Il Rebus Pound

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From EPOUND-L, the Ezra Pound Discussion List (hosted by the University of Maine), comes a link to an April 14th story in Corriere della Sera concerning Ezra Pound’s politics. The article is framed as a debate between two Italian Poundians, Luca Gallesi and Piero Sanavio, but the real antagonists are CasaPound (Pound House), a center for extreme-right youth in Rome, and Mary de Rachewiltz, who recently denounced the center’s appropriation of her father’s name. That denunciation appeared in a Corriere story published on April 1st (link); the immediate occasion for the new story was CasaPound’s response, which the paper published as a sidebar.

Posters put up in Piazza Vittorio where on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. there will be a rally celebrating the election of Renata Polverini to the presidency of the region of Lazio

Note, by the way, that CasaPound was also in the news recently for having plastered the city illegally with its political posters (the picture and caption to the right come from an April 8th story; link).

The url shared on the Pound list goes to a .pdf of the text as it appeared in print, which we’ve reproduced above — you can see the sidebar at the end of this post; Corriere‘s website also gives a digital version (link). Thanks to Carla Billitteri of the NPF editorial collective, we’re able to offer a quick translation, along with some relevant extracts from the April 1st story. Here and there Billitteri has modified the idiomatic Italian to make the meaning more legible. We’re also thankful to Massimo Bacigalupo for clarifying the context.

Debate Gallesi: He was above all an American patriot. Sanavio: It is wrong to consider him a philosopher.

Fascist or Genius, the Pound Puzzle

Scholars are divided. Meanwhile youth of the right invite the daughter


“Here error is all in the not done, / all in the diffidence that faltered.” Cited from the Cantos, these verses of Ezra Pound can be found as the epigraph to the book Hobbit/Hobbit, a gathering of texts by right-wing youth dating back to 1982, now republished in an expanded version edited by Marco Tarchi with the title La rivoluzione impossibile (Vallecchi, 579 pgs, €18). As one example among many of the interest in the work of the American poet demonstrated by these heretics of neofascism: the late Giano Accame and his Ezra Pound economista (Settimo Sigillo).

Since 2003 CasaPound is the trademark of a group of youth who occupy abandoned buildings and transform them into social centers for the right, harking back to the poet’s ideas and making a show of symbols of fascist origin. They have ignited a reaction from Mary de Rachewiltz, daughter of Pound, who in an interview with Marzio Breda, published in Corriere on April 1st, has rejected any attempt to instrumentalize her father’s thinking.

The youth of CasaPound, by way of their president, Gianluca Iannone, reply, inviting Mrs. de Rachewiltz to visit their site in person to ascertain that their interest in the poet is well-considered and genuine. “Pound’s polemic against usury and the excessive power of banks” — adds Adriano Scianca, cultural spokesperson for the movement — “seems to us totally contemporary and aligned with our vision of the world. When we ask for a social mortgage to facilitate the home-buying of families, we are simply applying a point of the Verona manifesto of the Italian Social Republic praised by Pound in the Cantos: the idea that the right to own a home is not a right ‘of ownership,’ that is a right of real-estate speculatoirs, but a right ‘to own,’ that is a right of workers who are in need.”

But was Pound really a blackshirt author? Luca Gallesi, author of Le origini del fascismo in Ezra Pound (Ares), has some reservations: “I feel sympathy for the youth of CasaPound, but I believe that Mary de Rachewiltz is right to argue that their approach is a bit superficial. The poet was above all an American patriot connected to the American populist movement, which gathered small business and farmers in protest against financial speculators. He saw in fascism a third way, a national and spirital answer to the crisis of mercantile capitalism, but I find debatable the harking back to Pound in the name of a right-wing, Anti-American ideology.”

In contrast, Piero Sanavio, author of La gabbia di Pound (Fazi), has no doubts: “I knew him personally and remember him as a man of great generosity, but from the ideological point of view Pound was organically tied to fascism. He had an authoritarian idea of the State, he supported not only Mussolini but also Franco, and even joined the Republic of Salò. Genial talent from the literary point of view, in politics he was greatly naive. Suffice it to say that he found the positions of Il Duce and that of an enlightened democrat such as Thomas Jefferson overlapping.”

