THE EZRA POUND INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE
SCHLOSS BRUNNENBURG 2015
by Roxana Preda
On the road to the castle
Monday 6 July
Getting to Dorf Tirol and to Brunnenburg is an adventure in itself, but since it was the third time for me, I felt free to be flexible. From Edinburgh I found a cheap flight to Venezia and landed there in the morning. I intended to use a few hours to enjoy a boat ride through the lagoon and see the city again. Well, it was not my best day, or Venezia’s for that matter. Hot, crowded, and expensive – coming as I was from the cool regions of this earth, the humid heat got to me – I needed all the courage I had to brave the city, even for a small part of the day. It was a relief to be on train to Dorf Tirol, via Verona and Bolzano. Not an easy trip: I had to change twice so that when I got to Merano, out of sheer nervous exhaustion I just took a taxi to the village. In my hotel room, finally – the world looked much better after a shower: I changed quickly and went to the party!
There was an informal gathering at the Hotel Mair am Ort, on a large terrace overlooking the valley: we had the first glasses of wine of the evening. What a relief to meet people, greet and talk! It was my good fortune to meet David McKnight on that very evening. We discussed scanning projects on that occasion; little did I know (but soon found out) that this cool tower of strength from Philadephia was an excellent conference organizer in his own right and that he would take care of the next EPIC. I had met the man of the future on my first day – things were looking up indeed.
I also had the good fortune to meet young people with whom I had corresponded and worked before: the beautiful and brilliant Gemma Moss and my associate editor Claudio Sansone with whom I found myself engaged in a rather heated literary discussion on the epic genre and its differences from the novel. I argued that no matter what Bakhtin and Lukács are saying, you can’t really compare the epic to the novel, but rather to romance: there are no heroes or divine interventions in novels, but plenty in romances. Claudio retorted that the hero is not an essential criterion for the epic, as there were more than enough anti-heroes in the tradition.
In any case, divine intervention interrupted us, as Alec Marsh, knowing that we had chosen the same hotel, came to ask me if I had the front door keys. The hotel management had probably not yet woken up to the requirements and flexibility of the conference clientele!
As it happened, I had them, so I saved the night – and promptly went to bed - did not want to miss the trips and events of the next day.
Tuesday 7 July
Had a good breakfast on the hotel terrace, crowning it with an unexpected wonderful double espresso. Sitting at "our" table with Viorica Patea and Alec Marsh, I found out that Ira Nadel, Giuliana Ferreccio and Stephen Wilson were also living in the Mair am Turm. These breakfasts together became one of the things to look forward to, every day. Just looking at the huge dark pink hydrangea next to our table and gently listening to the murmur of relaxed conversation gave me the feeling of really being on a holiday. I enjoyed the cool water with lemon and mint that Christine, the manager, prepared for us every morning; but let it hereby be known that it was “gallant Sir Ira” who discovered the boiled eggs!
The Tuesday was our day off – conference had not started, or so I thought.
Siegfried de Rachewiltz (Sizzo) had invited us to a tour of Schloss Tirol. 10 o’clock! It was definitely too early for me, espresso or no espresso. I was suitably late, but still managed to catch the group in the castle cellar where Sizzo was showing people the oldest foundations of the building and explaining the historical circumstances that had marked its construction. I was impressed with how well informed he was and how professionally the castle had been turned into a museum – no expense had been spared to make this a modern, worthwhile experience. And our guide was a marvel – he knew all the old histories, deciphered all the architectural details and explained all the sculptural symbols: the centaur with his arch and arrow, the monkeys and the dragons. No wonder: he had been the Director of the Schloss Tirol Museum for many years – this modern museum experience was his life’s work.
