guy spent his entire life refusing to be polite. He's not going to say this just to be nice or to hopefully, you know, make it so that one person, or a few people you know, doesn't think he's a bad guy. When he says this at the end of his life, I believe him, I think there's every reason to believe him, and so this is just very fascinating to me that at the end of it all is the life of just absolute defiant, somewhat resentful but nonetheless defiant, intransigence against all currently existing institutions. He does accept in his own terms, publicly, that he went off the rails and he admits it and he was sorry for it.

For me personally, I'm not interested in judging him. I am inspired very much by his poetry and by his work, by his spirit, by this radical fire that drove him and the courageousness and the will and the determination and the perseverance, the zeal. I love all of this about him. I find his life to be absolutely fascinating and in many, many ways admirable and inspiring and filled with positive lessons about the role of the poet in society and how to live a meaningful, durable, long-running life of radical ideas and creative spirit. He's really in so many ways a source of inspiration and a source of knowledge and a source of many lessons in this regard, which I hope I've catalogued well for you in this discussion. But also he's a great lesson as well about what not to do, and I think that's as good a way to contribute to the development of world history as any other kind of lesson you can impart to someone, as long as you're able to confront it at the very end, as long as you're able to account for things coherently and honestly.

Even sometimes the biggest mistakes you make can be lessons for other people, and I think in this case it's no disrespect to Ezra Pound to point out that he did make a massive mistake and one of the most defining elements of his entire life was essentially one big mistake, a long-running, slowly spiraling kind of mistake which at the end quickly spirals. I do think that that's one of the most important lessons to draw from his life what not to do, to never allow even the little tiniest bit of resentment or bitterness into your heart. Because I do really believe, and I think his life shows very clearly the dynamics of this if you do allow that seed into your heart, it is inevitably going to grow and expand, probably exponentially, probably with disastrous consequences in the long term if you let it continue growing. And so I think even he recognized that and it's no disrespect to him to make that a major part of this story. I tried to be fair about his genius and his brilliance and his other talents and his accomplishments, but that, at the end of the day, is the most important lesson here.

It's what not to do, and I hope you found this useful. I hope you found this interesting. I hope this taught you a few things or gave you some food for thought or some inspiration in your own work and what you're trying to do with your own life. So I would like to leave you with some very powerful words that Ezra Pound spoke while he was awaiting trial in Washington DC. This is in 1945. He says, "If I ain't worth more alive than dead, that's that. If a man isn't willing to take some risk for his opinions, either his opinions are no good, or he's no good.