Monday, August 10, 2009

The Ezra Pound Center for Literature: Installment #5

Schloss Brunnenburg is an agriculture museum, a working farm, and the Ezra Pound Center for Literature. It is a castle that Ezra Pound’s daughter purchased in the 50s and renovated into apartments so that her family lives in their own apartments, occupying the castle. It is situated in a little town called Dorf Tirol, a very Austrian town where Italian is not even spoken, and the medieval flare is played up for tourists. Dorf Tirol is situated in the mountainside above Merano, not too far from the larger town of Bolzano.

Heard of any of this? I am not surprised if you haven’t. Most people when they go to Italy, don’t make the south Tirol their priority because it is not very Italian. But is it stunning.

The University of New Orleans offers 6 graduate credits for attending this institute. Some might call it Poetry Boot Camp.

Six grad credits in 3 ½ weeks is an insane pace. We had seven hours of class every day, and plenty of homework in between. But this is partly why I chose this program: to quote Jim Morrison, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”

Ezra Pound was an American poet who moved to Italy and started literary movements such as Imagism and Vorticism. He set out to write an epic poem that would cover all of history, cross culturally, an epic that would take him 50 years to write, called The Cantos. He is also notorious for his anti-semitism and support of Fascism and Mussolini during WWII. From Italy, he made radio broadcasts criticizing the American government and supporting Mussolini, until he was arrested for treason. He then spent 13 years in St. Elizabeth’s psychiatric hospital in Washington, D.C. Upon his release, he returned to Italy where he stayed with his daughter, Mary and her family in the Bronnenburg Castle. He retained a vowe of silence for the remainder of his life, and died in his 70s. We studied his Cantos which is a medley of over 100 poems that are montages of different stories from history, and contain different languages including Italian, Latin, German, and Chinese characters. It is not the kind of work one would set out to read on his own. That is why Prof. John Gery exists- a man who has dedicated his life (sometimes mysteriously to his classmates) to studying and teaching Ezra Pound. By the end of the course, I can’t say I love Pound’s character or forgive his anti-semitism, but I certainly respect and appreciate what he set out to do in the Cantos.

One of the highlights of our stay at Bronnenburg is spending time with his daughter Mary who is 83 years old. She came to our evening poetry readings and read some of her own work, was a guest lecturer in our class, and invited us to tea several times on the terrace of her castle.

Another neat experience was hearing original baroque (medieval-esque) music at Schloss Tirol- the castle situated one hill above us; the original fortress of the south Tirol during Medieval times. Music that the castle has been hearing for years. The castle windows were covered and framed in glass- the mountains peaking out in the interior framing. The music reminded me of torchlight, huge feasts, and the scene from Zefferrelli’s Romeo and Juliet where they meet at the Capulet party.
The walk home was lit by torchlight- light and night so easily evoking the feeling of being in medieval times- a common childhood dream from watching damsels sought after in such movies. We walked with Mary and her daughter, Patrizia, back to Schloss Brunnenberg- Mary seemed a giddy schoolgirl, telling us about the witch’s tunnel built 400 years ago and how as children there were no lights in it and a tale about the hole where you put your hand in and took out another.
Ezra Pound's grandson, Sizzo, giving us a tour of the Schloss Castle:

Venice was the absolute high light of our experience, and I am in love with that city like no other European city. The ingredients? No cars, salt water everywhere, gondoliers and all sorts of boats everywhere making up the hustle and bustle, winding narrow alleyways for which a map would be of no help, and people walking everywhere. Our professor took us on Ezra Pound tours, showing us places cited in the Cantos (he lived in Venice, loved it dearly, and died there), reading aloud his poems and showing us other major artists’ landmarks.

At night, my friends and I bought wine from a little hole-in-the-wall shop who also supplied us with plastic cups, and we sat on the Dogana steps, staring out at the lagoon, and the lit up buildings, drinking wine and talking poetry. I want to preserve that feeling forever.

Another fun aspect of Brunneburg is that it was situated in the former Austrian Alps (Italy acquired this area after WWI). In between classes, we could hike to a nearby waterfall and swim in glacial water, and on weekends, hike high into the mountains. One of our last nights at Brunnenburg, my friends, Doug, Emily, and I hiked to an inn where we ate dinner, studied for our final exam in candlelight when a crazy thunderstorm knocked off the electricity, and stayed the night in three “spots” along a giant bed/platform.

We slept that night like sardines with thirty of our closest German-speaking friends. It was one of the most interesting sleeping experiences I have ever had. Emily and I got the giggles as soon as the lights were turned out because all around us people were trying to quietly whisper in German, but German is such a harsh sounding language, it’s hard to keep it gentle-sounding.

I left Ezra Pound’s world on August 1st via train with three other poets. We traveled to Munich where my mom had flown in to meet me for the next leg of my summer.

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