Pound’s Book of Beasts

Pound as Wuz: Essays and Lectures on Ezra Pound

by James Laughlin
Graywolf Press, 203 pp., $9.50 (paper)

The Genealogy of Demons: Anti-Semitism, Fascism, and the Myths of Ezra Pound

by Robert Casillo
Northwestern University Press, 463 pp., $34.95

Stone Cottage: Pound, Yeats, and Modernism

by James Longenbach
Oxford University Press, 329 pp., $21.95

Ezra Pound: The Solitary Volcano

by John Tytell
Doubleday/Anchor Press, 368 pp., $19.95

“Pound’s anti-Semitism is a distressing topic,” as James Laughlin says in Pound as Wuz, a collection of his formal and informal reports on EP, mostly from 1934–1935, when he studied in the poet’s “Ezuversity” at Rapallo. A fan to begin with, Laughlin became Pound’s publisher, impresario, friend. He has never doubted that Pound was a major poet, an indelible presence, a man for the most part of great force and charm. The quality of Laughlin’s affection for the poet has withstood every challenge to its continuance. He regrets having to bring up the matter of his friend’s anti-Semitism, but it is already up; there is no point in being dainty about it. He remarks that the citizens of Rapallo, even after the war, didn’t resent Pound’s fascist activities: “Noi siamo tutti stati fascisti: We were all fascists,” a newspaper editor acknowledged. Still, after a few embarrassed pages Laughlin settles for the verdict he received from Dr. Overholser, chief psychiatrist at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, where Pound spent eleven years under constraint: “You mustn’t judge Pound morally, you must judge him medically.” Pound suffered from paranoia; as Laughlin says, he “could not control himself.” Besides, and for what the evidence is worth, some of Pound’s friends—Louis Zukofsky, Allen Ginsberg, Heinz Klussmann—were Jews. At the first decent moment, Laughlin puts the topic aside and proceeds to happier themes, Pound’s translations, his “Canto 74,” the “lighter side,” his hoaxes and doggerel.

The question of Pound and the Jews was an issue long before February 13, 1946, when a jury decided that he was of unsound mind and therefore unfit to plead in a case of treason. But it was not a matter of much public concern until 1949, when the Fellows in American Letters of the Library of Congress awarded him, for The Pisan Cantos (1948), the first Bollingen Prize. Many liberal intellectuals denounced the Fellows, and insisted that Pound’s anti-Semitism and fascism could not be separated from a judgment of his work. Irving Howe spoke for many when he declared that Pound, “by virtue of his public record and utterances, is beyond the bounds of our intellectual life.”

Robert Casillo refuses to let the matter rest. It is not enough for him that nearly everybody regards Pound as a rabid fascist. He wants to stage the trial that didn’t take place, and to charge Pound with far more than the nineteen counts of treason contained in the indictment of November 27, 1945. He believes that “the Pound cult and the ‘Pound industry’ have produced an ingenious body of critical writing in which Pound’s anti-Semitism has been arbitrarily discounted, ignored, in short, repressed.” His book is an attempt “to investigate in a thorough, systematic, and truly serious fashion the relationship of anti-Semitism and fascism to Pound’s poetic techniques and language, his cultural vision, and his politics.”

The easy part of Casillo’s argument is that Pound’s anti-Semitism developed in four stages. It started as a common suburban prejudice of Pound’s youth in…

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