Poet-Traitor Ezra Pound*
A Play in Two Acts
By Alfred de Grazia
Copyright © 2001 by Alfred de Grazia
Americans soldiers in Tunisian desert, summer 1943, coming and going in a canvas tent shelter affixed to an old well, a nearby sign saying: 1MRBC, G-2, AFHQ The men are detailed to combat propaganda against the Italians and Germans, specifically to break the morale of enemy soldiers at the front. It is dusk and bottles of raki and beer are on a folding table. The flaps of the tent are turned up so that audience can view the men, as they sit or move around. On the table is also a radio. A tape recorder is rolling to catch the radio message. A field telephone is alongside a cot of Herz, the senior officer. The men sit on boxes, one folding chair, another cot. They shift around.
The characters all look like they did at the time.
Sgt. Klaus Mann: Author, son of the famed novelist, Thomas Mann, speaks in cultured tones with a mild German accent. Gaunt, melancholy, sober.
. 2nd Lt. Hans Habe: Hungarian novelist, now an American citizen. Debonair, smiles, Hungarian accent, tall and ungainly, reddish blond slicked hair.
1st Lt. Martin Herz: American economic analyst, of Austrian-Jewish backround. Stiff, voice tends toward a bark. Laughs in a clipped way, but sympathetically.
Cpl. Peter Viereck: American Poet and college instructor, son of famous World War I American pro-German. Awkward, frail, blond. New England accent.
1st Lt. Alfred de Grazia: American College instructor of Political Science. More of a field soldier than the others, moves and talks in a self-assured way, with a mid-western accent.
Set at Rapallo, Italy, 1998, after Pound's return to Italy and the publication of the 119 Cantos, and after Pound's death at 87 years in 1972. The occasion is an exhibition of 52 sculptures of Pietro Gaietto based on stanzas of the Pisan Cantos of Pound.
It is suggested that the actors of Act One take new roles in Act Two. If they do so, one more actor needs be added.
Ezra Pound, poet
Alfred de Grazia, emeritus professor of social theory
Pietro Gaietto, sculptor and archaeological excavator of stone age
Winston Coleman, American Consul at Rome*
Dante Matelli, Espresso Magazine reporter, son-in-law of De Grazia
Bruno Bonfaccio, Italian professor of American Literature, translator of Pound*
* A pseudonym is used.
As the curtain is drawn open, we are hearing the crackling sound of the radio broadcasting a querulous, dogmatic man's voice. Peter Viereck is listening:
Ezra Pound voice: American soldiers spill their blood for the sake of the Jews, the bolsheviki and Franklin Roosevelt's crackpot New Dealers. Even now, I walk around as a free man in my town of Rapallo and in Rome itself. Italians have only the friendliest of feelings for us Americans as individuals. But here are your sons, fellow-Americans, sitting on the hot African sands, waiting to be sent into the slaughter of battle. Pull yourselves together and stop this insanity. Soldiers, do you part to end the war!
Enter Lt. De Grazia: Shut down that bullshit traitor. He should be hanged. He drops the musette bag that was slung from his shoulder. He wears the regulation 45 calibre automatic handgun.
Viereck: Yes sir, just one second.
Pound: Churchill, Roosevelt, and the filth of Judea. That's the Morgenthau Roosevelt war aim.
Fascist hymn 'Giovinezza,' ends the broadcast, and an announcer says in English, You have just heard the distinguished American poet and economist, Ezra Pound, speaking on behalf of peace to Americans and Allied troops everywhere from our studios in Rome. Ezra Pound's talk will be rebroadcast tonight again at 11 o-clock.
Then, in Italian, "Radio Roma vi presenta le ultime notizie internazionale.."
Viereck: (Turns off the radio and tape machine.) Yes, sir, how are you, Lieutenant, welcome back.
De Grazia: Hello. No earphones?
Viereck:: Klaus Mann is using them to hear a Wagner Opera from Berlin.
Mann stands to attention: Hello, Lieutenant de Grazia.
Herz enters the tent: Al, how are you? Welcome home, humble as it is.
De Grazia: We'll all be in a new home across the waters soon.
Herz: Let's drink to that. Good raki, I'm told. Good raki, Sergeant Mann?
Mann: Yes sir.
Herz pours and gives the tumbler to De Grazia, who takes a swig of it and coughs. That's fine stuff.
Herz: No more news than that? Nothing more definite?
De Grazia: Well, I've been studying my maps of Sicily.
Herz: That we've learned about. West or East?
De Grazia: East. Not nice. The Herman Goering Panzer Division seems to be there. And the First Parachute Division. Some Italian units, but in Eastern Sicily little but Home Guards with muskets.
Herz: How long are you here?
De Grazia: No time at all, just a good-bye. I have to be back soon.
Herz: The road is blacked out.
