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Bibliophile Robert Wilson opens Ezra Pound exhibit

Robert Wilson
1:51 p.m., March 10, 2006--Donning a necktie adorned with books like the ones he's been collecting most of his life, UD benefactor and bibliophile Robert Wilson told those attending the opening of the Morris Library's Ezra Pound exhibit that his talk will be the “culmination of a half-century engagement with the most important poet of the 20th Century.”

His talk, “In the City of Aldus,” was cosponsored by the University of Delaware Library Associates and UD Library and was followed by a reception. Wilson's autobiographical book, Seeing Shelley Plain, was available for purchase.

“Ezra Pound in His Time and Beyond: The Influence of Ezra Pound on 20th-Century Poetry,” now on view in the Special Collections Exhibition Gallery, also pays tribute to Wilson as a bookseller, bibliographer and collector.

UD special collections include books, manuscripts, maps, prints, photographs, broadsides, periodicals, pamphlets, ephemera and realia from the 15th to the 20th Century.

UD President David Roselle thanked Wilson and the library associates for their support of the library's special collections. He said special collections give the library its “uniqueness,” making the collection a “vital teaching and research resource for UD's faculty and students.”

May Morris Director of Libraries Susan Brynteson said that without the support of library associates and people like Wilson, “occasions like this wouldn't be possible.” She thanked her staff and everyone involved with putting the exhibition together and explained that all of this semester's library exhibitions celebrate poetry.

Wilson was introduced by Wilson J.C. Braun Jr., president of the UD Library Association. “Mr. Wilson's world class Ezra Pound collection is featured in UD's exhibition,” he said. “The noted antiquarian and book seller bought and sold a wide range of manuscripts, many from the most prominent authors of the 20th century.” He said Wilson was known as “The Phoenix Bookseller.”

Wilson's ownership of the Phoenix Book Shop in Greenwich Village transformed the small obscure store into a legendary literary haven that became one of the most important bookstores of the era.

Recounting Pound's life, Wilson focused on Pound's relationship with concert violinist, Olga Rudge, who Pound met in Paris in 1922 and with whom he established a lifelong relationship despite his marriage to artist Dorothy Shakespear.

Wilson, who met Rudge while visiting Italy, said she was Pound's “mistress, the mother of his daughter and his muse.”

Pound, who hosted an English language radio program in Italy, was an outspoken anti-Semite and supporter of Mussolini before and after World War II.

Wilson said that when Pound and his family tried to leave Italy, his illegitimate daughter, Mary, was refused passage, so they stayed.

After the war, the U.S. charged Pound with treason, and he was arrested in Italy by the U.S. Army. Wilson said, Pound “was put in an outdoor zoo cage and left in the hot Italian sun. He had a nervous breakdown.”

When Pound returned to the U.S. to stand trial for treason, he was declared insane and sent to St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D.C. where he had frequent visits from noted authors and poets like Ernest Hemingway and Robert Frost, Wilson said.

In 1958, Pound was released from St. Elizabeth's and returned to Italy where he and Rudge lived out the rest of their lives and where Wilson visited her before her death in 1996 at age 101, he said.

Rudge showed him through the house in Venice where she and the poet had spent much of their lives together, Wilson said. “There were two life masks on the wall, he said, one of Pound the other of her made in 1929, she thought.” In his room there were books on a shelf next to Pound's bed. Wilson said he wasn't able to see what they were, but she told him the book carefully resting on Pound's pillow was his second collection of poetry, Personi.

“Ezra never sold anything, he always gave,” Rudge told Wilson. She vehemently denied Pound was either a Fascist or anti-Semitic and insisted much of what is said about Pound are lies.

“The important thing about Pound was his poetry not his personal life,” Wilson said. Quoting from Pound's Canto 81, he said, “What thou lovest well remains, the rest is dross.”

Article by Barbara Garrison
Photo by Kevin Quinlan

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