In 1945, the American poet Ezra Pound was due to stand trial for treason for his broadcasts in Fascist Italy during the Second World War.
Before the trial could take place, however, he was pronounced insane. Escaping a possible death sentence, he was sent to St. Elizabeths Hospital near Washington, D.C., where he was held for more than a decade.
At the hospital, Pound was at his most infamous, and most contradictory. He was a genius and a traitor, a great poet and a madman. He was also an irresistible figure and, in his cell on Chestnut Ward and on the elegant hospital grounds, he was visited by the major poets and writers of his time. T. S. Eliot, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Charles Olson, and Frederick Seidel all went to sit with him. They listened to him speak and wrote of what they had seen. This was perhaps the world’s most unorthodox literary salon: convened by a fascist, held in a lunatic asylum, with chocolate brownies and mayonnaise sandwiches served for tea.
Pound continues to divide all who read and think of him. At the hospital, the doctors who studied him and the poets who learned from him each had a different understanding of this wild and most difficult man. Tracing Pound through the eyes of his visitors, Daniel Swift’sThe Bughousetells a story of politics, madness, and modern art in the twentieth century.
“This story of Pound's politics and his prejudices takes on fresh significance...Swift is an alert and eloquent guide...I guarantee thatThe Bughouse will vex you into thinking more deeply about the relation between an artist's life and work, and perhaps even about the old-fashioned question of moral responsibility.”—Maureen Corrigan, NPR'sFresh Air
“[The Bughouse] abounds in striking details.” —The New Yorker
"Engrossing . . . immensely fascinating." —Diego Baez,Booklist
"A sensitive investigation into the enigmatic, prodigious mind of poet Ezra Pound . . . [Daniel Swift] draws on memoirs . . . as well as interviews, a close reading of Pound's writings, and medical records to create a multidimensional portrait of a celebrated, controversial literary figure." —Kirkus Reviews
"The Bughouse is an extraordinary book of real, passionate research that keeps surprising and illuminating by turns. It has made my love of Pound far more difficult—as it should."—Edmund de Waal
"'Pound,' he quipped of his name, 'an enclosure for stray animals.' Swift tells the stories of six poets (although there were many more) who were gathered by Uncle Ez into his pen at St. Elizabeths. Hospitalized Pound here emerges as the uncanny figure of thehospes, at once stranger, guest, and host, at once a welcoming organism and a dangerous, parasitical virus."—Richard Sieburth, author ofInstigations: Ezra Pound and Remy de Gourmont
"To understand an artist as compromised by circumstances—and by his own many contradictions—as Ezra Pound, we have to trace a complex path through a maze of half-truths, myth, and simplification.The Bughousedoes so with supreme care, critical acumen, and humanity, shedding a whole new light not only on Pound the man, but also on the shape and character ofThe Cantos, one of the most seriously flawed and truly brilliant artworks of the twentieth century."—John Burnside
“A wonderful portrait of Ezra Pound in all his moods—mad, bad, and blindingly sane.”
—A. Alvarez, author of The Savage God
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