Ready with an objection, Scianca: “The image of Pound as deluded, deceived by fascism, does not convince: his was a conscious choice for which he paid harshly. And it is perplexing that one can praise him as a poet while devaluing his economic ideas, whose validity is demonstrated by the financial crisis.” Sanavio invites a distinction: “Pound was treated in an inhuman way by the American authority and his suffering deserves human sympathy. But he must be read as a poet, not as philospopher, sociologist, or economist. After all, his critique of usury is not original: a similar concept can be found in the writing of Dante and Sant’Ambrogio, even in the Bible.” Gallesi disagrees: “The contemporary economic crisis certainly does not derive from a problem of scarcity, but from mechanisms that privilege the speculative profit and weaken the purchasing power of families. How can we not acknolwedge that Pound was right on the mark in his attack on usury?”

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Before translating the sidebar — shown to the right — here is an excerpt from the earlier story (“Hands Off My Father Ezra Pound“), as it sets up CasaPound’s response:

[Mary de Rachewiltz] leafs through a selection of Italian magazines and realizes that “the black tide of the third millennium” is growing, always in the name of her father: the CasaPound movement. These articles describe “social and cultural initiatives” promoted by the extreme-right network (battles for the home, maternity and self-sufficiency in food and agriculture), but also describe “gatherings organized with martial discipline” by a “holy mob” that distinguishes itself with “leather jackets, shaved heads, and flags with gothic symbols.” And she observes on the internet a sequence from a video exemplifying the taste for certain “warrior practices” by these militants, who “whip each other while dancing” …

And the article continues:

Mary de Rachewiltz … pours out her dismay. “This is another way of putting Pound in a cage, like that of the Disciplinary Training Center of Pisa, where he was segregated, the Guantanamo of 1945. A tremendous damage, because it is born of a distortion of the meaning of his work, and because it runs the risk of compromising again his full critical recognition. An abuse, because in this way they corner him in an ambiguous dimension that goes beyond the reactionary toward a regressive cipher. And because they uphold him to youth of confused mind as a prophet who is so much more fascinating insofar as he is dangerous and forbidden.” For the heir of the poet, in other words, “we cannot remain diplomatic” while judging those pretending to be the “grandchildren of Pound.” They have elevated him to a cult object against an almost mystic-esoteric background. And they have placed him among their ideal ancestors, evoking as a slogan some of his phrases, “more or less inflammatory, fished here and there without logic” from the time in which he supported Mussolini. Which “for my father was the moment of fracture, very complex.” And which, for this reason, ought to be reconsidered, according to her, on the basis of often-neglected variables. Beginning with his vision of history, because, she explains, “he was more interested in ethics than politics. And about Mussolini he used to say, he would have liked educating him. And that Mussolini was destroyed because he didn’t follow the dictates of Confucius.” It is a defense that Mrs. de Rachewiltz, translator and philologist of the paternal work, who lives in Tirolo di Merano, allows herself with some discomfort. Because for her it should be the scholars who hold Pound’s memory close to heart who “fight against certain undue appropriations.”

And here is the sidebar:

Letter of CasaPound

“Come and see us Mrs. de Rachewiltz”

Gianluca Iannone, president of CasaPound, is ready to take his chance. He is prompted by Mary de Rachewiltz’s complaint to Corriere regarding the scant interest of cultural academics in her father. He denies he wanted to instrumentalize the name of Pound and takes credit for having “broken the stereotypes and overcome the ostracisms” weighted against him. “It is for this reason” — writes Iannone to Mrs. de Rachewiltz — “that we say come and see us. This is an official invitation. Come and see us, overcome the useless polemics based on nothing. Come and see if really anyone here is forcing Pound in a new cage. Come and see us and judge with your own eyes and without interested mediations what is the commitment of our human community in carrying forward day after day the battles that were Pound’s.”

All of which parallels the appropriation of Pound by the Tea Party Movement (noted here last month). Stay tuned for further developments.

