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Psst, Ezra Pound was born here

Fans have long visited and the house is open, but the locals would rather not discuss it.

March 04, 2008|Keith Ridler | Associated Press

HAILEY, Idaho -- Ezra Pound's birthplace is a two-story white clapboard house surrounded with a wrought iron fence, surrounded again by the high hills of this central Idaho mountain town.

The poet and front man for literary Modernism was born in what was then a frontier mining town on Oct. 30, 1885, a bit of accidental history some residents wouldn't mind having expunged due to Pound's radio broadcasts from fascist Italy during World War II that led to his being charged with 19 counts of treason in the United States. He also faced accusations of anti-Semitism.

Yet a dedicated few have renovated the house, and recently opened it to the public as a cultural center with art exhibits and a writer's workshop. Even before that, fans of his poetry -- some of whom match Pound's own gigantic stature -- had been showing up on the doorstep.

"All along there has been a great deal of pilgrimages of poets to this house," said Gary Hunt, owner of Iconoclast Books in nearby Ketchum, who helped preserve the house.

They come to see the birthplace of the poet and writer who was among the earliest to cast off traditional restraints, wrote the book-length poem "Cantos" and whose enormous influence and talent helped others forge a new literary style that reflected shifting social mores at the start of the 20th century.

"He's considered the forefather of modern poetry," said Joy Passanante, associate director of creative writing at the University of Idaho. "He's a seminal influence on our culture today."

Pound only lived in the house for about 18 months while his father ran a government land office. The family moved east to Pennsylvania, and Pound never returned, though he sometimes referred to himself as the "Idaho Kid" and occasionally wrote informal letters punctuated with Wild West lingo.

The house was gifted to the Sun Valley Center for the Arts in 2005 after languishing for several years under ownership of another nonprofit initially called the Ezra Pound Association that couldn't bring in enough money.

The Sun Valley Center simply calls the house the Center, Hailey, stepping clear of Pound's pariah status. It doesn't even mention on its website that it owns the birthplace of the man who altered the landscape of literature.

"It's a minor note for us," said the center's director of development, Sally Boettger. "But we're pleased for anybody who has that interest."

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