A major collection of Ezra Pound, materials from Marcella Spann Booth, one of Pound’s close friends and collaborators late in his life, has been acquired by the Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin.
The collection fills 14 archival document boxes and includes more than 700 journal-like letters Pound wrote to Spann Booth, documenting his life and career from his hospitalization at St. Elizabeth’s to his later years in Italy. There is further correspondence from James Laughlin, William Carlos Williams and others.
Included within the collection are ephemera and personal effects related to Pound, such as dozens of photographs, his walking stick, a lock of his baby hair, two chess sets used regularly by Pound and Spann Booth, and a scrapbook documenting Pound’s release from St. Elizabeth’s, his voyage to Italy and his homecoming.
The diverse collection sheds new light on Pound’s later years, a period of prolific creativity and mental turmoil.
“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,” said Thomas F. Staley, director of the Ransom Center. “This untapped collection will be a remarkable resource for scholars of 20th-century literature.”
Spann Booth met Pound during his stay at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., where he lived for 12 years after hearings found him unfit to stand trial.
Pound, living in Italy during World War II, broadcast speeches on Rome Radio in favor of Mussolini. In May 1945, he was detained for treasonous activity in a U. S. military camp near Pisa, where despite harsh conditions and his troubled mental state, he composed “The Pisan Cantos.”
After the war ended, Pound was found unfit to stand trial and ordered institutionalized at St. Elizabeth’s. Over the years he entertained many visitors, including young people eager to learn from the eminent poet.
Spann Booth wrote to Pound in 1956, asking to visit him at St. Elizabeth’s. Soon after, she became a student at the so-called “Ezraversity” there.
With other admirers, she listened to Pound discuss his work and completed her own “assignment,” to co-edit with Pound the anthology “From Confucius to Cummings” (1964).
After Pound’s release from St. Elizabeth’s in 1958, Spann Booth, working as the poet’s secretary, traveled to Italy with Pound and his wife Dorothy. Later, she enrolled in The University of Texas, where she earned a Ph.D. degree in English.
“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,” said Brian A. Bremen, associate professor of English at The University of Texas at Austin. “Equally engaging, enlightening and off-putting, Pound’s letters and notes are both a gloss on and a continuation of his life’s work, ‘The Cantos.’ And what one comes to realize through this archive is how much a part of that epic poem is a conversation of an epic mind with its fit audience.”
This acquisition enhances the Ransom Center’s existing collection of Pound materials that contains manuscripts and correspondence from 1905 to 1975, a portion of Pound’s personal library and Pound-related materials found in the Center’s collections of publisher John Rodker and literary critic Hugh Kenner.
The materials will be accessible once organized and housed, by spring 2009.
High-resolution press images from the collection are available.