A Child Poet in the Public Sphere

From Poems (1941) (click on the image for a larger view)

One of the delights for longtime readers of Larry Eigner in the new Collected Poems is the extensive representation of Eigner’s juvenilia. The editors — Curtis Faville and Robert Grenier — have included a photographic reproduction of Poems by Laurence Joel Eigner, an eighth grade class project, and a section of “First Poems (1937-1950).” There are twelve pieces in the class project; the section that follows adds an additional thirteen, written when Eigner was 9 to 22 years old. All but one of these early poems was published, as Grenier points out in his headnote. He also points out that the earliest poems were dictated, Eigner receiving his first typewriter as a Bar Mitzvah present in 1940 and only slowly coming to master the typewriter’s use.

Poems was printed on a hand press by Eigner’s classmates at the Massachusetts Hospital School in Canton. Free verse was not yet the norm for child poets, so these are all cheerful rhymes, but that only makes for a sharper contrast with Eigner’s subsequent work. Here’s the second half of “Mosquitoes”:

The maddening jeers
Which come to my ears!
The mosquitoes are winning the fray.
They continue to bite,
I continue to fight,
For the rest of the unhappy day.

And here, from 18 years later, is the ending of “The Wandering Mosquito”: “he wanders miles and miles and / becomes aware of the window / where the moon is // … // and it’s raining outside // 94 humid // he hasn’t hurt me yet // I have to open the window // his head is a constant drop of blood.” What has changed between the two poems is not simply the poet’s form, but the poet’s world, which is larger now, and more elastic, no longer human-centered. The mosquito who gets lost in that world is no longer a mere antganonist; it’s now also a force of illumination, allowing the poet to feel his way along the elastic contours of perception, stretching those contours to meet the edges of the world, which even has an opening now — a window through which the amazing bloody mosquito might move safely beyond attention.

Eigner’s other early poems appeared in such local publications as the Hadassah News-ette (Lynn, MA), The Swampscotta (Swampscott High School Quarterly), and The Salem Evening News. He also published in the national magazine Child Life, a product of Rand McNally Corp. The September 1937 issue of Child Life, which came out just after Eigner’s tenth birthday, included the following prize-winning stanzas; they appeared as part of the “Child Life Pen and Pencil Club”:

When All Sleep

When the sun is sinking
And the moon comes out,
All the little fairies
Go hopping about

When the moon is shining
When in bed I stay;
All the fairies show themselves
And all at once they say,

“Let us dance together
And let us play a tune
Beneath the little twinkling stars,
Beneath the silvery moon.”

Especially interesting about the Child Life publication is the insight it yields into Eigner’s early sense of himself as a public person. A glance at the original page shows how closely linked creative writing was with citizenship in that context:

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The nursery rhyme quality of “When All Sleep” is so un-Eigner-like to me, except insofar as it shows him trying to please … that’s a constant. What does call his later work to mind is the legend of the “Good Citizens’ League,” printed in the left-hand column, to the far side of Eigner’s poem:

MOTTO: Responsibility.
CREED: I live in one of the best countries in the world and wish to do all I can to make it better.
PLEDGE: Every day I will do at least one thing to show I am a good citizen.

That Eigner took all this to heart is suggested by his later poem “The First Independence Day,” shown at the top of this post. And though the nationalism of the legend falls away in Eigner’s adult writing, the pledge still resonates. It can be heard, for instance, in a 1972 prose piece later titled “Arrowhead of Meaning”:

I once wanted to do big things and to try of course is the only way to begin, and to quite an extent continuing depends on it too. … I’m still naturally about as interested as I ever was in improving things, i.e., things in general, whatever that is.  …

I wonder about purpose, what priorities if not principles are possible, how to balance things.

Not that Eigner’s social conscience or work ethic are functions of Child Life … that would be silly. Only that Eigner knew himself to be a citizen at a very early age, and that this knowledge came — in part — from a public sphere he was already able to enter. [1]

All together, Eigner was published three times in Child Life. We’ll be posting images from those other issues in the coming days.

1 [Back to text] On a related note, see Steven Fama’s superb list and readings of Eigner poems drawn from the news (link).

Typos and Abbrevs.

