|On poetry and Pollard|
|Friday, 13 April 2012 00:00|
Jonathan Pollard’s release is long overdue
What is this thing called “poetry”? It has fallen from favor in recent years, but once upon a time it was central to the concept of education. Ezra Pound was a poet who had a great influence on the arts of the 20th century, but he was a bad sort. He joined the Nazis and preached anti-American diatribes on fascist radio stations in war-torn Europe.
For his crime of treason he was tried and declared criminally insane and quite mad and put in prison. But the poets who had admired him collaborated to get him out into the streets of freedom. Among the poets and writers were Robert Frost, Archibald MacLeish and William Faulkner, who asked Saul Bellow to join the cause. (He refused, eloquently.) These are the versifiers I was taught to look to for the highest concepts of the arts of letters, before they disappointed me.
If you pick up a volume of Pound’s poetry, you may find his poems pretentious and dull, but they are still found in the most elite anthologies.
So… what about Jonathan Pollard? He, too, was found guilty of treason. He has been in prison for 27 years! People have implored presidents to pardon him, but to no avail, and there certainly has been no collective action by modern-day poets regarding the duration of his imprisonment or his torturous solitary confinement.
In my college years, the most important and lasting definition of poetry was that poetry cannot be propaganda and that the signs of poetry were ambiguity, paradox, irony, understatement and obliqueness. By now we have reversed that list of attributes, and we prefer propaganda and formula, even going so far as catering to the how-to-do-it crowd. So there is no excuse for not marching on D.C. to demand the liberation of Jonathan Pollard. Of what was he charged? Not with aiding and abetting the enemies of the United States. Not with attacking minorities and helping the forces of hatred, but only with providing information, which never could have been used to harm his own nation, to an ally.
Ezra Pound, on the other hand, supported the declared military foes of the allies, America most centrally, and used his eloquence and reputation to bring misery to the victims of the concentration camps by justifying the Nazi philosophy with the same principles he had urged upon college campuses’ poets. Those poets are not a gentle group; they are neither particularly brilliant in their insights nor in the counsel they give to our undergraduates. Existentially, they could commit themselves – as poets – to sympathy with those who need it, generosity to those who suffer and congratulations to those who live in the light of truth and walk humbly among us. Perhaps the humanities might even gain renewed funding.
The Jonathan Pollard affair has gone on almost invisibly, like an ancient prisoner of the Inquisition left to rot in a dark chamber. He bears silent witness to the cowardice and vicious fear of the privileged leaders of the so-called Free World. Through its ambassadors and prime ministers – Benjamin Netanyahu, most recently – Israel has called attention to this mostly hidden, hideous miscarriage if not of justice, then of mercy. In the history of our republic, only Pollard has been so cruelly ignored. It is time to let him out into the air of liberty. One of the highest mitzvot of traditional Judaism was to ransom co-religionists from prison. It was a responsibility, a privilege, an obligation. In this season of presidential pardons, with people of means contributing to the candidates of both parties as they fill their war chests with fabulous funds, couldn’t the pledge to pardon – at long last – Jonathan Pollard become an issue worth raising?