Sheri Martinelli, Muse to Ezra Pound

As Pound was preparing for his departure from the U.S. in 1958, Sheri Martinelli married Gilbert Lee, who was also a daily visitor at St. Elizabeths. He had been a music student at Catholic University and read literature with Giovanni Giovannini, another member of the Pound circle. Gilbert Lee also managed his father’s restaurants and lived at his mother’s art gallery (as did Sheri from 1956) while functioning as chauffeur and factotum for the Pounds. In 1958 the Lees set out for Mexico on a government commission set up by Pound through José Amaral of Rutgers who had published his translation of The Pisan Cantos the year before.


The couple, however, soon migrated to California where Sheri Martinelli became Queen of the Beats. She was a close friend of Allen Ginsberg (whom she had known from student days in New York), Jack Kerouck, Gary Snyder, Peter Orlofsky, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, among others. Ginsberg catches something of her character and life-style in “Iron Horse” (1966) as well as mentioning her in Journals (302) and Composed on the Tongue (10). Her own “memoir” of that period appeared in Paideuma, 15, 2 & 3 (Fall & Winter 1968) 151-162:

                                                         On Pacific cliff-edge

            Sheri Martinelli’s little house with combs and shells

                        Since February fear, she saw LSD

                                 Zodiac in earth grass, stood

                                           palm to cheek, scraped her toe

                                                         looking aside, & said

                                                                  “too disturbed to see you

                                                    old friend w/ so much Power”        


(Collected Poems.
New York; Harper & Row, 1984. P. 450)

It was in the next year that Ginsberg met and interviewed Pound in Venice.


Writing most of the material herself, Sheri sold her mimeographed ’zines, Anagogic & Paideumic Review and the later American/Arts/Letters, in print-runs of fifty copies each, at the City Lights Book Store. Every issue sold out and few copies survive, but there is a complete set at the University Library, Berkeley. She was the first to publish the work of Charles Bukowski who began by taking her stories of St. Elizabeths quite literally, as in “Horse on Fire”, although adding his own commentary:

            Bring bring

            straight things

            like a horse on fire


            Ezra said,

            write it

            soaz a man on the West Coast ’a

            Afrika culd

            undeerstand ut;

            and he proceeded to write the Cantos

            full of dead languages

            newspaper clippings

            and love scenes from St. Liz;

            bring bring

            straight things: in bird-light

            the terror of a mouse

            grass arms great stone heads;

            and reading Canto 90

            he put the paper down

            Ez did (both their eyes were wet

            and he told her .

            “among the greatest love poems

            ever written.”


            Ezra, there are many kinds of traitors

            of which

            the political  are the least,

            but self-appraisal of

            poetry and love

            has proved more fools than


(The Roominghouse Madrigals: Early Selected Poems1946-1966. Santa Rosa, CA; Black Sparrow, 1988. P. 70)

More than twenty-five years later Bukowski wrote “close to greatness”:

            at one stage of my life

            I met a man who claimed to have

            visited Pound at St. Elizabeths.


            then I met a woman who not only

            claimed to have visited


            but also to have made love

            to him - she even showed


            certain sections in the


            where Ezra was supposed to have




            there was this man and

            this woman

            and the woman told me

            that Pound had never

            mentioned a visit from this


            and the man claimed that the

            lady had had nothing to do

            with the


            that she was a



            and since I wasn’t a

            Poundian scholar

            I didn’t know who to




            one thing I do

            know: when a man is


            many claim relationships

            that are hardly


            and after he dies, well,

            then it’s everybody’s



            my guess is that Pound

            knew neither the lady or the



            or if he knew


            or if he knew



            it was a shameful waste of



(You Get So Alone At Times That It Just Makes Sense.Santa Rosa, CA; Black Sparrow, 1986. Pp. 133-134)

In Diane DiPrima’s Memoirs of a Beatnik (1969), La Martinelli can be taken as inspiration for the fictional Susan O’Reilley, who is said by the author to be an old and close friend from school days. No effort is made at characterization, and O’Reilly remains as nondimensional as everyone else in the book. At the beginning of the last chapter, however, there is a throw-away line which gives credence to the idea that Susan is probably based on Sheri Martinelli. “We had run through a variety of aesthetic games: little magazines for which we couldn’t raise any bread, theater projects in gigantic lofts which never materialized, a visit by me and Susan to Ezra Pound, who wanted us single-handed to change the nature of the programming on nationwide television” (
[125]). DiPrima had already published Martinelli’s “Duties of a lady female” in The Floating Bear, 32 (1966) 411-413.


More recently Larry McMurtry created a fictional character based on Martinelli in Dead Man’s Walk (1995). While still a rare book and manuscript dealer in Washington D.C., he was flabbergasted by an extravagently eccentric woman who arrived at Booked-Up in a camper, bizarrely veiled, and carting about both autograph Pound letters and typescript drafts of Cantos for sale. The experience was so sharply imprinted on his mind that La Martinelli later inspired the figure of Lady Lucinda Carey, who rescues a surviving band of heroic Texas Rangers and puts a war-party of Comanche to flight by leading her small entourage against them. Quite naked, except for her still-veiled face (the purpose being to emphasize the devastating ravages of advanced leprosy), she rides side-saddle and disports an immense boa-constrictor which winds itself about her outstretched arms as she belts out Verdi arias at the top of her voice. This, amazingly enough, all takes place in the Pecos wastelands of the mid-nineteenth century. Yet McMurtry does not stray all that far from a realization of Lady Carey’s original. Once familiar with La Martinelli’s range, the flamboyant Lady Lucinda, rings rather true to life.


An even more recent literary reference to Martinelli, appears in David Markson’s Reader’s Block (1996) in which he quotes a line with reference to Esme from Gaddis’s novel, digresses to Heidegger and then mentions Livius Andronicus, briefly. With no attempt to establish either context or interrelationships, there follows a complete paragraph made up of the name, “Sheri Martinelli” (75). Of course, she is the model for Esme in The Recognitions, but a dual nature is implied: fictional creation and real woman, as had been the case in many of the earlier literary manifestations. The instance seems to cap the question of La Martinelli’s essential character.

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Curriculum vitae
Nigerian Literature:
Ozidi Saga
Ethnic Traditions
Lyric Drama
Nō Drama
Green Park
Ezra Pound:
Canto XLIX
The Cantos
Richard Dean Taylor