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Working for the BBC and Wednesday drinks in London

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Interviewing Ezra Pound (Part 2)
Donald Hall Poet
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Every now and then he would want to go walking with me, and show me around, and he thought he was failing at the interview, so he ought to show us all Rome. And I'd said to my wife, that… ‘You know, I think he's lonely’. I had thought I had wanted to keep my family away from him, you know, he was going to be a monster, but he was pathetic - he was sad and lonely - and, ‘I think he'd like to go out to dinner with us’.  So we took him out to dinner, and he had a wonderful time. He flirted with my wife, and, you know, just charmingly, but charmingly in… sort of in a 1910 manner.  And he took us to Crispi's which was a great pre-war restaurant, and I had my first ossobuccoo, and on the way back he bought us an ice-cream, you know, he saw a gelati man out in the street, and he said, ‘Stop here’, you know.  And he went out and bought us each one… we stood around… he had his Confuscian cape on, you know, he was looking magnificent, and he was feeling wonderful, because he'd had what he thought was a social evening with ordinary Americans. The people who came to see him in the St Elizabeths Hospital in Washington were not ordinary Americans… they were southern integrationists. There were Robert Lowell… Elizabeth Bishop came to see him, but there were a lot of cranks, and people… politically right wing who came to see him there, and he had the idea that we were ordinary Americans and that's what he needed - it was great. He thought he was a great success at having dinner, not at doing the interview. During the dinner at one time he said something… you know he left America 1910, came back in 1939 for a few months to try to prevent the Second World War - megalomania as well as everything else - and then… then was in the hoosegow [sic].  He didn't know what America… happened… happened in America over 50 years, and he was singing a song, and in the song, he… I heard him mention Mary Magdalene, and Kirby couldn't hear him well, my wife, and she had that strained look you have on your face when you are listening and pretending you are understanding, but he thought that she was offended and Ezra Pound said, ‘Baptist?’ It's 1910 America, you know, he's at the Sunday… the boy with the loud pants and the beard and the rakish one… he's at the school picnic and he's scandalizing the girls, that's how he flirts with them and so on. It was perfect. One time… oh, I was always early for everything, so I would be early walking to his apartment and I'd go into a café and have a cup of coffee, and one time when we were walking on, we went in the same café together and the waiter is… and the waiter had seen us both separately but not together… and the waiter came over, and made a sentence which ended with the word 'filio', and Pound said, 'Si, this is my son’. It was very moving, very moving, this great poet crushed, and I felt very supportive of him, and told him I thought he could do readings in the United States - I was wrong. He couldn't. He… he would have been picketed everywhere.  He wanted to get back, by this point.  But anyway, it was marvelous… I got back to Thaxted… I did do a lot of things that year, with Moore, and String Too Short to Be Saved and Ezra Pound.  Got back to Thaxted and letters started to come to me, including Late Cantos that he was working on.  He wanted me to retype them up and so on, and also things he wanted to go into the interview.  ‘Stick this somewhere’, he'd say, and he'd give me a sentence, and so on.  And I'd finally cobble together an interview, where I don't think I had him saying anything he didn't say, and then went to him, and then I never heard from him again, and I think that some paranoia had come over him, and he decided that it was a trick against him. I finally got the manuscript - he was totally into the silence - it was before he died, when his wife, with whom he was no longer living, found a copy of the interview with his corrections on it - he kept correcting my horrible spelling.  I mean,  he'd say something Italian, and I'd do it phonetically, you know - some irritated free spellings - but also at one point he had in fact said to me - I guess I was off base all the time - and then he wrote in the margin, ‘Did I really say that?’ He had to say it so overtly. There was another point when he was talking with me about the broadcasts, and the Mussolini theme, and I just kept looking at him. He kept sort of begging me to say you were fine, you were wonderful, you know, and I just wouldn't… wouldn’t say it. And he said to me, ‘Do you think they should have shot me?’ and so on, and I could say, ‘No, no’, to that, clearly.

The 14th US Poet Laureate Donald Hall (1928-2018) was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy, then earned a bachelor's degree from Harvard in 1951 and a BLitt, from Oxford in 1953. He published many essays and anthologies of both poetry and prose including String too Short to be Saved: Recollections of Summers on a New England Farm, White Apples and the Taste of Stone, Without: Poems, and Ox-Cart Man, a children's book which won the Caldecott Medal. Hall was editor of the magazine Oxford Poetry, literary editor of Isis, editor of New Poems, and poetry editor of The Paris Review. He won many awards, including two Guggenheim Fellowships and a Robert Frost Medal. At the end of his first Oxford year, he also won the university's Newdigate Prize, awarded for his poem Exile.

Listeners: Kendel Currier

Kendel Currier started working for Donald Hall in August of 1994 as his correspondence typist. Later she took on his manuscript typing as well, and in October of 1998 moved 100 meters down the road from Donald and became his personal assistant, adding many various new tasks to her work. As well as working for Donald for the last 10 and-a-half years, Donald Hall and Kendel Currier share a set of great (or for Kendel great-great) grandparents, making them distant cousins and part of a similar New Hampshire heritage.

Tags: Thaxted, Rome, Crispi Restaurant, Confuscian, American, St Elizabeths Hospital, Washington, WWII, America, Baptist, United States, String Too Short to Be Saved, Late Cantos, Italian, Ezra Pound, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, Mary Magdalene, Kirby Hall, Henry Moore, Benito Mussolini

Duration: 5 minutes, 53 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008