De Grazia: The road will be straight. I'll tail a convoy.
Herz :Have some beer to chase the raki.
De Grazia: I will indeed. Nothing to eat?
Viereck: Nothing you'd want to eat.
Herz: We're waiting for Habe to come back. He's gone scavenging.
Do you know, Ezra Pound never sounds as if he were privy to any classified military information about us, or about the rest of the war, for that matter?
De Grazia: The English officers think Ezra is laughable. They have Lord Haw-Haw, whom they are determined to hang without ceremony.
Herz: Ezra Pound is not nearly so famous. Or amusing.
De Grazia: If the Eighth Army guys are bothered by his trying to divide the British and Americans, they are too polite to raise the subject.
Herz: I'm sorry we won't be together on this show, Al.
De Grazia: Cheers. I repeat. Let's eat something.
Herz: Yeah. What do you have?
Viereck: Yes, what do you have? (Gives a brief nervous laugh.)
De Grazia: He pulls stuff out of his sack. I have two cans of C-Ration, meat and beans unfortunately. I have five boxes of the new combat ration, guaranteed to contain fatty spam and five cigarettes. I have a can of Argentine corned beef, bully beef of the Eighth Army. I have a few dates that I bought from an Arab on the road, a bar of English ration non-melt chocolate, a sugary juice powder of some kind, a packet of powdered coffee, four packets of powdered tea mix from Old Blighty. What else could you possibly want? If you can't bear to eat it, trade it.
Viereck: I want what Ezra Pound is eating right about now in Rome: A fine tossed salad with fresh crusty bread, pasta with parmesan cheese, followed by a veal cutlet and asparagus, accompanied by a bottle of Frascati white wine.
De Grazia: I guess you don't want to eat, Corporal. How did they ever let such a skinny guy into the Army?
Viereck: I kept pestering the draft board, my Congressman, and Eleanor Roosevelt so finally I was inducted.
Herz: In the dark of night.
De Grazia: How about you, Martin? Food? Sergeant?
Herz: Patience, man, the best scrounger in the Third Army will be back soon.
De Grazia: Lt. Hans Habe.
Herz: No less.
De Grazia: I'll wait. Won't he have trouble getting through the perimeter?
Herz: He has all the passwords.
Mann: Plus centuries of Hungarian cavalry forays.
De Grazia: Pushes his foodstuffs back into his sack. Where's my napkin and fork?
Herz: Let's go find him, Al. No telling where he's stashing it.
They go out into the desert, wandering off stage shouting "Habe!"
Mann: Let's light candles.
They do. Meanwhile you hear loud voices.
Herz: I knew you wouldn't let us down, Habe. Just bring it in and we'll share it.
Habe: Of course I will, Lieutenant. Did you know there were Bedouins camped nearby?
Herz: No. Were they listening to Ezra Pound?
De Grazia: Are you serious?
Habe: I don't know, maybe in Arabic. I don't know Arabic.
Herz: Go ahead, give us the important news. we're listening.
Habe: And so, here is the deal, made in French, the language of love and haute cuisine. (He exhibits items one by one.) Beautiful feta cheese. He holds it up. Wonderful pieces of boiled goat that they took right from the pot. A loaf of the best Halva of Tunis. No bread, but Tunisian hardtack.
De Grazia: Set up the poor but essential dinner table, Sgt. Mann. Look at you all. Four cots and a small table full of junk. In the Eighth Army we have a batman to make us all neated up. He keeps water boiling in a real looted tea kettle. Their combat ration is always a can of corned beef, an unmeltable chocolate bar, vile Indian cigarettes, unbreakable biscuits, and a surprisingly good tea powder already mixed with sugar and milk.
Viereck: By the way, Lt. Herz, sir, shouldn't we move our so-called toilet a little farther from the tent? The desert wind blows odors as well as sand.
Herz: You should know what volunteering does for you in the Army. Maybe you'll kindly take care of that job tomorrow, Viereck.
Viereck: (Unnerved by the task) I'll go take a look at the problem now. Maybe I can pay some bedouin to do it for me, tomorrow. (Exit)
Phone rings. Mann answers: Hello, Red-eye here. No whiskey for sale here. Tell him that it is a lie. Red-eye out.
De Grazia: I wonder how Ezra Pound's treason affects Peter, considering his father was jailed for sedition in World War I.
(They look at each other inquiringly.)
Herz: You can bet it will be in his mind.
De Grazia: Old Viereck never went over to the enemy. He professed to be an American at heart.
Habe: (Looking up from his careful work of cutting up his food into five portions.) Ezra Pound says so too. But he had a chance to return to the states and chose to remain in Italy when the British and the Russians were on their knees.
Mann: And the French were occupied by the Nazis.
Viereck reenters the shelter.
Viereck: God, I wish this war would end.
Herz: But you're just getting into it.
