The Last Man of Letters
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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.
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.
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."
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."