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Ezra Pound

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“Do you ‘get’ the idea that for 40 and more years there has been a de facto boycot

of ALL my writing on part of ‘established’ or regular american periodicals and publishers.

. . . Question of whether you want to break that iron wall.”

Ezra Weston Loomis Pound, 18851972.  American expatriate poet and critic.  Typed Letter Signed, E Pound, ” x 11, two pages, with holograph emendations, St. Elizabeths Hospital, [Washington], D.C., December 14, 1957.

Although he was long a critic of the United States and everything American, the caustic Pound nevertheless solicits an American publisher, the Atlantic Monthly Press, to publish two of his Cantos.

The Cantos, his unfinished 120-part epic, was Pound’s greatest work.  He began writing it in 1915 in England, where he worked as foreign editor for several American literary magazines, but wrote the bulk of it in Italy, to which he moved in 1924 after becoming disillusioned with England over World War I. 

The Cantos were published in a number of installments.  The first three, known as the ur-Cantos, appeared in Poetry in 1917; The Maltesta Cantos (Cantos VIII, IX, X, and XI of a Long Poem) appeared in The Criterion in 1923; and Transatlantic Review published two more in 1924.  Thereafter they appeared periodically:  Cantos I-XVI (1925); Cantos XVII-XXVII (1928); A draft of XXX Cantos (1930); A Draft of Cantos XXXI-XLI (1934); The Fifth Decade of Cantos (1937); Cantos LII-LXXI (1940); The Pisan Cantos (1948), written while Pound was under American military arrest in Pisa, Italy; and Seventy Cantos (1950).  The first complete edition was published as The Cantos (1-109) in 1964, and was followed four years later by Drafts and Fragments: Cantos CX-CXVII.

Here Pound writes to Seymour Lawrence, director of the Atlantic Monthly Press.  Although he signs the letter “Cordially yours,” he first blasts Lawrence and both American and British publishers with vitriolic diatribe before coming to the point.  He writes that “[t]here are two Cantos, 98/99 ready for press,” says that they contain “ideograms,” or Chinese characters, and explains how the characters can be easily and relatively inexpensively made for publication.   He writes—complete with typographical errors, the letter obviously typed by Pound himself—in full:

                                                                                                      S.Liz

                                                                                                          St Elizabeths Hspl

                                                                                                                                 D.C.       14 Dec 57

Dear S. Lawrence

One often omits the NECESSARY prolog.  And it is hard for me to tell where any yank starts FROM or “in a manner of speaking” is AT.

So few of you have ANY idea either of history or where ANY word of mine is injected into it.

Do you “get” the idea that for 40 and more years there has been a de facto boycot of ALL my writing on part of “established” or regular american periodicals and publishers.

NO established publisher in England or the U.S. has accepted ANY book on my recommendation since Elkin Mathews took Wm. M. Rossetti’s translation of the Convito, about 1909 or ’10.

Question of whether you want to break that iron wall.

There are two Cantos, 98/99 ready for press.

The first one contains ideograms/ which if the simple italian system of zincografia is known in this country, wd/ be fotograf’d onto ZINC, they now cover a sheet from Hqwley, about 3½ by 7 inches, but could be rearranged so at to fit, I suppose a more usual size foto plate.

After which the individual and paired characters can be cut apart and mounted on wood at height of usual printers type/

                                         the expense is not staggering.

as shown by the roman edition of the Ta Seu in the Meridiano and one lire first edtn/ of same.

Canto 99 contains only four ideogram, and is given to show that the SENSE of text is comprehensible without such reinforcement. 

Section THRONES.  96/ the Eparxikon Biblion/ 97 Abt El Meleks revolt against Byzantuim. have appeared

98/99 the Sacred Edict of Kang Hi / with ref/ to Wang’s comment.  Wang was translated by Baller ) AND Yong Ching’s summary, which so far as I know has not been previously translated.

The cantos are a CONDENSATION, fitted into the general sweep of the poem.

I think the fat heads who have been exulting in the formlessness and lack of plan in the opus, will ultimately be left out on a limb.

          but am not entering into discussion of that at this time.

Thrones, section/ states of mind necessary for competent ordering of a government.

           two drags against change of any grade a. writing in the U.S.

one that people ask the writers to do something ELSE, no matter WHAT they are doing.

I believe the Atlantic printed Vance Cheyney along about 1900. and Harper’s contained an obit of Agassiz ?? 1878 ? or whenever he departed.

Thrones, cf/ also Dante. re/ gradations, and states of mind.

                                                                                         Cordially yours

                                                                                          E Pound

Pound’s diatribe—quite strange for one who seeks to convince a publisher to publish his work—may reflect a state of general mental imbalance.  He wrote this letter while he was at St. Elizabeths Hospital, a psychiatric hospital operated by the District of Columbia Department of Mental Health, where he was institutionalized after avoiding imprisonment for treason on the grounds of insanity.

Beginning in 1935, and regularly after 1940, the anti-Semitic Pound broadcast over Italian radio, criticizing the United States, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and in particular the Jews, whom he blamed for World War II.  The broadcasts were monitored in the United States, and Pound was indicted for treason in 1943.  He surrendered to the American military in May 1945 and was soon transferred to the United States Army Disciplinary Training Center north of Pisa, where the commander imprisoned him in one of the camp’s “death cells,” a series of 6’ x 6’ outdoor steel cages illuminated by floodlights all night.  He spent three weeks in isolation, without a bed and without exercise, communicating with only the chaplain.  He began to break down after two weeks, so he was moved from the cage, examined by psychiatrists, and found to have symptoms of a mental breakdown.  Transferred to an officer’s tent, he wrote The Pisan Cantos. 

He was transported to the United States and arraigned on the treason charges.  He was then sent to St. Elizabeths Hospital and held in the “Hell hole,” a windowless prison ward building, in a room with a thick steel door punctuated with peepholes that allowed psychiatrists to observe him.  Pound’s attorney successfully got him declared insane, saving him from criminal responsibility.  He was transferred to better surroundings at St. Elizabeths, where he remained another 12 years, until 1958.  During that time, he continued to write, including more work on the Cantos.  He refused to discuss efforts to secure his release, but after a campaign by various publications, including The New Republic, Esquire, and The Nation, his attorney convinced the court that he was incurably insane and that it served no purpose to continue to confine him.

Pound has corrected the text and signed with a large signature in blue ballpoint.  The letter has one horizontal and two vertical mailing folds, with crossing folds touching the signature.  There are staple holes at the upper left.  Overall the letter is in fine to very fine condition.

Unframed.

 

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