New Ezra Pound collection given to Ransom Center
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From left: James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Ford Maddox Ford, John Quinn.
Today the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin announced the acquisition of a substantial and important collection of Ezra Pound materials. The collection includes more than 700 letters, some photographs, a scrapbook and two chess sets.
Pound played chess on those sets with Marcella Spann Booth, a young woman who visited him while he was hospitalized after World War II; she later became his secretary. The new acquisition is Spann Booth’s collection of Pound-o-bilia.
Ezra Pound challenges the idea of literary heroes: his poetry was great, but his politics, not so much. Living in Italy as an acknowledged titan of modernism, Pound supported Mussolini before and during World War II, which got him into trouble as the war ended. He was returned to the U.S. to be tried for treason, but wound up instead spending a dozen years in St. Elizabeth’s, a mental hospital. It was in his last years there that he came to know Spann Booth, who wrote and asked if she could visit him. After his release, she accompanied Pound and his wife back to Italy and worked as his secretary, eventually returning to the U.S. and getting a PhD in English at the University of Texas.
That Pound continued to write while he was hospitalized has been controversial. How mentally unstable was he? In the news release about the acquisition, Brian A. Brennan, associate professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin, says, ‘The Ezra Pound collection of Marcella Spann Booth gives us even greater insight into the latter part of this difficult — in every sense of the word — poet’s mind and work.’ In the same release, Ransom Center Director Thomas F. Staley notes:
It is rare that a collection would become available today that could add so much to the scholarly record about arguably the most ubiquitous of the moderns. This untapped collection will be a remarkable resource for scholars of 20th-century literature.
There are 14 archival boxes in the collection, which will be available at the Harry A. Ransom Center in spring 2009.
-- Carolyn Kellogg