Ezra Pound famously declared that poets are the antennae of the race. But antennae, like Pound himself, can get bent.
I was reminded of this reading, in this week’s New Yorker, a letter from Saul Bellow to William Faulkner – both Nobel literature laureates – protesting Faulkner’s pressing for the release of the institutionalized Pound.
Bellow wrote, in January of 1956, “Pound advocated in his poems and in his broadcasts enmity to the Jews and preached hatred and murder. Do you mean to ask me to join you in honoring a man who called for the destruction of my kinsmen? … What staggers me is that you and Mr. Steinbeck, who have dealt for so many years in words, should fail to understand the import of Ezra Pound’s plain and brutal statements about the ‘kikes’ leading the ‘goy’ to slaughter…. It is a call to murder. If it were spoken by a farmer or a shoemaker we would call him mad. The whole world conspires to ignore what has happened, the giant wars, the colossal hatreds, the unimaginable murders, the destruction of the very image of man. And we – ‘a representative group of American writers’ – is this what we come out for, too? A fine mess!”
A fine letter. I wish we could know Faulkner’s response.