In Pursuit of Tom Carter and Ezra Pound


[First published at Interlitq]

Newspapers across the United States on the afternoon of Friday, November 22, 1963 ran banner headlines about the death of John F. Kennedy. Many newspapers devoted their entire front page to the tragedy. A small town newspaper in Martinsville, Virginia also had a prominent headline about the assassination: “Sniper Kills President Kennedy”. But just under the headline, above the fold in the upper-right corner, the Martinsville Bulletin printed an article and photograph that described the sudden death of a local teacher the previous night: “College Instructor Carter Dies At Home”. [1]

Inside the vault of Special Collections at Washington and Lee University (W&L) sit two archival boxes titled the Thomas H. Carter Collection. Tom Carter was an alumnus and early editor of Shenandoah, the literary magazine published by the university. But not until an undergraduate English major working for the library [2] spent the summer of 2014 examining the materials within those boxes did we realize the depth of correspondence that Carter had pursued with many leading literary figures of the day such as William Carlos Williams, William Faulkner, Ray Bradbury, E.E. Cummings, Katherine Ann Porter, Caroline Gordon, Allen Tate, Hugh Kenner, Wyndham Lewis, Marshall McLuhan, Flannery O’Connor, John Crowe Ransom, Wallace Stevens, and James Merrill. What’s particularly astounding is that Carter established these literary connections in a relatively short period, mostly while an undergraduate. He had even started corresponding with a few of the writers while he was in high school. Tom Carter serves as a model for the potential that undergraduates can accomplish. The short life of Tom Carter demonstrates the intellectually fulfilling opportunities within one’s grasp and the heartbreak of unfulfilled ambition due to personal setbacks.

Toward the end of the second box of the collection are a series of letters written by his mother to James Laughlin, who was an associate of Ezra Pound for many years and the founder of New Directions Publishing. The letters are dated after her son’s death, and Kathleen Carter seeks advice from Laughlin on the disposition of nearly a hundred letters written to her son from Ezra Pound. Laughlin advises that while the contents of the letters are the intellectual property of the Pound literary estate, which is managed by New Directions Publishing, she is the owner of the physical letters. Laughlin suggests selling the letters and establishing a literary prize in honor of her son. [3]

Considering that Shenandoah annually awards the Thomas H. Carter Prize for the Essay, one might naturally assume that Carter’s mother followed Laughlin’s advice and sold the Pound letters to fund the prize. In 1965 W&L received from Carter’s mother a significant number of letters, which formed the material in those two archival boxes within Special Collections. No existing records indicate that the Pound letters were part of the Carter papers that W&L acquired, but we are often finding rare material in the vault that we did not know about. A search embarked around the vault for anything resembling a stash of letters from Ezra Pound. The vault is really a room of over a thousand square feet with many ranges of shelving. A mystery unfolded as to the whereabouts of those letters between Carter and Pound. A later review of the original transaction documentation confirmed that the letters were not part of Kathleen Carter’s donation to W&L.

In a subsequent letter to Laughlin, Kathleen Carter expressed concern about having lent those letters to Hugh Kenner, the literary critic and Pound authority as well as a friend to her son. Around the same period she received a letter from a Walter Michel inquiring if she was in possession of a charcoal drawing of Pound by Wyndham Lewis. A small reproduction is included in that letter. [4]

This portrait of Pound first appeared in the portfolio Wyndham Lewis: Fifteen Drawings, published in a limited edition in 1919 by the Ovid Press. The exact number of copies actually published is unknown and may be less than a hundred. An initial assumption was that the version that Tom Carter had among his possessions was one of these copies. However, Michel published in 1971 the definitive catalogue of Lewis’s artwork and identified Kathleen Carter as the owner of the original 1919 charcoal portrait of Pound by Lewis. [5]

Before the portrait came into the hands of Tom Carter in the 1950s it played a small role in literary history. In a letter dated July 14, 1920, Ezra Pound wrote from Paris asking Wyndham Lewis to grant permission to Dial magazine’s request to print the portrait alongside a poem that Dial planned to publish by Pound in the September 1920 issue. [6] The portrait appears on the facing page of Pound’s poem H.S. Mauberly, which is a shortened version of his semi-autobiographical work Hugh Selwyn Mauberley. [7]

Kathleen Carter died in 1984 at the age of ninety. She had no other children and as of early 2015 we were not aware of any living relatives. At that point the unknown location of the Pound letters were joined by the mystery as to what happened to the Wyndham Lewis portrait of Pound after the death of Kathleen Carter. Had she sold the drawing? Had some distant relative inherited the piece? Had it merely been discarded by someone unaware of its importance?

