Madness in Great Ones

The American poet and man of letters John Berryman created in his half-memoir, half-short story "The Imaginary Jew" what is very likely the most powerfully compressed vision of vulgar, visceral racism in our literature. In this present, honorably intended biography of Ezra Pound by an apparently Jewish and leftist professor at Queens College (whose previous books have dealt with Beats and radicals), we will not find that Pound the anti-Semite, whom Berryman visited regularly in a federal madhouse, told many, including Berryman himself, that he considered "The Imaginary Jew" a masterpiece. Nor do we learn of Pound's hefty personal check to Louis Zukofsky (part of Pound's Dial award he might well have spent upon himself, Zukofsky being Jewish, Marxist, experimental, and in need), which Zukofsky chose to keep forever uncashed as a monument to artistic magnanimity.

Nor does Tytell mention that history repeated itself later when Hemingway was moved (in spite of his total contempt for the political follies that got Pound put away in the first place) to send him the last of his Nobel money—along with the medal itself!—which the novelist asked Pound to keep till he got his own. Pound returned the medal but not the check. That he had locked in Incite, in spite of his own financial need. "Hem," he would reminisce in deep age after the novelist's suicide, "had a gift for friendship."


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