Steven Fama left a comment yesterday that I thought to bring front and center. He’s referring here to the Larry Eigner text on the cover of Sagetrieb 18.1 and also to my transcription of it (both are reproduced in the previous post):

to what degree should we, in reading the typescript (or transcription thereof), add to Eigner’s shorthand and (more importantly) correct his typos?

In the first set of lines in the pictured text, I want to read “from” for “frm” and correct “weiting” to “writing.” And similarly near the bottom, I read “people” for “pple,” “glimpsed” for “glimsed” and “emphasis” for “emphasos.” And yet there’s the puzzling “unreacjanle”

There are maybe three dozen odd (not in the dictionary” words in The Coillected. for many, the endnote for the particular poem indicates that the word is intentional, based on margin notes by Eigner or other matters.

For other odd words, however, there apparently is no information. The poem of course is what it is; the question is what should we as readers do — how far to insert, given Eigner’s habit of typing in shorthand and not always accurately (for the record, I am a worse typist).

(I have a particular poem I am thinking about, and will probably write about, once I write about two or three other Eigner-things, that presents this question front and center, I think. I’m not at home, so I can’t give the poem #, but it sticks out pretty obviously, and is in Volume IV. )

These are good questions! And I can’t wait to see his list of neologisms, not to mention his reading of a poem that uses one. As to an answer…

I wd hate to be responsible for dealing with Eigner’s typos and abbreviations in the absence of his advice.

In my experience with the prose — and Eigner was more cavalier with prose than poetry — the abbreviations were time-saving devices not meant to be retained … except with conventional abbrevs. like “wd” and the like.

But Eigner liked inventions too, and sometimes he considered the abbreviations (or typos) to be such. And he was open to suggestions. For instance, with “Blurb for Disabled Calligraphy” (in Areas Lights Heights: Writings 1954-1989), I suggested we keep his typo “mirrr” for “mirror,” and Eigner, after giving it due consideration, agreed. Of course, if I was editing the piece on my own, I’d supply the missing “o,” no question.

Another, somewhat different example that comes to mind is the poem “What Next (To Do?),” also in Areas Lights Heights. Here, Eigner mistakenly typed “philosophy” as “philosophyl.” I loved the suggestion of chlorophyll in this, and Eigner did too when I pointed it out, so he added the additional “l” to make the word “philosophyll.” In this instance, the typo was not so much preserved as used as the basis for a further revision. Needless to say, this sort of revision can only be made by an author.

Intermediate version of Eigner's "Rambling (in) Life," showing Eigner's additions to the editor's typescript. Click on image for a larger view.

By and large, Eigner loved editing as collaboration, in the sense that he loved the relationship as much as he did the project. He was lonely! And I did think retrospectively that this gave me an undue influence, which makes me squirm a little in memory. (Maybe “mirrr” really should be “mirror”? Maybe “philosophyll” should be “philosophy”?) On the other hand, the most basic way my editing prodded Eigner to rethink his work makes me glad I got involved: I would give him neatly double-spaced typescripts of his typescripts to proofread, and Eigner would then add new writing at the end of the page, even when the text was a decade old. I enabled a revision process he couldn’t or at least wouldn’t have undertaken on his own, since his own typescripts left little or no white space to work with, and retyping would have been a horrible chore.

But all this is dancing around Fama’s question about corrections. My “diplomatic transcription” (an exact copy of the text — spelling, revision, spacing, line endings) is the right choice, perhaps, when the transcript appears alongside the original … when the goal is to aid in the reading of the original. But when the transcript is the only version available?

As it happens, I’ve been reading Emerson’s journals this past week, comparing the different ways a single passage was presented in the Riverside Edition edited by Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes and then in the Harvard Edition edited by Ronald A. Bosco and Glen M. Johnson and then in the new Library of America Edition edited by Lawrence Rosenwald. Each of these editions served a unique purpose.

The Riverside Edition, coming a generation after the philosopher’s death, was proposed as an opening up of Emerson’s inner life, and it came with occasionally extensive narrative bridges. For instance, the spare entry for July 24, 1872, “House burned,” is followed in the Riverside Edition with five pages of biographical information. The Harvard Edition is scholarly, with a full apparatus. It gives us the entirety of Emerson’s “pocket diaries,” lists of readings and appointments and to-do lists and the like. (The Riverside Edition very nicely uses these to compile lists of authors or books quoted or mentioned for each year.) The Library of America Edition makes a reading version of the Harvard text, no longer identifying notebook name or manuscript page, no longer recording all the vagaries of the manuscript.

