Tag Archives: poetry

Artists’ Books: A Repeated Misunderstanding of Nature

Some of the most interesting materials in FSU’s Special Collections are Artists’ Books (also known as Book Arts). These are works in which the form of the work, the art and decoration on its surfaces, and the book’s moving parts are as important as the text of the work. Artists’ Books come in many shapes and sizes, from tiny to oversized. They often play with the format of the codex — pieces of substrate (writing surfaces) linked along one side to form what we refer to as a “book” — making meaning in often profound and exciting ways.

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The Artist’s Book we are highlighting today is A Repeated Misunderstanding of Nature, written and designed by Clifton Meador. Our copy is one of 25 that exist in the world. It comes in a “laser-cut birch plywood slipcase with dovetail joints,” and is broken into five volumes. Each volume has a different color schema that coordinates with the coloring of the seasonal forest scene depicted within. The volumes are accordion pleated and contain images and words only along one side; the back is blank.

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Accordion pleated works give the reader freedom in how they are read. An accordion-pleated text can be turned into a typical book-ready experience by keeping the pages folded up and going one at a time. Alternately, they can be unfurled entirely, revealing the length of the work in full. A Repeated Misunderstanding of Nature has an additional complexity to its consumption, in that the text and images are facing separate directions; each volume contains a forest scene printed horizontally along the accordion folds while the text runs vertically down the long side of the bottom of the image.

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The textual content is a supposed lecture by an imaginary professor, who discusses nature and our relationship to it at length. The text of the lecture is broken up into shorter phrases that sometimes jump away from the margin and “grow” into the forest scene.

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The phrases take on a poetic quality, which is why it felt like the perfect choice for highlighting in our Year of Poetry blog series. While we often see poetry and prose and distinct forms, prose — especially spoken performance prose, as we might expect from a lecture — can take on a poetic quality, especially as it incorporates repetition, rhythm, and alliteration.

“The border of each image includes a text from a long, imaginary lecture by a professor who — even though he sounds convinced — is actually confused about how to understand nature: he drifts between thinking of nature as something to read and nature as an anthropomorphic presence. This work was inspired by Chinese literati landscape painting, a mode of art that used images of nature as a vocabulary rather than as representation of specific landscapes. For these literati, landscape was a metaphor for personal experience: for the confused professor in A Repeated Misunderstanding of Nature, these pictures of the autumnal forests of Maine become a book that defeats reading.” — Vamp & Tramp Booksellers Website

 

This beautiful work is available for you to examine in Florida State University’s Special Collections, and we invite you come see it in person! It is much bigger than can be perceived in the images here.

Poetry and Nature: Robert Burns’ “Tim’rous Beastie”

In keeping with month’s theme, Poetry and Nature, I wanted to turn back to Robert Burns’ “To a Mouse,” a poem that delights and provokes upon each reread. In the poem we can see Burns’ tendency to find inspiration in the everyday; a brief encounter with nature gives him the opportunity to ruminate on the state of man and mouse alike. 

FSU’s Special Collections holds an incredible number of volumes of Robert Burns poetry, as well as ephemera connected to Burns fandom. A simple search for “Robert Burns” in the catalog of Special Collections items returns 149 items, including plays, music, biographies, and pamphlets, and most of these are either in the Shaw or Scottish collections.

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The Kilmarnock Burns, opened to “To a Mouse”

Likely our rarest item is our copy of the Kilmarnock Burns, the earliest printing of a collection of Burns’ works; 612 copies were printed in 1786 on a subscription basis, and was immediately successful, turning Robert Burns into a national celebrity. It is in this volume that “To a Mouse” was first printed for public consumption. Here’s a video of Dawn Steele performing the work:

We learn in the poem’s subtitle, and in the lore surrounding its inception, that the titular “Mouse” was glimpsed, “On Turning up in Her Nest with the Plough, November, 1785.”

Burns laments this action, expressing dismay that he’s caused her tiny mouse-heart to race: “O, what a pannic’s in thy breastie!” Upon the poem’s closing, however, Burns has considered the differences between himself and the “wee beastie”: while both mice and men experience the roughness and instability in life, the mouse has the advantage in not being able to either dwell on the past or anxiously anticipate the future. 

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You can visit the Kilmarnock Burns, along with other Burnsiana, in the Special Collections exhibit “‘In His Great Shadow’: Robert Burns’ Legacy.”

Spring is here, and FSU’s campus is covered in blossoming trees, lush green leaves, and curious critters. Take some time this week to consider your relationship to the natural world around you. Do you notice the little things on your walks through campus? Do you allow, as Burns did, these external stimuli to impact your thoughts and feelings about yourself, or even to provoke poetic expression?

Welcome to the Year of Poetry: T. S. Eliot and The Waste Land

Happy Poetry Month!

This month begins FSU Libraries’ Year of Poetry, April 2018 – April 2019, an entire year of celebration dedicated to poetry in all of its forms and facets. Look out for events on campus that invite you to participate in exploring poetry creation and poetry enjoyment!