Viereck: That's why I wish it would end.
De Grazia: Peter, you're the poet among us. What kind of a person is Ezra Pound?
Viereck: Not a pleasant person, in my estimation. When he was young he wanted to be a universal know-it-all, but quit every subject as soon as he undertook to concentrate upon it. He has a smattering of many areas of knowledge. Especially the exotic, ancient languages, Chinese poetry and lore, Western classics - Browning, Dante and so on. He has claimed various schools of literature as his own, proposing his own as well, but also jumping quickly into such groups as the Imagists and falling into others such as the Decadents. He affects numerous styles.
He has always strived for off-beat impressions, and has gotten fair attention in return.
They have drawn two cots nearer and have begun eating the food spread out on the table.
Habe: Let me add another dimension. His father was a bureaucrat working for the mint as an assayer all his life. That's where he got his obsession with money systems. He doesn't care for money himself. He thought he had it in him to be an agitator for a hard money system that would exclude Jews, bankers, bureaucrats, and capitalists - all money-lenders, naturally.
De Grazia: Who does that leave? Nobody minding the monetary store but crazy Pounds, father and son, father identification or father-hostility, I wonder.
Mann: "Name ist Omen"
Mann: "Nomen est Omen." His name predicts his future obsession, as it had his father's occupation. The Pound is good money.
Herz: No one paid attention to his crazy monetary theories, but he was deadly serious. He has this idea that he can persuade Mussolini, whom he regards as a wise all-powerful leader, to adopt it. To him Il Duce is the founder of a new order, a crown jewel set in the infinitely rich Italian historical fabric.
De Grazia: What do you say, Habe, do we hang him?
Habe: Ezra Pound is not Mussolini. Mussolini is not Hitler.
But since when do we have to have someone as bad as Hitler before we hang him. Yes, I say hang him.
His late poetry is bad, and we will always have his early poetry.
De Grazia:: There's a contradiction, Hans. We can ignore it or not. Pound is crazy. The more he goes on, the crazier he gets. Do we hang a nut?
Habe: Creative people are schizoid to begin with. Ezra is a man of many personae. Frequently they are kept out of the insane asylums only because they put on the right and proper mask. Now he's put on one mask too many.
Viereck: Ezra has lived a life of pretensions. He was passable and even brilliant insofar as he did not reveal his true self, so long as he wore briefly a succession of invented or adopted masks. Romantic, witty, or at least interestingly sardonic, a Modernist, Symbolist, Vorticist, Imagist, Nihilist, extolling logopoeia, ideogrammatics, phanopoeia -- what have you, a slew of masks and roles.
The only work he has written that indicates a humane side to him is "Cathay", in the early months of the First World War. He wrote an Ode in World War I that I memorized in college. Do you want to hear it?
Herz: Permission granted, Corporal, or at least part of it.
Viereck: "Died some, pro patria,
non 'dulce' not 'et decor'...
Walked eye-deep in hell
believing old men's lies, then unbelieving
came home, home to a lie,
home to many deceits,
home to old lies and new infamy;
usury age-old and age-thick
and liars in public places.
(Now I'm skipping:)
There died a myriad,
And of the best, among them.
For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization.."
Et cetera. Good, huh? That's what my father believed, too. But I don't feel that way about this war. It's a different kind of war, a beastly ideological war.
De Grazia: You've heard him affect the role of the economic wizard. Now that's bizarre for a far-out poet of gibberish. But understandable for a psychiatrist. Obsessions, pretensions, compulsions, inconstancy, illusions, you name them...
Herz: Still, see the horde of economic wizards in America and we do not hang them, unless they profess Soviet communism or anarchy. Even then we find ways to a hanging that avoid a clash with the First Amendment and Free Speech. Sacco and Vanzetti were executed for a murder that they did not commit, but they were foreigners and anarchists and caught carrying a weapon.
Anyway, it's not his ideas that are the trouble. It's changing sides that's the treason.
Mann: Ezra had no job, so he could not be silenced by dismissing him.
Viereck: He escaped from a mediocre but pretentious middle class background where the universal snobbery came from having a great many immigrants of humble and deprived circumstances around you. It was and still is a kind of domestic imperialism . You can compare it with the foreign imperialism that made the British limey feel the same way vis a vis Indians, Chinese, Burmese and so on.
Herz: Hold on, Corporal. Let's be practical. What do you feel we ought to do with him when we catch him?
Viereck. Hang him.
De Grazia: O.K. But you may not hang an insane man, and this chap is getting nuttier all the time. He is also creative, no question about that although we can question the quality of his product. With his high repute as a poet, he will have many voices pleading for his life on grounds that you simply do not put to death a poet of renown. Even if a vicious anti-semite like Ezra.
Mann: He could offer his services to Hitler and Goebbels They are worse devils than Il Duce. That would help him get hanged when we catch hold of him.