A large part of the puzzle cleared one day while I was browsing through the MLA Bibliography’s index to Shenandoah. An article from 1980 stood out. The title: “Ezra Pound, Thomas Carter, and the Making of an American Literary Magazine.” [8] The essay was written by Andrew Kappel, a specialist in Pound studies and then an assistant professor of English at Virginia Tech. Kappel later took a faculty position at Hofstra University and became deputy editor of the journal Twentieth-Century Literature (TCL). Kappel passed away in 1993 at the age of 41. TCL annually awards the Andrew J. Kappel Prize in Literary Criticism in his honor.

Since Shenandoah has never been digitized its contents are not easily accessible. I headed down the steps to the second level of the library to retrieve the issue from the bound journal shelves. This phenomenal article by Kappel details the correspondence between Carter and Pound, particularly the influence that the elder poet (then incarcerated at St. Elizabeth’s psychiatric hospital on charges of treason) had on the young editor. A bond developed between the two that lasted more than a decade until Carter’s death. There’s also evidence that Carter visited Pound on at least one occasion, perhaps more. The connection was so close that the letters outline a plan for Carter and Pound to launch their own literary journal, a venture that Pound suggested naming “Carter’s Pill” (obviously a pun on the old medicine Carter’s Little Liver Pills); Carter preferred the name “Martinsville Quarterly”.

The note at the end of the article thanks the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale for access to the letters from Thomas H. Carter that are housed with the Pound collection at Yale. And thanks also are given to the Patrick Henry Community College for providing access to the Ezra Pound letters. I was quite astonished that letters of one of the leading literary figures of the twentieth-century were in the small town of Martinsville, Virginia.

An additional note at the bottom of the 1980 article indicates that the “entire Pound/Carter correspondence” was published in December 1981. A quick online search reveals a book titled “Letters to Tom Carter” by Ezra Pound and Louis Martz. [9] (The majority of Pound’s literary writings are at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale. Martz, a specialist in literary modernism, was the Sterling Professor of English and Director of the Beinecke. Martz died in 2001.) An ISBN is available for the book and the publisher is listed as Black Swan Books with a publication date of October 1996. However, a search of WorldCat and other bibliographic resources revealed that no libraries hold this title. It’s not entirely uncommon for publisher databases to list a book that never was printed. Black Swan Books was a small publisher founded in 1978 by John Joseph Walsh that developed a reputation for producing high quality books on arts and literature. Walsh died in 1993 at the age of 49. He had developed the publishing house with his wife Patricia, who took it over after his death. However, there’s no indication that the company continued for too long. In 1995 Patricia Walsh married Michael Sovern, President Emeritus of Columbia University, whom she met when he called Black Swan Books about a book they had published about his late wife’s career as a sculpture. [10] Patricia Walsh-Sovern is now Chair of the Board of the New York School of Interior Design.

Without current information for Black Swan Books publishing, I contacted New Directions Publishing to determine if they had any record of the book’s publication since permission to quote from Pound must go through New Directions. The permissions officer responded that they do not have any information about that book; however, they did forward my inquiry to Mrs. Walsh-Sovern. (There has been no response from her, yet.)

A question exists as to why the correspondence was not published as Kappel’s article indicated in 1981. One might assume questions of copyright relating to the Pound estate. However, there’s an abundance of published books featuring Pound’s letters (including a book published by Black Swan Books of letters from Pound to John Theobald in 1984), so it seems that permission for this particular set of letters would not have been problematic from the Pound literary estate. And one assumes that it would not have been a problem from the perspective of the Carter estate. His mother, who died in 1984, was a great promoter of her son’s legacy and surely would have approved of the publishing of his letters to Pound. However, it’s interesting to note that title identified as published in 1996 is Letters to Tom Carter. Books of literary correspondence most often will include both authors in the title, e.g., Pound/Lewis: The Letters of Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis. Did the phantom book of 1996 intend to publish only the letters from Pound? Was there some problem gaining copyright clearance from the Carter estate? Did Kappel not obtain the copyright release from Carter’s mother before her death? Was it then not known who inherited Carter’s literary rights after his mother passed away?

My curiosity to read those letters deepened but it seemed like the only way to do so was to find the originals. Remembering Kathleen Carter’s concern about getting the letters back from Hugh Kenner, a quick check of the extensive finding aid for the Hugh Kenner collection at the University of Texas revealed no mention of Pound’s correspondence with Carter. And the 1980 article clearly indicates that the unpublished letters of Pound to Carter were at Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) in Martinsville, Virginia. Were they still there twenty-five years later? I was doubtful. Knowing that most community colleges do not have a special collections and the resources to maintain manuscript materials, I suspected the letters had gone elsewhere. Wondering if the Pound letters could still be at the PHCC, I found the name of the librarian, Barry Reynolds, and picked up the phone to call him. I introduced myself and asked, “Do you have an archives?