We spent a wonderful morning at the Schloss Tirol, had lunch on a terrace, looking at the green mountains and valley. I then tried to prepare for the first event of the conference – a seminar on Canto 81 in the courtyard of the castle, a space which served for all official plenary meetings and important events. We all mused on the important passages in the canto, especially on the notion of scale (of invention and artistry) and sense of proportion – where one would find one’s place in the order of things. “Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down!” – was Pound remonstrating with himself or with the American army? An attentive view of the canto as a whole suggested to me the former alternative. When the seminar was over I had the distinct feeling I had been to church: thoughtful, chastened.
But then, we discovered that there was a new part of the castle designed to lead to deliberate frivolity! Mary’s grandson, Nik, had built an open-air informal garden where we could take our meals. A little discreet sign chalked on wood said “Hilaritas” and pointed the way. The garden was covered, so we didn’t have to worry about rain. It was time for the cook-out. I found myself at a table with Ira Nadel, Mark Byron, Anderson Araujo, and Barry Ahearn and had a marvellous time. Did I mention that the excellent wine we drank was from Nik’s own production? We delighted in his achievement and speculated at what a swell wine-garden this was going to be in the future for so many summers to come. There were also some wild rumours about Nik’s plans for bread baking: after the conference he was going to install an oven!
I could see that young people had naturally found to one another and had also gathered around a table: Orla Polten, Eloisa Bressan, Claudio Sansone, and Rhett Forman. Would you believe what they had in common, apart from an interest in Pound studies? A classicist background, particularly Greek! Did they find their presiding scholar? They did! Somehow, Peter Liebregts was never far away.
Wednesday 8 July
When I got to the castle on Wednesday, the courtyard was already full. I did not miss Mary de Rachewiltz’s words of welcome and the joy in her voice when she announced the new Ezra Pound Research Center in Merano, an initiative of the Academy of Italian-German Studies in the city. I met both Ralf Lüfter and Ivo de Genaro on that occasion and arranged to meet again on Saturday afternoon to visit the center.
The conference had begun in earnest: off to the first sessions! The family had foreseen three rooms for the purpose, so conference goers had to choose one of three options: the first room, called “Rittersaal” was the largest and I would say the most picturesque – a huge window gave a panoramic view over the Alto Adige River and the city of Merano in the valley. There were showcases, artifacts, paintings, books, all ideal for larger-scale representation. On the table, I noticed a copy in metal of Gaudier’s “Boy with a coney” – a sign for me that every detail had been thought out for us, the guests at the castle. The second room, called “The Pound Room” was smaller, but very cosy. I kept looking at a large poster of Olga Rudge and Gerhart Münch’s concert in Chiavari in 1934. The poster looked brand-new, as if the concert had taken place just the week before.
The third room was piu piccola and repaid the adventure of going down the winding stars in what looked like a cool basement. We needed the cool: all through the conference we had to battle the inordinate heat of the Italian July. It is towards this room called the "Gothic Room” that I made my way for the first session of this conference. I listened to excellent presentations that afternoon, by Peter Liebregts, Krista Roscoe and Orla Polten.
Afterwards we “grabbed a bite” (speak struggled with huge portions) together at a pizzeria in the village before going to the event of the evening. At the library, Catherine Paul had arranged for a number of us to read parts of Yeats’s A Packet for Ezra Pound. That was followed by what is by now a beautiful tradition at the EPICs - the reading of new poems by Stephen Romer, John Gery, Ron Smith, Mary and Patrizia de Rachewiltz, Biljana Obradovic, Rhett Forman, Dave Capella and many others.
Thursday 9 July
On Thursday I looked forward to two rounds of events: first, a whole session organized around a single topic: Pound’s pedagogy. Michael Kindellan and Joshua Kotin had decided to shape a longer presentation together and had invited Alan Golding as a respondent. The Rittersaal was chock full and the session did not disappoint. The presentation, arguing that The Cantos are NOT pedagogical and do not mean to TEACH us, was designed to be controversial. Somehow, it went against all that was traditionally assumed about EP and his didacticism. Did I agree? Well…. if I did not, then why didn’t I? Did I have my own point of view in the matter? Golding’s response was a pleasure to listen to. No controversy there – I felt I deeply agreed to everything he said. So where was the rub? Discussion lurched forward as soon as the response was over – so many people wanted to pitch into it. I sat there and mulled over my own position in the matter. I felt I could not participate in the agitation – but then I did write Joshua Kotin an email about the conclusion I managed to get to after my mulling on the topic was over. But that was well after the conference.
