Can you separate the poet from the Anti-Semitism, the racist from the reaction?

When Mr. Hollander was considered for the award three years ago, some members raised comments he had made in interviews, reviews and elsewhere that they felt should be examined when judging his candidacy. In one example, Mr. Hollander, writing a rave review in The New York Times Book Review of the collected poems of Jay Wright, an African-American poet, referred to “cultures without literatures — West African, Mexican and Central American.” And in an interview on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered,” a reporter paraphrased Mr. Hollander as contending “there isn’t much quality work coming from nonwhite poets today.”

Other board members said they felt that such comments were not characteristic of Mr. Hollander’s views or had been misinterpreted. Mr. Louis-Dreyfus said that even if the comments were representative, they were irrelevant criteria for judging the Frost Medal, just as he would argue that Ezra Pound’s anti-Semitism should not detract from the literary appreciation of his work.

I'm curious about what other people think of this response. Personally, I can't think of Ezra Pound without thinking about fascism, his support of Mussolini's political regime and his reluctance to admit error in his old age. Pound is an interesting case study to consider in terms of separating oppression from art.

Should we? And if so, why?

When it comes to the politics of oppression and art, is there a separation between what we can appreciate and what we must condemn?


  1. There are always going to be ties between art & artist, tenuous or taut, depending on the work. I think the question here is, are we awarding the poet or the work. That's something the awards committee & the donors responsible for the award's funds are going to have to come to terms with.

    It's hard for me to read Eliot, for example, without thinking of anti-Semitism, but he's one of my favorite poets. Artist's are like people, because they are people. How forgiving are we with our friends, family, lovers? Should artists be held to those same standards?

  2. The Ezra Pound question is a tricky one. You certainly are right in finding Pound to be an ardent anti-semite, espousing the economics of fascism, but I think there is a fundamental need to separate the artist from the opressor. Well, at least in Pound's case.

    Why? Pound in the realm of poetry is most certainly a giant, with his many contributions, in writing and theory. However, in the matters of the body politic, Pound is little more than a footnote.

    Part of the answer then, is to measure what the artist is able to accomplish with his/her oppressive attitudes. With Pound it was very little. Pound, in most of his broadcasts for Mussolini, refused to speak out against the U.S., and ended up reading lengthy passages from The Cantos. Any rhetoric about war was pacifist in nature.

    While he was certainly an anti-semite, his reach was little more than personal in nature and, in my opinion, unrelated to his genius for poetry.

    In any event, it is a sad irony that he was prejudiced in that way, which begs the question: Am I upset that he was an anti-semite, or and I more upset that an artist was an ant-semite?

  3. Thanks for posting Ezra Pound's mug shot.

    I endeavor to separate the writer from the work, but there are a lot of times that I can't.

  4. A difficult problem. I think it's tough to separate the poet from the politics, but it's easier, at least in the case of Pound, to separate the poetry from the politics. I do have to say that Allen Ginsberg, when it came to Pound, separated both from the politics. That doesn't make it easy though, nor should that necessarily be the benchmark.

    Enjoyed your interview at MotW, by the way.