De Grazia: Give him time. By the way, grabbing a traitor would be well within the bounds of our mission.
Habe: And shooting him if he tries to escape.
De Grazia: That too, yes.
Habe: He is too egotistic to be suicidal. He cannot take himself seriously, and therefore cannot believe that we would do so. He would be very surprised if he were to be treated as a traitor.
Mann: It's no crime to be an anti-semite.
De Grazia: No. So that's not going from bad to worse.
Herz: So what? Hang him on what he is today.
De Grazia: (parodies a popular song of the past century) "You'll hang for what you are today, I hope you're satisfied.."
Then freezes in a stern pose: Hang him.
Herz: I'll drink to that. Bottoms up! They lift their drinks.
Habe: How do you cook rabbit? First. You catch the rabbit.
Herz: He's not going anywhere, and he's not shooting himself.
Viereck: Habe, is Ezra Pound a great poet? Future generations will erase the hanging party, but not the poet.
Habe: What's wrong with hanging a great poet? For one thing, if he is not great, hanging will make him great. So you are doing him a favor.
De Grazia: I don't see anything else you can do. If you put him in an insane asylum where he might well belong, he will write cleverly vicious things, and become more famous. I suppose we could maintain an honor guard of mutilated war veterans around his cell. Just to remind visitors what it was all about.
Mann: But he will be haranguing them and everybody else, saying how he tried to prevent their becoming victims of Jewsevelt and his communist New Dealers.
De Grazia: And sooner or later other poets and civil rights lawyers will warm up to the scene and put on more and more pressure for his release until he will be declared cured and not the man who committed disgusting crimes.
Habe: And then crazy poets will assure the whole world that Pound was never crazy, but paid a just sentence for his crime, having been kept under forcible confinement for a long time.
Herz: Does it mean anything to say that his broadcasts are having no effect? He may be a big joke to the troops, if any listen to him.
Habe: Should a man be hanged for a botched crime?
Herz: In most cases, he is convicted of attempted murder or rape or theft or whatever.
Mann: Can there be such a thing as attempted treason?
De Grazia: No. Treason occurs as soon as an action is taken that is treasonable in itself. It doesn't matter how silly or ineffectual or back-firing it may be. The Germans will shoot us for handing out our propaganda to their troops, whether or not - and of course we would by being captured be a failure - our propaganda is used only as toilet paper or is read while shitting and makes the enemy's bowels looser.
Herz: Habe, doesn't this cheese carry a taste of goat shit, of course, I don't hang around goats, but really, I mean really it's very good.
De Grazia: Whatever happens, you can be sure it will be the wrong solution.
Mann: It is strange, however, to me. Here are five intellectuals, and all five are voting to hang a poet. Is that what happens when you put a uniform on a professor and poet? Will we change our minds when it comes time to jerk the rope?
Herz: Probably. But that's why we have specialists in judging and hanging. They face such problems indifferently, in their own sick way, and do the dirty job for us.
By the way, aren't you supposed to go on guard duty about this time.
Mann: Ah, yes, I'm sorry. Here I go, right away.
Herz: Don't forget to take your rifle along.
Mann: Oh, yes, I'm sorry.
Herz: God help anybody in his line of fire.
De Grazia: I'll finish his goat. Give it over here.
Herz: When are you leaving?
De Grazia: Right away. Have to get back to the beach. Eight h Army is on six hours alert. Every part of the creaky murderous apparatus must move on a word from Monty. Major Galsworthy is trying to get us in on the first wave.
Why Sicily I don't know. We could as easily debark on Calabria or Apulia or somewhere below Naples.
Herz: Questioning orders? First step to treason is to intimate the stupidity of the brass.
De Grazia: If that be treason, make the most of it.
Herz: You know, we have no reliable information on what effect Ezra's broadcasts are having on our troops.
De Grazia: Here is how I look at it: If his words have the effect of turning the minds of only several of our men at some critical point in the fighting, slowing the boots of five soldiers when they hit the beach, slackening the enthusiasm of one second lieutenant's platoon, then Ezra has won a military skirmish. He's directly weakened the will to pursue battle. Even without an opinion poll of the soldiers, or of controlled observation, which the Army is too ignorant of the new social science to apply, we can presume that Ezra must be having the effect of at least one deadly enemy.
Noise of an airplane is heard
Herz Here comes Jerry's night patrol. Pull down those flaps. Douse the candles, no, they can't be seen with the flaps down.
De Grazia: Martin, it's most unlikely that anything will happen to me, but in such an event, write one of your nice letters to Jill.
There are sounds of movement in the dark (which in fact are produced by change of scenery for Act Two.)
Act Two follows almost exactly 50 years after Act One. It is a changed world.