He hesitated in his response, and then said, “We have some material.”

I immediately realized my mistake in using the term archives, which for librarians has the precise usage of referring to material relating to the institution. I suspected he sensed I was searching for documents relating to that community college. I interrupted, “I’m looking for something very specific relating to one of our alums, Thomas H. Carter.”

He replied, “We have the Thomas H. Carter Memorial Room. Are you interested in the Ezra Pound letters? We have those.” This conversation took place in late December 2014. I arranged for a visit after the holiday break.

On Friday January 9, 2015 I made the two-hour drive down to Martinsville with our Head of Special Collections Tom Camden. Martinsville, Virginia is a town with a population of approximately 14,000 that sits near the North Carolina border. Like many small towns in the region Martinsville has suffered due to the changing global economy. Martinsville was once an industrial center known for its furniture and textile factories. The Martinsville area and the tiny neighboring town of Bassett, Virginia are featured prominently in the New York Times bestselling book Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local and Helped Save an American Town by Beth Macy.

We made our way to the outskirts of town to the community college and its small campus of brick buildings dating from the late 1960s and early 1970s. PHCC was originally formed in 1962 as a branch campus of the University of Virginia. Thomas H. Carter was hired as the first English professor for this new campus.

The library of PHCC is located on the second floor of the learning resource center. We walked up the stairs to meet the librarian Barry Reynolds. Though we knew that the PHCC library had named a room in honor of Thomas H. Carter, we didn’t expect that the majority of shelving in that space would contain material directly related to him. Reynolds unlocked the door to the room, and we realized that the shelves were filled with over a thousand books that had actually belonged to Carter. Also among the material were nearly five hundred chapbooks of poetry, literary journals, and zines from the 1940s and 1950s.

On a table in the room Reynolds had set the binders containing the letters between Tom Carter and Ezra Pound. These letters had been kept in a vault in the business office of PHCC since 1972. As far as we can determine, the only scholar to have viewed this material was Andrew Kappel in preparation for his 1980 article and planned subsequent book.

Reynolds also brought over from the business office vault the charcoal portrait of Pound by Wyndham Lewis. The portrait was tightly secured in cardboard, tape, and bubble wrap. We carefully removed the portrait, which had hung in Tom Carter’s bedroom in the 1950s in Martinsville. An oil painting of Pound by Wyndham Lewis hangs in the Tate Modern in London.

On the walls of the Thomas H. Carter Memorial Room of the library were Carter’s diploma from W&L, an oil painting of Carter, and a case displaying various medallions from his college career, e.g., Phi Beta Kappa key, Omicron Delta Kappa pendant, Kappa Alpha insignia.

A box containing additional material included a family photo album and a baby book prepared by Kathleen Carter documenting the early years of her only child. Entrusted within the pages of the baby book are a lock of his hair and a baby tooth. The box also contains photographs of Martinsville and of writers who visited Carter in the early 1960s.

More than fifty years after Carter’s death, this small library in rural Virginia had wonderfully preserved his memory and the literary artifacts that fueled his life. As we viewed this material, Reynolds raised an unexpected topic. Prior to our contacting him, he actually had been planning to contact us to inquire if W&L would be interested in having this material. As a rural community college with an underfunded library, PHCC is not equipped to provide scholarly access to this type of literary manuscripts and letters. Reynolds worried what might happen to the collection after he retired and thought that W&L would be the appropriate home for the material. After some discussion over the next several weeks, the collection was transferred in March of 2015 to W&L.

PHCC publicized the transfer in a news release that was published in the Martinsville Bulletin in an article titled “PHCC donates city man’s papers to his alma mater”. [11] In that article, Reynolds is quoted:

“Given the importance of the Pound-Carter correspondence, both to the academic world and to the founding of Shenandoah, I believe we have an obligation to see that these materials get the widest dissemination for scholars, something we cannot provide at PHCC.”

This article in the Martinsville Bulletin more than a half-century after Carter’s death also revealed new connections. Not long after the article appeared, the W&L library received a phone call from a cousin of Tom Carter. This cousin, Nelson Teague, also was a graduate of W&L and described how Tom Carter was a like a brother to him and his own brother Jensie Teague. During the spring of 2015 we visited Nelson and Jensie Teague at their homes in Virginia. They were very excited that W&L had received the material of their late cousin.

After Carter graduated from W&L he received a master’s in English from Vanderbilt and pursued a doctorate at Duke University, which he never completed. He continued his correspondence with writers throughout his life. In the early 1960s he organized a literary seminar for students at the Martinsville high school. The seminar featured visits from a number of established authors, including Katherine Anne Porter.