The second round? Well, that was the music session I was chairing as a representative of the society in the cosy Pound Room. This poor panel had almost died twice, so the fact that I was still chairing it was nothing short of a miracle. Two of my guests had apologized for not making it to Brunnenburg. Walter Baumann and John Gery kindly found a replacement for the first one. The second sent his presentation to me, so I was able to read it on the day. We discussed Pound’s Cavalcanti opera, his music theory, particularly the great bass, and the significance of the flight of the lark and birdsong in The Cantos. Not bad, considering.
After the session I felt I could take a well-deserved break and it was as if the organisers had thought of it too. We did not have a plenary session in the courtyard (where artists were preparing a surprise for us on Mary’s birthday) but at the “pub,” I mean in Nik’s garden!! Well, that was like having your cake and eating it too! Listening to two presentations, by Massimo Bacigalupo and Charles Altieri in a relaxed way, outside, with a glass of wine on the table. And the geese. My, did they pay us a visit and made a racket! They crashed our party and gave us a piece of their mind!
After this prolonged spell of coffee break combined with scholarly attention, we were finally allowed to go back to the courtyard where a group of artists had prepared a performance for Mary’s 90th birthday. They told Mary’s story of Agatha, delighted us with video material and new music and made us navigate among three languages, German, Italian, and English. These festivities were not the only gifts for Mary’s birthday. Richard Sieburth and Sizzo had a volume of poems by Oswald von Wolkenstein ready in time for the event; Luca Gallesi had printed a homage in the Studi cattolici (“Applausi a Mary de Rachewiltz”); I had humbly brought the printout of Make It New 2.1 for her to peruse. I felt that other events, such as the publication of Pound’s articles on Dante translated into Italian in the new volume (Ezra Pound. Dante) as well as the new Ezra Pound Research Center were also implicitly homages to her on her 90th even if they had not strictly coincided with the day.
Mary and Siegfried de Rachewiltz with Massimo Bacigalupo, C. Bologna and L. Fabiani
Friday 10 July
Friday was a really important day. I was involved in a second society session, this time on Pound and the visual arts. The Rittersaal was full, despite the early hour. Justin Kishbaugh talked about Pound and Laurence Binyon; Ira Nadel had a brilliant meditation on the reverberations of Coburn’s Vortographic experiments in subsequent painting by Francis Bacon; and yours truly tried to puzzle out how much of Pound’s knowledge about Cubism filtered into Canto I. It was a good panel and I was very happy with it.
After that, I retired to the session in the Pound Room which had become my favorite. I loved to be there and was always happy if a presentation I was interested in happened to be held in it. I listened to Kristin Grogan and Alex Pestell who had taken upon themselves the handling of the most difficult material in The Cantos: economics and politics in Thrones.
For the afternoon, there was great excitement: We were going to Tschengls to see the columns that the family had erected on an idea of Pound’s: the temple in nature.
It was a rather long trip by bus from Dorf Tirol and the last part was a hardy climb on a winding narrow path to a clearing in the mountains. We sat on the grass, sipped champagne, gazed at the columns and listened to Sizzo giving us the background. It had been a family adventure. Sizzo had known the place for a long time and had brought Olga Rudge to it on one of his rounds. She had recognized it as the ideal spot for the temple and selected the marble for the columns. They were made by Bernhard Grassl, who came to celebrate with us. John Gery read to us from Canto XC:
Templum aedificans, not yet marble,
And from the San Ku
to the room in Poitiers where one can stand
casting no shadow,
That is Sagetrieb,
that is tradition.