Room of City Hall at Rapallo, Italy, with sculptures by Gaietto on the wall. Large signs next to the artwork carry the line from the Cantos that inspired according to the sculptor the idea of his work.
Pietro is setting up his exposition and waiting to hear from Alfred who is viewing the sculptures. Professor Bruno Bonfaccio, Professor of American Literature and leading Italian writer about Ezra Pound, is helping Pietro. There is a small bar with wine bottles and glasses on it.
De Grazia: You know how delighted I am with your work, Pietro. No need to say more, is there? I don't believe for a moment that you literally followed in the footsteps of Pound. When called upon to comment upon your work, I shall praise your art, the art of Pietro Gaietto. I shall give mixed praise to Pound's work , and then, reminding people that Pound was a traitor, I shall try to connect his treason to his art.
Gaietto: Please leave Pound's politics out of this occasion.
Bonfaccio: Yes, please do.
De Grazia (Ignoring their remarks): I shall say, we are gathered here to celebrate the newest work of the prolific and imaginative sculptor and archaeologist Pietro Gaietto. Gaeitto has chosen, egged on by the ever- present devotees of Ezra Pound in Italy to venture into the maze of Pound cantos and choose lines that ticked some idea. After processing the idea through his humorous and ironic perspective, he would fashion a sculpture employing humble objects of everyday life. It is a far cry from the pretentiousness of Pound. But any line of poetry, no matter how obscure, can inspire, or at least tick off, some neurons of the brain. Indeed, the famous practical dictator of France, Cardinal Richelieu once exclaimed, "Give me any sentence that a man has said, and I will give you enough reason to hang him."
So Pietro might have found inspiring lines in Dante, Shakespeare, Aesop's fables, and a thousand other sources, from which his vivid imagination might spring into action employing upon his familiar media.
You forbid me to say that your sculptures when associated with Pound's Pisan cantos are a superior sarcasm, caustic satire. But that is the fact, nevertheless. Your outlook and style would have been much better suited to Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer than to Pound's cantos.
Pietro: Let us not discuss the matter further.
Bonfaccio: I agree. It is a closed question.
De Grazia: But as a Professor of American literature you should certainly have found a better companion for Pietro's sculpture than Pound, somebody like Mark Twain.
Unless of course you have a professional investment in Ezra Pound.
Pietro: Alfred, basta.
De Grazia: Come vuoi.
If the main purpose of the exposition is to promote a well-deserving artist, too little appreciated, who is at the same time is a bold paleolithic explorer of art. I am all in favor of this. I refer to Pietro Gaietto.
But I am still sorry that Pietro Gaietto has been persuaded to choose Pound for his model, especially when he and his supporters then argue that no political questions are involved - at the least the politics of art, but, much worse, the politics of war and treason.
Bonfaccio: That is not fair, Professor de Grazia, not fair to Pound or to Pietro.
We are here to admire written and pictorial art, not to argue politics.
De Grazia: You cannot divorce politics from art. The poetry of Ezra is loaded with political allusions, prejudices, preferences, and dogmas.
No more could you separate Walt Whitman's poetry from his emotional obsession with mass democracy. I am not here to put Pound on trial for treason, although, if you wish, I can do so. No, insofar as I participate in this ceremonial occasion, I must refer to the poet as the traitor he was.
I understand that your standing, as a scholar and exponent of Pound's poetry, requires that you stress what you regard as the worthy elements of his life's work. You would, if you will excuse my saying so, you would like to whitewash his reputation.
Gaietto: Can't we keep politics out of the exposition? Cannot we forget the war and treason for the moment. It was long ago. I am not a Fascist. I was only a baby when the War ended. The exhibition will be harmed.
De Grazia: On the contrary, Pietro, the exposition will be more widely publicized if I bring out the dismal background of the Pisan Cantos of Pound. After all, the word "Pisan" refers to Pisa where Pound was kept in a prison cage for a few weeks before being shipped by plane to America. Pound found himself in a famous tradition of poets and authors who have composed in prison.
Gaietto: Also coming is the American Consul from Rome. He will give a speech. The American government. had no objection to our celebrating Pound. The Embassy liked the idea.
Bonfaccio: Your comments will throw a bad light on the occasion.
De Grazia: We shall see what the Consul says. If he says what should be said, he will stress that the American government has by no means forgiven Ezra Pound.
Bonfaccio: You cannot censor poets and sculptors. The Consul was moreover honored at the idea of an Italian celebration of the work of an American poet.
De Grazia: I am ready to praise Pound for what he was, though not so ready as you and Pietro, and many others, to declare him a great poet. But I would be pleased at any American art, such as Mickey Mouse receiving due recognition and praise here in Italy, or in Patagonia. Just as I am eager to justify Pietro's art in America.
Gaietto: Alfred, to publish a comment like yours in the programme would be like printing an article in The Christian Family Magazine about, a most revered saint , accusing him of being a child molester.
