Published February 23, 2016
Robert J. Bertholf, longtime curator of the Poetry and Rare Books Collection and specialist in 20th- century poetry, died Feb. 19 at his home in Austin, Texas. He was 75.
Bertholf grew up in Wakefield, Mass., and Troy, N.Y., and studied literature — and excelled in hockey and lacrosse — at Bowdoin College. He went on to earn an MA and PhD from the University of Oregon.
He joined the faculty at Kent State University in 1968, and while there was instrumental in the design and implementation of the Creative Arts Festival, a well-regarded celebration of music and literature that brought in such notable poets as Allen Ginsburg, Robert Duncan and Robert Creeley, and was the site of Devo’s first live show in 1973.
Bertholf joined UB as curator of the Poetry and Rare Books Collection in 1979, and held that position until 2005, when he was named Charles D. Abbott Scholar of Poetry and the Arts. He retired from UB in 2007.
His areas of special interest and research included the poetry of Duncan, the influential experimental poet who co-founded the "San Francisco Renaissance" in American poetry, as well as that of Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens and Charles Olson. He published widely in scholarly journals, and served for eight years as editor of the literary journal Credences. He also edited Northwest Review, and was former American editor of the Australian journal New Poetry. He served on the editorial boards of The Journal of Modern Literature and the William Carlos Williams Review.
Bertholf's interest in correspondences between 20th-century poetry and visual art led to several collaborations on exhibitions and catalogues that explored these relationships. Among these were a 1990 exhibition of the work of the Polish-American abstractionist Julian Stanczak, published as "Julian Stanczak: Decades of Light," and a 1993-94 national traveling library exhibit titled "A Symposium of the Imagination: Robert Duncan in Word and Image." The latter focused on the collaboration between Duncan and painter-collagist Jess, his companion in life and art for more 35 years.
Bertholf also was the author of several books, among them “Robert Duncan: Scales of the Marvelous,” “William Blake and the Moderns,” “From this Condensery: The Complete Writings of Lorine Niedecker,” “Robert Duncan: A Descriptive Bibliography,” “Robert Duncan, Selected Poems” and “Robert Duncan, Selected Prose.”
He was a member of the Wallace Stevens Society, William Carlos Williams Society, the Melville Society and The Grolier Club.