Carter’s productivity as a literary critic and writer were plagued by a series of recurring illnesses. In his letters he often mentioned that migraine headaches crippled his ability to write. In the late 1950s he went to the Mayo Clinic but the physicians there were unable to diagnose the cause of his headaches. Jensie Teague, Carter’s cousin and a retired surgeon, described that he believed the premature death of Tom Carter was caused by a brain aneurysm. [12]

Though Carter didn’t travel frequently, he developed a vast network of associates and friends within the international literary community. In an age when long-distance phone calls were seldom placed and most communication took place by handwritten or typed letters, Carter drew upon his literary connections and his insights as editor to transform Shenandoah from a student publication to an outstanding literary magazine


1. “College Instructor Carter Dies At Home” Martinsville Bulletin 22 November 1963. Print.
2. Maggie Hammer, W&L Class of 2016, served as the Basse Summer Research Scholar for the Special Collections, University Library in the summer of 2014.
3. Laughlin, James. Letter to Kathleen Carter. 20 September 1967. TS. Collection of Thomas H. Carter, Washington and Lee University Library, Special Collections and Archives, Lexington, Virginia. Print. Folder 17, box 004A
4. Michel, Walter. Letter to Kathleen Carter. ND. TS. Collection of Thomas H. Carter, Washington and Lee University Library, Special Collections and Archives, Lexington, Virginia. Folder 2, box 004A
5. Michel, Walter, and Wyndham Lewis. Wyndham Lewis: Paintings and Drawings. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971. P. 369.
6. Materer, Timothy. Pound/Lewis: The Letters of Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis. New Directions Publishing, 1985. P. 125
7. The Dial, Volume 69, Number. September 1920, p. 283.
8. Kappel, Andrew J. “Ezra Pound, Thomas Carter, and the Making of an American Literary Magazine”. Shenandoah: The Washington & Lee University Review. 31.3 (1980): 3-22.
9. Martz, Louis and Ezra Pound. Letters to Tom Carter. Black Swan Books, Limited. 1996.
10. “Weddings; Patricia M. Walsh, Michael I. Sovern”, New York Times, 12 November 1995.
11. “PHCC donates city man’s papers to his alma mater” Martinsville Bulletin 26 March 2015.
12. Teague, Jensie. Personal interview. 14 April 2015.

Ezra Pound’s literary network


Ezra Pound exerted a monumental influence on the development of modernism through small literary journals, “little magazines”, that existed to promote appreciation of literature and the arts. Pound was the consummate networker, a skill he used to advance the careers of others more than his own. Scholarship on Pound as a literary impresario focuses on his involvement with early 20th century publications such as The English ReviewThe Little ReviewPoetry and others. Likewise, Pound’s influence on the careers of James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, and William Butler Yeats are well documented. The incredible extent of Pound’s literary network has never been fully mapped. Likewise, all fiction and poetry produced today is sustained through a connection of writers, editors, and publishing outlets.

Only recently has the Pound connection to W&L been rediscovered through letters between Pound and Tom Carter, the editor of volumes 2 through 4 of Shenandoah. At that time, 1951-1953, the journal was a student-run publication and Carter started his role of editor at age 19. (The previous editor was Tom Wolfe, W&L class of ’51.) The Carter/Pound correspondence continued for more than a decade. The letters document that Pound continued his mentoring of emerging writers and literary publications throughout the 1950s while confined to the mental hospital. The letters from Pound reveal lucid thoughts but with the same erratic punctuation and phrasing that his correspondence always has shown. Throughout the letters Pound, in his colorful manner, advises the young editor and aspiring writer to seek out his contemporaries in an ongoing dialogue about literature and publishing.

Tom Carter and Ezra Pound had planned to start their own journal after Carter left Shenandoah (due to graduating and having to hand the editorship over to another student). Lack of funding and Carter’s ongoing health problems prevented the Carter/Pound publishing endeavor. Pound’s letters to Carter have been called an instruction manual on starting a literary journal. If the two men lived today their collaboration undoubtedly would have launched an online journal. Literary journals, particularly those of the online variety, are started no longer by universities but by individuals passionate about literature. The contemporary little magazines continues as the dominant sources of new writings. The Council of Literary Magazines and Publishers, which promotes independent literary publishing, has a membership today of nearly 500 literary magazines and presses. Literary publishing is not merely literary history but a vibrant and struggling part of our global culture.

How do we?

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How do we support the emergence of new voices in literature?

This is a project in literary history only in so far as it unveils lessons about publishing that can be used to understand our current era. While my research agenda ostensibly examines the networks within literary publishing through the evolution of little magazines during the 20th century, I do so with a primary interest towards the present day.