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Spring 2001
The Last Man of Letters
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As a research university, UCLA could count on his undying love for scholarship to produce works both great and obscure - two qualities most lusted after in the academic world. His 1955 criticism of the Ezra Pound poem Hugh Selwyn Mauberley would lead the way in Pound scholarship, providing poets and literary critics a framework for reading (and, amazingly, understanding) that difficult poet's work.

"It's a small little book, but it has had a lasting impact. It's still cited by everybody today," says Stanford professor and literary critic Marjorie Perloff, who remembers meeting the man behind that influential text when she moved West in the 1960s. "John was very generous. You could call and ask him a question about any little detail, and he'd be on the phone with you for hours. He was a scholar of the old school. The important thing for him was to get a detail right." Literary and scholastic ability and attainments.

John published numerous essays on Pound, and worked on the companion to Pound's Cantos, but never, Perloff says, did he consider his contributions criticism. "He wasn't interested in participating in theoretical discussions about Pound's politics or economics. His work was about finding facts. He found things out just for the fun of finding them out."

Later, after he had said all he cared to say on Pound, John, along with his friend and fellow UCLA English Professor Charles Gullans, would turn the phrase "you can't judge a book by its cover" on its head. Together, they would haunt used bookshops, collecting and later cataloging the works of Margaret Armstrong, Frank Hazenplug and other decorative cover artists of the early 20th century. Obscure? Yes, definitely. But fun, too. His thrill at finding an abandoned copy of Henry Van Dyke's Days Off, with a mint-condition Armstrong cover deep in the bowels of Dutton's North Hollywood, would be topped only by the bargain price he'd have paid for it. "Oh, I had to make a big investment today. That wily Dave Dutton took me for $2.50."

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