Hemingway and Wallace Stevens got in a fight,
Drunken fisticuffs in Paris over who was right.
En garde! Put up your dukes!
Then one of them suddenly pukes.
The moon turned into the sun overnight.

Pound isn’t on Mount Rushmore yet.
Support to put Pound there is hard to get.
Add Ezra Pound to Mount Rushmore!
Add his face to the other presidents!
Let South Dakota hear his antique I’m-reciting-poetry voice.

En garde! I don’t believe a word the sun is saying.
En garde! I hear the sun announce that it’s been praying.
I take my constitutional down Broadway
And pray for the return of all the hostages
And hear the optimistic all-clear siren.

They look like shackled sausages, the hostages.
Please follow us down Broadway.
We’re talking to ourselves as if we’re homeless,
But actually we’re talking on our cell phones you can’t see
At first, then you see and it makes sense.

I’m talking to a friend in Santa Fe
And what’s he say? What say, friend in Santa Fe?
So many mountains has New Mexico. So many joys.
It don’t make sense.
Then it makes sense.

A woman out there home-schools her son.
She breastfeeds him until the boy is four.
They both are happy and seem smart and well.
She’s America! Meet you in New York. Meet you at the zoo.
Let’s meet at the Met. Carnegie Hall tonight.

She breastfed him until the boy was four but claims,
Untruthfully, it stopped when he was three.
Four is embarrassing!
Four is America!
Land of tit! Land of wampum and Big Chief Big Breasts.

In Santa Fe did Kubla Khan
A stately Astrodome decree.
You enter a private screening room
As big as Topanga Canyon outside
Los Angeles,

And rise as high above the Pacific
As the big houses in Malibu do,
Movie star castles the size of mountains,
Where the stars
Feast and rest.

White meat marches to the coast of New Mexico (there is none),
Skies over to Dubai and back in a private jet.
White meat eats dark meat and night. White meat eats light.
The Sultan rides his gorgeously caparisoned elephant toward LA
And the only bookshop in sight.

Gentlemen, start your engines!
I don’t believe a word the sun is saying.
Drivers, start your engines!
I hear the sun announce that it’s been praying.
The hostages have been beheaded.

Mountains of melody rise from a page
Of Pound’s Pisan Cantos, all-American Pound writing in a steel cage
Made of temporary-airfield landing-strip matting
Turned into an outdoor prison cell
Open to the rain and the blistering Italian sun.

Never mind what he did,
Mountains of melody rise,
For which he is
Battered and bleached and sundried and drowned
By Big Chief Big Breasts.

I am no wartime traitor frying without a roof
Under Lord Brother Sun.
Nor am I naked in a cage being rained on.
Nor on a New York City sidewalk homeless, begging in rags,
Shitting poems in my pants.

King Lear, preposterously arrogant and unrepentant and anti-Semitic,
Went to meet the American Army at Pisa to surrender.
He walks with me down Broadway on my daily walk,
Reliving his foolishness
With immortal melodious regret – but not humility, not yet.

Send Letters To:

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London Review of Books,
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London, WC1A 2HN


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Vol. 38 No. 4 · 18 February 2016

Frederick Seidel’s poem ‘America’ refers to Ezra Pound as a shade who accompanies Seidel, like some Eliotic ‘familiar compound ghost’ or doppelganger, ‘down Broadway on my daily walk’ (LRB, 4 February):

King Lear, preposterously arrogant and unrepentant and anti-Semitic,
Went to meet the American Army at Pisa to surrender.

Poetry may be truer than History, as the ancient philosophers claimed, but a few historical rectifications may nonetheless be in order. First, in May 1945, Pound turned himself in to the American authorities at Lavagna (near Rapallo), then was transferred to the CIC quarters at Genoa for three weeks of interrogation before being transported by jeep down the coast to the military DTC at Pisa and placed in an outdoor cage whose dimensions were exactly those of today’s Guantánamo. That’s to say, he didn’t just walk into Pisa to give himself up: he was sent there in handcuffs, with a supervisory cable from Washington insisting he be accorded ‘no preferential treatment’ and that ‘utmost security measures’ be implemented ‘to prevent escape or suicide’. Second, Pound was arrogant, yes, anti-Semitic no doubt, but not (unlike, say, Heidegger) wholly ‘unrepentant’. In an interview with Allen Ginsburg in Venice in 1967, Pound admitted that ‘the worst mistake I made was that stupid suburban prejudice of anti-Semitism.’ Around 1970, paying tribute to his lifelong companion Olga Rudge in his still unpublished Venice notebooks, he wrote: ‘she wd have saved me from idiocies in antisemitism.’ Here we begin to hear the (silent) rue of Lear.

Richard Sieburth
New York University

Although pointing this out risks committing one of those ‘lazy critical confusions of life and art’ referred to by Michael Wood on the facing page, Frederick Seidel’s ‘America’ seems to believe the ‘drunken fisticuffs’ between Wallace Stevens and Hemingway occurred ‘in Paris’, a city Stevens dreamed about but never visited. In fact, they fought at Key West, Florida. The poem is exact in other details (such as the construction of Pound’s cage at Pisa), so perhaps this matters. In Paris, as it happened, Hemingway boxed with Pound, witnessed by Wyndham Lewis, whose eyes, Hemingway thought, were those of ‘an unsuccessful rapist’, and who had himself already been hung upside down on park railings by T.E. Hulme. By this stage, too, Pound had fenced with Yeats (and, near disastrously, with William Carlos Williams, who by his own account punched Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven in the face), and had thrown Robert Frost over his shoulder in a ju-jitsu move: the same Frost with whom Stevens swapped contrary theses on the nature of each other’s poetry, I believe at Key West, Florida.

Tony Sharpe
Lancaster University

Vol. 38 No. 6 · 17 March 2016

John Simpson casts doubt on my assertion that Hemingway boxed with Pound in Paris (Letters, 3 March). In addition to the eyewitness account by Wyndham Lewis I referred to, here’s Hemingway writing from Paris to Sherwood Anderson on 9 March 1922:

I’ve been teaching Pound to box wit [sic] little success. He habitually leads wit his chin and has the general grace of the crayfish or crawfish. He’s willing but short winded. Going over there this afternoon for another session but there ain’t much job in it as I have to shadow box between rounds to get up a sweat. Pound sweats well, though, I’ll say that for him. Besides it’s pretty sporting for him to risk his dignity and his critical reputation at something he don’t know nothing about.

The same letter then goes on to praise Pound as ‘really a good guy’.

Tony Sharpe
Lancaster University

Vol. 38 No. 5 · 3 March 2016

It’s difficult to believe that, as Tony Sharpe claims, Hemingway boxed with Ezra Pound in Paris because Hemingway was about 15 years younger than Pound (Letters, 18 February). There was a famous boxing match in Paris in 1929 between Hemingway and the Canadian writer Morley Callaghan, with F. Scott Fitzgerald as timekeeper. In the second round the rather smaller Callaghan, who had considerable amateur boxing experience, cut Hemingway’s lip. This apparently upset Scott Fitzgerald enough to make him forget his role as timekeeper. In the fourth minute of the round, with both men tiring, Hemingway tried to end it quickly and left himself open to a left that knocked him to the floor. It was the end of several friendships.

John Simpson
Gorssel, The Netherlands

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