De Grazia: If Ezra Pound heard you compare him to the holiest of saints, he would sneer, saying "I detest saints and sanctimony. That is one of my themes."
Look, if you are a genuine artist, sweetness and light must leave some room at least for bitter and illuminating truth.
Bonfaccio: This is a joyful occasion for the arts to celebrate a great poet, not a forum to psychoanalyze a dead man.
De Grazia: That is precisely the reason why I moved heaven and earth to bring here today to testify on his own behalf - Ezra Pound!
(This author has no objection to a "ta-ta-taah!" from a trumpet at this point.)
Gaietto: What is this? -- a scene from Don Giovanni?
De Grazia: I made him my age, eighty years old, so as to even things out.
For Ezra Pound has strolled in. He is dressed in the costume of artists that goes back to Nineteenth Century Europe, floppy hat, flowing tie, long hair, and of course his scraggly beard.
All look at him with mild surprise.
Pound: (in his cracked tenor voice) Lies, lies, nothing but lies, of course. But who says that lies cannot be true lies, just as you can have blue goldfish and other oxymoronic mnemonics.
De Grazia: The playwright , who can stage so many lies about you, can also create your persona itself to answer his allegations -- or not, as you please.
Pound: I'll stick it out.
I've read your poetry. Don't think I haven't. It stinks.
De Grazia: Every one of the 214 published poems?
De Grazia: I'm glad that you can enter so readily into the realm of make-believe.
But then all your life was a mask of a kind for your petty bourgeois upbringing, beginning with your pretentious yet failing record at schooling. That you unlearned 19th century romanticism to a degree as you grew older can be shown. In fact you wrote a poem commemorating your liberation. But all the rest of what you called your suburbanism stuck with you. You are at heart a broad-band suburbanite of 1900.
Pound: True, my anti-semitism is not the only trait that I ascribe to my home life and schooling, or lack thereof. I was assured as a child that I was well above the horde of poor immigrants coming into the USA. But a hundred years ago, contempt for all kinds of different people was comme il faut.
De Grazia: You mean "good manners." If you had to begin over again would you continue to insert foreign expressions and incomprehensible pedantic references into your poetry
Pound: Yes. I like to disgorge the original source of my lines in their original form.
De Grazia: I suppose that might bring you back to tom-toms and whistles.
Rather like the huge gong that Allen Ginsberg used for performing his "Omm" on stage. His one-word poem. The sixties generation dug the primitive as avant-garde.
Pound: Allen Ginsberg visited me in Rapallo one time in my old age. Kissed me tenderly when leaving. That means something.
De Grazia: The kiss of forgiveness. How many times have you done the same?
De Grazia: Never. Allen's a sentimental lover, and self-described as a practicing ass-kisser.
Were you a simple opportunist? One observer has said, "Ezra would do anything to get ahead. Ran around doing favors for everybody, like the American politicians he so despised."
Pound: You answer your own questions.
De Grazia: How did you find the company of Gertrude Stein so comfortable and helpful? She was Jewish, as you well know.
Pound: I dunno. Gertrude was different.
De Grazia: She called you a "village explainer."
Who among your close friends in England were anti-semitic.?
Pound: All the smart literati. T.S.Eliot and the rest.
De Grazia: What about Hemingway?
Pound: I didn't know him too well. He could have been. Incidentally, one time he very nearly called me a saint. That's what comes from feeding poor writers. They're like pigeons.
De Grazia: Yeats?
De Grazia: Ford Madox Ford? What about him?
Pound: I think so.
De Grazia: Any of them propose to cast out the Jews - besides yourself? You wrote Mussolini that he should expel them because they were poisoning the people's good air.
Pound: A couple of my acquaintances were also hot-headed.
De Grazia: Not wrong-headed?
What did you think when you heard about the extermination camps, the Holocaust?
Pound: I stopped thinking.
De Grazia: People say you grew from a Jew-hater to a capitalist-hater and then from there found Mussolini's statements about the new order inspiring. It doesn't take much to inspire a fool, does it?
Pound: What right have you to interrogate me?
De Grazia: Not a right. The power. The playwright's power to conjure you up. The power you celebrated in the Fascist state. My friends here would also inquire, but may be too stupefied by your apparition to open their mouths.
Pound: I shall answer no more, even if it means I must leave the stage, escape from this vita nuova that you have given me.
De Grazia: You may go soon enough, but only when I, the author, allow you to go. Your whole mind was always but make-believe. I can be privileged to make-believe as well. And so can our audience out there.
Pound: Must I look at these sculptures much longer?
De Grazia: What did you expect, scenes out of Delacroix, duplicates of Rodin?
Pound: ( sardonically) I think that I have something to say about what calls up my cantos, and these do not. I cannot see the match between my lines and the sculptures, except on a puerile level.
