Miranda Hickman is Associate Professor of English at McGill and co-director of the “Poetry Matters” initiative. She is author of The Geometry of Modernism (2005), editor of One Must Not Go Altogether with the Tide: The Letters of Ezra Pound and Stanley Nott (2011), and co-editor of Rereading the New Criticism (with John D. McIntyre, 2012). Recent publications include The Classics in Modernist Translation (2019), co-edited with Lynn Kozak, as well as essays on the translations of H. D. and the film criticism of Iris Barry.
The year is 1949. It’s the moment of the culturally searing Bollingen controversy in the United States, which erupts when the prestigious prize for “the highest achievement of American poetry,” issued by the Library of Congress, is awarded in February to American modernist poet Ezra Pound for the “Pisan Cantos”: this is the recent lyrical segment of the Cantos, Pound’s Dantescan long poem in progress, composed while he is held at an American military detention center near Pisa, Italy, during World War II, in 1945, after indictment for treason by the US government. On the Bollingen selection committee sit leading literary figures such as W. H. Auden, Louise Bogan, T. S. Eliot, Robert Lowell, Katherine Anne Porter, Karl Shapiro, Allen Tate, and Robert Penn Warren. At this moment, Pound is known as the once leonine figure of American and modernist letters brought low by a charge of treason emerging from his support of the Italian Fascist government, in the form of speeches broadcast over Rome Radio. The topics of these vary: some denounce international finance; some signal support for fascist Italy and Mussolini (whose heroic strong-man persona Pound has venerated for years); some include anti-Semitic diatribes; many are garbled and even raving in ways suggesting instability of mind.