Then Sizzo followed John by reading passages out of Canto 97 and consecrated the temple with Pound's words:
The temple is holy
because it is not for sale
We took our glasses and went to the columns for a closer look. They had a rough texture and seemed to emerge directly from the earth. There was a plaque in front of them: Aram vult nemus (“the grove wants an altar”): Pound had created the phrase and used it in the Pisan Cantos.
Mary dedicated the temple to Dionysus and we celebrated together with the family and the sculptor. I think every scholar in the conference has a picture with the columns, me included: I’m not sharing mine, in case anybody is curious.
After we came back, there was no time to rest. Shower, change, take a deep breath, the elegant sandals, and off to the conference banquet!
At the conference banquet: Mary de Rachewiltz sitting between David Moody and David McKnight
Saturday 11 July
Saturday was very much a normal conference day with sessions in the morning and the afternoon. I went to the Pound Room and listened to presentations on the Noh and on Pound’s translation of Sophocles’ Women of Trachis. I returned after lunch to listen to Roberta Capelli, John Gery, and Rhett Forman.
The event of the day was actually the plenary session with Tim Redman, Richard Sieburth, and Emily Wallace. I was delighted by them all.
In the business meeting that followed I was allowed to announce a new project of the society: The scanning of the eleven volumes of Ezra Pound’s Poetry and Prose. Contributions to Periodicals. I had just received green light from Mary de Rachewiltz and New Directions to proceed with this idea and create this resource for our society members.
Then David McKnight, the Director of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library of the University of Pennsylvania, delivered a splendid bid for the location of the EPIC 2017: his presentation was so professionally made that there was hardly anything for us to add or discuss. We had been privileged to be guests in a medieval castle, a place where the poet’s family was oriented towards the local richness and beauty of Tirol. Now we were shown the cool, contemporary architecture of an international institution of learning, the Kislak Center of the U. of Pennsylvania.
So it was decided on the spot: the 27th conference will be held in Philadelphia!
The business meeting officially closed the conference. I rose from my chair disconcerted and already nostalgic. So that was it – was it over? I looked around me for friendly acquaintances – dinner anyone? Oh yes! And drinks afterwards, till late into the night.
No, no good-byes yet: the excursion to Gais!
Sunday 12 July
On Sunday morning I was up early. No dilly-dallying, breakfast pronto, regular glances at the watch – I had no intention to be late! I wasn’t. There were a lot of us going to Gais on this Sunday excursion and I was so glad to recognize familiar faces.
We had a big, air-conditioned bus which took us first to Bressanone (Germ. Brixen). Siegfried de Rachewiltz led us to the Duomo which to me became one of the highlights of the Brunnenburg experience. He led us straight to the cloisters, decorated with medieval frescoes: slender elephants, black devils, graceful damsels, worried saints and battling knights! There were so many stories told by these frescoes and Sizzo knew them all. We were very privileged with such a guide!
I wish I could have tarried in Bressanone – it was such a pleasant small town: Italian and Austrian architecture made an unfamiliar mélange, difficult to sort out at first. I wish now I had had more time to just look at the buildings and loiter, even sit in a café and take in the beautiful morning.
Gais was our next stop. Mary showed us the place where she had grown up: the old house was gone but the lie of the village had stayed much the same. Above it, there was a manor house, called Schloss Neuhaus; we headed to it on the wooded mountain path. On our way, we passed a look-out where Pound’s lines from Canto 81 were inscribed in three languages on the ceiling:
|What thou lovest well remains,
the rest is dross
What thou lov'st well shall not be reft from thee
What thou lov'st well is thy true heritage
Whose world, or mine or theirs
or is it of none?
First came the seen, then thus the palpable
Elysium, though it were in the halls of hell,
What thou lovest well is thy true heritage
What thou lov'st well shall not be reft from thee.