So what about Eigner? For a scholarly edition, of course, everything should be recorded, so that even if correction is made, the original can still be reconstructed. But a reading edition? Of the poems? My gut feeling is that some editorial intervention is needed. Eigner’s mind and writing have an elegance that shouldn’t be sacrificed in the name of a too-faithful transcription. The editor’s task, I should think, is to reveal the elegance of Eigner’s occasional idiosyncrasy, which requires that idiosyncrasy be distinguished from inelegance (i.e., error). Except … that acceptance of error is part of Eigner’s elegance, his adherence to thinking as a moment-to-moment engagement with language and the world. So … does that mean that error needs to be distinguished from error? Yeah, I think so. Which means, alas, that the editor, following Eigner, is apt to make errors every step of the way. A thankless task!

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How easy it would for correction to get out of hand! I’m glad I didn’t have to make such decisions on my own — that I had Eigner to consult. But in bringing my decisions to Eigner, my policy, I guess, was that changes should be minimal: obvious typos needed to be fixed, but abbreviations I tried to leave as is. This then left a short or long list of puzzling words that may or may not have been typos and may or may not have been inventions, which I myself preferred to leave as is. Eigner, I found, was more inclined to normalize. With “Eureka,” for instance (see the text to the right), which Eigner and I never got around to editing, I suspect he would have seen “weiting” as an error for “writing.” But is it, in a text where “weight” and “meaning” are treated as synonyms? Perhaps “weiting” is writing that weighs meaning. And what about those typos that may be abbreviations, like “wrds” for “words” or “mch” for “much”? And what about the beauty of Eigner’s process, which the errors and corrections seem to be a part of? I mean, if writing is “rliza- / tion” and “assay, assessment,” shouldn’t we see that realizing take place, or fail to take place, as Eigner assesses his own wording, as he adds the “ings” above “thns” or fails to realize “no” by typing “np”?

It’s a puzzle, all right.

(That’s a quote, I think, from Eigner.)

Missing Larry

Michael Davidson‘s keynote address at the NPF’s 2000 summer conference on North American Poetry in the 1960s, “Missing Larry,” was first published in Sagetrieb 18.1, and later as part of his 2008 book Concerto for the Left Hand. The essay is also available online, courtesy the Museum of American Poetics (link).

“Missing Larry” has become a central document for readers of Eigner’s work — and an important contribution to the field of disability studies. The essay deals in part with Eigner’s still-unpublished fascicle Dance, put together in response to Charles Olson’s Plan for a Curriculum of the Soul. The Dance poems include a long one written in response to Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah (see vol. 4 of Eigner’s Collected Poems, pg. 1612). Writes Davidson:

Eigner thought of titling his series “Gyre / (scope) / loop the / loop,” as if to condense the metaphors of stability (gyroscope), perception (“scope”), historical cyclicity (Yeats’ gyres) and vertiginous movement (“loop the / loop”) in one figure. It is an ideogram that merges Eigner’s primary concerns with perception and place, but sets them against the backdrop of historical vertigo, the rightward shifting margin marking the stumbling movement of movements under duress.

The Shoah poem largely concerns a boy — now a man — who returns with Lanzmann to the river in Poland where he was once forced to sing while running with chains around his ankles. Notes Davidson:

The incredulous testimony of survival (“I can’t believe I’m here”) is measured against an act of physical awkwardness that resembles a dance of death, not unlike the coffle songs and shuffle dances developed by black slaves in the antebellum South.

And he adds:

Such powerful mergings of physical grace with carceral control turns “Dance” into a personal signature for Eigner’s proprioceptive position.

The Sagetrieb issue with Davidson’s essay features an Eigner typescript on the cover, an otherwise-unpublished fragment that may have been the beginning of a prose note … or perhaps a poem. A diplomatic transcript appeared on the issue’s first page. Click on the images below for larger views:

The issue is still available for sale. Click on the Ordering tab above for more information.