Monday, May 5, 2014

TDIH: Ezra Pound Detained in Italy

On this day in 1945, American poet Ezra Pound was officially detained and interrogated in Genoa, Italy on the charge of treason. It was the beginning of what would become a 13-year legal limbo for Pound.

From Genoa, Pound, whose treasonous action was his broadcasts on Radio Rome, would be transferred to the United States Army Disciplinary Training Center north of Pisa where he was placed in a steel cage and left to slowly lose what was left of his mind.

An excerpt from Susan Cheever's new biography of e.e. cummings:
"In Pisa, a temporary U.S. commander had him detained in a six-by-six foot steel cage lit up at night by floodlights. With no exercise, eyes inflamed by dust, no bed, no belt or shoelaces and no communication with other human beings, Pound slowly went mad. Whatever vestiges of his former brilliance remained him were wiped out by the three weeks he spent like a caged animal in American custody. He had not yet been tried. Confinement in a floodlit cage is torture, against the law, cruelty beyond imagining. Pound was sixty years old. Later, he recorded some of what happened in the Pisan Cantos, Canto 80, when Odysseys drowns 'when the raft broke and the waters went over me.' In July he was finally diagnosed with a mental breakdown and transferred to a tent and given reading material." (E.E. Cummings: A Life, 136)
The poet spent three weeks in what he would later refer to as "the gorilla cage." Exposed to the elements, isolated from any interaction with other prisoners or guards and deprived of the methods of communication that he had spent his entire life utilizing, Pound was allowed a Chinese dictionary, a book of Confucius and a standard-issue Bible. In his moments of coherence, he translated Confucius and began writing what would be published as the Pisan Cantos.

Pound's breakdown would signal the end of any possibility of him participating in his own defense. His crime would therefore never be debated in court, his case never actually tried. Once the seriousness of his mental collapse was understood, he was sent back to the United States where he would spend twelve years and two months incarcerated at St. Elizabeths Hospital.

His total detention by the United States government, his own government, lasted thirteen years and thirteen days.

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