la residenza
September 03, 2015


i have in this past month travelled around italy, and i have resorted again to little letters. letters presume so much, and i feel it is the least i can do to undermine their authority, though i want it do more.

from arezzo, in tuscany, at a wooden desk, i write to myself. i am unable to be able to want to say anything directly, because i do not know exactly who is listening. (i find my words do little more than listen. i was never raised a preacher. i am only just beginning to understand academics.) this body has recently moved through rome -> bari -> patras -> selianitika -> patras -> ancona -> bologna -> arezzo -> firenze -> bologna -> milano -> turino -> cinque terre -> siena -> arezzo, and is soon to be back in rome. it is now, or soon, or now that i begin my residency, as an italian child in the shape of a moderately kept man.

in the library of this wooden desk's house, i found a book on ezra pound. for broadcasting negative impressions of the united states from italy, he was tried in 1945. it was concluded that he was insane.

The defendant, now sixty years of age and in generally good physical condition, was a precocious student, specialising in literature. He has been a voluntary expatriate for nearly forty years, living in England and France and for the past twenty-one years in Italy, making an uncertain living by writing poetry and criticism. His poetry and literary criticism have received considerable recognition, but in recent years his preoccupation with monetary theory and economics has apparently obstructed his literary productivity. He has long been recognized as eccentric, querolous, and egocentric. At the present time, he exhibits extremely poor judgement as to his situation. He insists that his broadcasts were not treasonable but that all of his radio activities have stemmed from his self-appointed mission to ‘save the Constitution.’ He is abnormally grandiose, is expansive and exuberant in manner, exhibiting pressure of speech, discursiveness, and distractibility.

In our opinion, with advancing years his personality, for many years abnormal, has undergone further distortion to the extent that he is now suffering from a paranoid state which renders him mentally unfit to advise properly with counsel or to participate reasonably and intelligently in his own defence. He is, in other words, insane and mentally unfit for trial, and in need of care in a mental hospital.2

as a poet, i do not think i am wrong to say that pound's first preoccupation was with language. he prefers the cadences of language, rather than its specification, because if description is desired, "the painter can describe a landscape much better than [the poet] can"7. when some ambiguity presents itself, for example when we confuse an object's attribution with a different subject, there are overtones in the chord language strikes with its receiver, and its reception can become confused with its importance. what is said is barely ever monumental, despite our cult(ure) of text. in italy's academic institutions, exams for literature are oral. words disappear as soon as they are spoken, like the listening to a concert that is not recorded. (do those concerts happen these days?). mr pound lived in italy for 20 years. reading paradise lost, a text which pound deplored, aloud in recent days, i often forget the content in favor of the meter's charm, eating an apple for its sweet distraction not its nutrition, sleeping with a girl for her skin not for her soul. is this my quotidian? "let the candidate fill his mind with the finest cadences he can discover, preferably in a foreign language, so that the meaning of the words may be less likely to divert his attention from the movement."4

i take to pound's move away from abstraction, in favor of a "direct treatment of the 'thing', whether subjective or objective"8. companies in new zealand tend to be locally focused, because the economy is small, and imported goods are expensive on account of the country's floating, geographical isolation from the rest of the world. some people say that new zealanders are generally kinder for this reason; because networks are more intimate, unkind conduct does not get you very far, in business, and in un-business. moreover, i am much more confident talking to one person than to fifteen. it is in these crowds that i feel abstraction congealing, for fear that treatment more direct might upset someone. i think i would enjoy returning to new zealand, to work as a coder in a small business, improving internal operations with locally specific programs and scripts. once i am done with this education's insanity, i will be promptly there.

pound translated texts in chinese, provencal, greek, latin, occitan, egyptian, some other languages and also italian. it seems he wanted to recreate the musicality of those languages in english, the apple-sweet cadences of their skin. he claims no interest in art or aesthetics: "i would much rather lie on what is left of catullus' parlour floor and speculate the azure beneath it and the hills off to salo and riva with their forgotten gods moving unhindered amongst them, than discuss any processes and theories of art whatsoever. i would rather play tennis. i shall not argue."5 these things don't really amount to anything, as such. pound has medically been proven crazy, after all. i do like the fact that pound likes to play tennis.

my residency, then, begins as an italian child in the shape of a moderately kept man. i am becoming interested in mussolini, as he is a champion of classical virtue. so too is the company i am working for, the paideia institute. to study fascism is not to practice it, i don't think, but i will be cautious nevertheless. cautious like in a butterfly migration watched with a sometimes-stunning redhead. coding, i don't know how you fit.

translating, from arezzo to you.


  1. G.S. Fraser, "Ezra Pound", pg 22-23

  2. Ezra Pound, "A Retrospect", pg 5

  3. ibid, pg 9

  4. ibid, pg 6

  5. ibid, pg 3

author Lachlan Kermode

Written by Lachlan Kermode who lives and works in Princeton. You should check out his Resume, GitHub, or Twitter.