De Grazia: You say that you speak about things, not ideas - a youthful sentence of yours, perhaps borrowed from William James or another pragmatist whom you deny. How contrary to the reality of your writings, so replete in half-baked ideas.
You are all form and snappy language and obscure meanings.
Pietro would have found just as much inspiration for his vignettes on the labels of a thousand cans of food piled on the shelves of a grocery store, and a larger variety of thoughts than the cantos contain.
On the other hand Pietro was pressured by friends to believe there was a great poet who could be used to promote his sculpture.
Bonfaccio: Not so, not so.
De Grazia: A dead poet. A poet whose dedication to Italian culture - but not to the Italian workers, Jews, anti-fascists, partisans, communists, socialists, liberals, women and so on - was trumpeted to the skies in language unintelligible.
Pietro: That is enough, Alfred, we came to celebrate Ezra Pound, not to tear him down. His daughter, the Countess, will soon be here, and the Mayor of Rapallo, and others.
De Grazia: I am sorry, Pietro. I am trying to cut your art loose from useless hanging lines. And keep you free of any taint of Fascism.
Pound: Now, see here. I find nothing wrong with these sculptures. A genius sees ten levels of meaning where an ordinary person sees only one. If I wish, I can see the connection between every one of my lines and the associated spoons and pots of Gaietto.
The dialogue is interrupted by the entrance of the American Consul for Cultural Affairs at Rome and Dante Matelli, Correspondent of the Italian weekly, L'Espresso. Matelli kisses his former father-in-law, Alfred de Grazia.
De Grazia: Dante Matelli is a correspondent of L'Espresso and my former son-in-law. I invited him to come to the exposition of my friend Pietro Gaietto. And to hear why the American government is represented at the celebration given to a traitor.
Matelli: The American Consul and I rode the same train, sitting next to one another, all the way from Rome, without exchanging a word, not knowing one another.
Everyone: Really? Veramente?
Consul: Si, veramente, really.
Matelli: So I don't know what the Consul is going to say.
De Grazia: I hope that the Consul will say that he regrets the support that Pound gave to the Fascist government of Mussolini, not only the Fascist government, but the neo-Fascist government that was Nazi-controlled and killed many partisans of democracy and allies of the United States.
Matelli: Permit me to add that my father was one of the partisans who fought against the Nazi-Fascists. The partisans captured Ezra Pound and turned him over to the Americans for trial.
De Grazia: I hope the Consul will say that the long tenure of Pound in an American mental hospital can be considered some kind of punishment for these crimes.
I hope the Consul will say that if Pound is the great poet that many think him to be, he, Pound, owed much to the inspiration afforded him by Italian culture, and there is some compensation for his grave offenses in his better poems that benefits both the Italian and the American republics.
Bonfaccio: The Consul is here to represent the interest of the United States in poets whatsoever their politics.
De Grazia: (turns to attack the Consul) Pound is what he is but the American Consul has no right to defend Pound by word or by silence in the process of praising his poetry.
If the Consul omits and neglects to stress the harm that Pound did to both countries, friends of American culture like Senator Helms of the Foreign Relations Committee will be pleased to hear about it, and to rectify the error regarding America's foreign policy.
Matelli: Especially if accounts of the exposition in the news media question the government's amnesia in the matter of Pound's anti-semitism and treason.
Consul: I am Jewish myself and certainly do not wish to defend Pound's bigotry.
Matelli asks Pound: Do you apologize to this man who is a Jew for all the suffering you have caused among Jews.
Pound: I harmed this man not at all. Never met him in my life.
Matelli: What do you regret in your life?
Pound: Nothing I can recall, except life itself.
Matelli: What about what you cannot remember, but what others do remember.
That is, selective memory.
Pound: I don't worry about that. I cannot help what others remember.
Matelli: Do you regret being a vicious anti-semite.
Pound: I did not mean what I said.
Matelli: Do you regret siding with the enemy against your government in time of war.
Pound: Yes, since my side lost.
Matelli: Do you regret admiring Hitler?
Pound: Yes. But he, too, admired Il Duce.
Matelli: Do you regret offering your services to Goebbels?
Pound: Yes, since he refused them.
Matelli: Do you regret your longtime admiration and devotion to the cause of Il Duce, Mussolini?
Matelli: Do you regret having written no document to apologize for your life?
Matelli: Have your economic theories changed since you expounded your monetary theory?
Matelli: In what way have you changed since you made your last broadcast for the neo-fascist Nazi-controlled suicidal party of Mussolini?
Pound: I have stopped looking into my soul.
Washed of sin by punishment, or whatever you call it, I have still no intention of abandoning my beliefs. I would not remember what they are and in what order they occurred and how strongly I held them. I was never convicted of them. It is my right, for I am still an American (though I love Italy more).
