Lucifer's Valet

PISAN CANTOS: Sieburth’s Introduction

Posted in Poeticks by lucifersvalet on 23 November 2009

Michael Morse & I are reading the Sieburth edition of the Pisan Cantos. I’m going to try to put down some of my thoughts, and maybe some of the dialogue with Michael. Try to be quick about it. Make the reader feel good, like a young blog should.

Sieburth tells the story, Pound’s years in Italy, the radio broadcasts, the arrest, the prison, the writing, the exit to the US, with a coda for incarceration in St. Elizabeth’s & publication & the Bollingen Prize, smartly: he’s got good details & some verve. It’s a nice contrast to the version that’s in my head, Hugh Kenner’s hagiographic Pound Era. Mostly Sieburth allows Pound to be responsible for some of his trouble. By toning down the tragic, Sieburth opens up the possibility for the comic. & as much as I admire Pound, there’s plenty of comic potential in his life story.

For example, I’ve always been partial to one part of the story, something not in Sieburth’s intro, something that happens long after all the Pisan stuff: after he gets out of St. Elizabeth’s, and after his great photo op, giving the fascist salute on the boat, throwing out some red meat for the boys in the press, his first stop is Schloss Brunnenburg, home to his long-suffering daughter & her aristo husband. The way Kenner tells the story, it’s a miserable spell, during which Mary for about the first time in her life has a chance to spend some quality time with her dad, but then all these wackos show up, her dad’s friends—poetic sycophants, escaped fascists, fellow former mental patients. It could make a great play, kind of like a realist, big cast version of End Game, & a dark dank broken down medieval castle for a set. All of Pound’s pretensions come home to roost & the nest gets stinky. There’s an arc to that story.

There’s an arc to Sieburth’s version of the Pisa story, one that doesn’t get played up in the Kenner. Both versions give us the capture in Rapallo by the partisans, with Pound picking up the eucalyptus pip on the way out (& I’m fond of that pip. I too collect fetish objects, if too many. I’ve got this box of rocks. I used to know where each came from). & both gives us good details on his time at the DTC, the weeks in the cage & the weeks in the infirmary. Sieburth emphasizes the racial dimension, something that has a sharp presence in the poems. The Detention Training Center was the only segregated unit in that theater of operations, and Sieburth believes that the contact with the black voices, their inclusion in the poem, is the crucial element in the Pisan Cantos.

But it’s the time between the two events that fascinates me. Pound isn’t taken directly to Pisa. His first stop is at a military intelligence facility in Genoa, where some sympathetic officers give him the good cop treatment & Pound sings like a bird, for the benefit of J. Edgar Hoover’s files. It’s a glorious manic phase for Ezra, lifting him up to make for a better depressive crash in the cage. Pound is at his delusional best (& whether or not he was insane, he was grandiosely delusional), firing off letters left & right, telling everyone how all he had to do was have a quick chat with Truman (& even Stalin) & he’d get everything fixed, & by everything he didn’t mean his case, he meant the world.

This delusion was filled out with economic theories…(to be continued! We’ve got to be quick or else we won’t be at all).

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