Anybody foolish enough to call upon a supreme God is permitted by our blessed political system to place God above country and to express any and all convictions in the name of God. The duty of the poet is to speak his truth regardless of what truths or foolishness other people believe in. Truth is the poet's God.Even if he speaks many truths (and therefore many falsehoods).
De Grazia: You've worshiped many gods.
Pound: Anyhow, I never insulted the Consul personally, though he might feel caught up in the realm of Jews.
But now Pound lapses into a contradictory expostulation.
Of course I am not mad, nor was I ever mad.
And of course I was anti-semitic, who wouldn't be?
And of course I solicited money for my wartime broadcasts. It was a pittance, but I needed it.
My generosity was proverbial because my exhibitionism was all-consuming.
Of course I wanted to save Il Duce from being hanged upside down.
If famous intellectuals and trial lawyers and sob-sisters wanted to pitch for me, good for them.
Amazing, what? The worse I became, the better I was treated.
The American authorities were stupid enough to buy all the trash that I myself would never have given a value to -- rights of poets, genius above the law,
cruel and unusual punishment, the due process of law, the incompetency and immunity of the insane, the curability of madness.
The only good reason for not putting me to death had to be that I preferred not to die.
De Grazia: We are having here, I must confess, a mock trial. But a mock trial is often better than a real trial, more rational, less cluttered with forms, more inclusive of the real nature of the offenses.
Anyhow, the mock trial is over.
No doubt exists. Pound is a poet. At the same time Pound is a traitor. Why pussyfoot? As the young soldiers agreed fifty years ago, honor the poet and hang the traitor, even if they are in the same body.
Ezra Pound wants to be absolved from guilt for his actions. He can only do so if deemed mad.
As a madman he can get his freedom , but at the cost of denying his own life and work.
Unless, of course, you all standing here are ready to testify he is sane, and therefore must discount his crimes as picayune. Such appears to be the case.
You will accept treason, for you have no loved ones to be betrayed, no culture to defend against a monstrous nazism. I'd like to spit , but my mouth is dry.
Gaietto: O scusi. Alfred, prende un po di vino. He pours a glass of wine and hands it to De Grazia, who sips it and resumes, more relaxed, although Bonifaccio is muttering: This cannot go on. Non si puo.
Pound: I'll have a nip of that vino, too, if you please.
Gaietto: Prego (and pours a glass for him).
De Grazia: You, Ezra Pound, can therefore return whence you have come. Wait there for the visit of your admired Dante Alighieri. But you will have to wait for him in the lowest circle of Hell, because, as you well know, the Poet put there the men known as traitors, for the worst of all crimes, the betrayal of their homeland.
Our society of today cannot cope with your case. It belongs in the interstices of the modern human soul where right and wrong exist in hopeless confusion.
The Consul, now in distress, faces the wall while stools are being set down for the audience to hear him, and gesticulates and does other movements that suggest he is struggling with himself. There is a fanfare, a rush of noise of bustling, a daylight illumination, the sensation of a crowd where the audience is sitting, and the Consul turns to the audience and delivers his speech.
Consul: In a great nation such as the United States of America, the rights of freedom of speech and press often seem to be abused, and to be immune from retribution by the state. This is not so. The American government is quite capable of turning its back to swindlers, frauds, and traitors. On the other hand, no country in the world values freedom of the press and of the arts more than the United States.
While Pound is widely regarded as a great poet and lover of Italian culture, he has held, and might continue to hold were he alive and not simply a disturbing ghost in our presence, a number of ideas critical of American culture, abhorrent to the American way of government and the ideals of universal brotherhood. He repeatedly and avidly committed acts against the United States of America in time of war -- against Italy, as well -- acts which any normal cultured person would call hostile to humanity, that were kept from being adjudged as treasonable in court . Instead of receiving ordinary justice, he passed a dozen years in comfortable, well-attended confinement, visited by a selected admiring audience daily. This was to cure his aberrations of mind.
He was ultimately released because he was declared cured. I leave it to you to decide whether he was cured. It is proper here to applaud the genius of the two artists, Pietro Gaietto and Ezra Pound. If Pietro Gaietto received any inspiration from an American artist in the creation of his magnificent sculptures, all Americans will rejoice.
It is not appropriate, we feel, to conduct a mock trial here. Trials and madness are soon done with. Art is forever.
Everyone nods affirmatively, though grimly, and everyone, characters as well as audience, including Pound, dutifully, loudly, clap. Then, as the curtain is descending, Pound jumps up, thumbs his nose, and gives the Fascist salute. If the curtain is sidewise-moving, Pound follows ahead of it alone, trying to stop it, thumbing his nose and saluting; if the curtain moves down, he should evade it one way or another so as to make his grimace, his hop and skip a couple of times, and his salute, the absolute end of the play.