National Poetry Month is always in April, a reference to T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land*:

“April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.”

Listen to The Waste Land at Librivox.com

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The beautiful book pictured is from Florida State’s Special Collections. It is Eliot’s Poems, 1909-1925, a first edition of the first collection of Eliot’s poetry to include The Waste Land, a disjointed and highly allusive work that is central to modernist poetry.

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The Waste Land
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Spine with Label

You can find information about National Poetry Month here, including suggestions for ways to participate. Sign up for Poem-a-Day and participate in National Poem in your Pocket Day (April 26th)! 

And come to Special Collections in Strozier Library to experience some historic poetry materials in person, like Eliot’s The Waste Land!

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*Thank you, Jeff Hipsher, Service Desk Supervisor in the Scholars Commons, for this info.

The History of Sixteen Wonderful Old Women

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The History of Sixteen Wonderful Old Women, Illustrated by As Many Engravings; Exhibiting Their Principal Eccentricities and Amusements (1820) was recently added to the John MacKay Shaw Collection of Childhood in Poetry. It was published in London by prominent children’s publisher John Harris as part of “Harris’s Cabinet of Amusement and Instruction.” These little books, “printed in a superior manner upon good paper,” sold for 1 shilling and 6 pence, which made them significantly pricier than other chapbooks on the market. There are three other titles from Harris’s Cabinet of Amusement and Instruction available in the Shaw Collection:

The History of the House that Jack Built

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FSU Special Collections & Archives is pleased to add a new chapbook to the John MacKay Shaw Collection of Childhood in Poetry. The History of the House That Jack Built is a popular nursery rhyme told as a cumulative narrative. Starting with “This is the House that Jack built,” each verse adds on to the previous one, creating a delightfully nonsensical, rhyming story. This edition was printed in 1841 by Gustav S. Peters, a notable printer of broadsides who often catered to the German-speaking population of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and its environs. While many cheaply printed books of the time were colored by hand, if at all, Peters was one of the first printers in America to make color printing commercially viable (even if, as seen above, his colored printing blocks didn’t always register perfectly). This edition printed by Peters is one of several versions of The House That Jack Built that can be found in the Shaw Collection.

Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)

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Poems of Cabin and Field (1899) by Paul Laurence Dunbar, featuring photographs by the Hampton Institute Camera Club
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Image credit: Wikimedia

Although Paul Laurence Dunbar was only 33 years old when he died of tuberculosis on February 9, 1906, he left behind a lasting legacy of poems, short stories, and novels. The eldest son of former Kentucky slaves, Dunbar published his first poems in his hometown newspaper at the age of sixteen. His first collection of poetry, Oak and Ivy, was published in 1893. While much of his poetry was written in traditional English verse, Dunbar achieved widespread popularity for writing in African American vernacular dialect. Several volumes of Dunbar’s poetry like Poems of Cabin and Field (1899), Candle-Lightin’ Time (1901), When Malindy Sings (1903), and Li’l’ Gal (1904), shown here, featured full-page, black-and-white photographs taken by the Hampton Institute Camera Club, with whom Dunbar frequently collaborated to illustrate his verse. The hundreds of photographs in these books have significant cultural value as representations of rural African American life at the beginning of the twentieth century.

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Art Nouveau bindings designed by Margaret Armstrong and Alice Morse on volumes of Dunbar’s verse from the Shaw Collection

Several volumes of Dunbar’s poetry are included in the John MacKay Shaw Collection of Childhood in Poetry. In his short life, Dunbar spoke with passion, humor, and elegance of the human experience, inspiring later writers such as Maya Angelou, who titled her autobiography after lines from Dunbar’s poem Sympathy

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
    When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
    But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,   
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—
I know why the caged bird sings!

 

 

 

The Waking of a Shaw Memory

One of our long-time volunteers, Cathmar Shaw Prange, was unable to come visit this winter and we’re missing her but she did send us a blog post! Cathmar has helped us curate her father’s collection for many years. 

After the Carnival by Richard Maitland
After the Carnival by Richard Maitland (Image: Cathmar Shaw Prange)

Years ago, on one of my visits to the art world of Santa Fe, Richard Maitland greeted me in his studio as an old friend. His painting, “After the Carnival,” hung on the wall. I gasped! It struck me like a bolt of lightning, reawakening an experience I’d had as an eight-year-old and evoking the last lines of John MacKay Shaw’s “Circus Roundels.”

The poet was my father. Mother was moving us into our new home in New Jersey. So he took us across the Hudson to the circus at New York’s Madison Square Garden to keep us out of her hair.

The painting, like the poem, reflects the longing we feel when a joyous event has ended. I would like this poem even better these days had he written it in shorter lines, but I can accept his admiration for Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter.

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“Circus Roundels” from Zumpin’

“Circus Roundels” appears on page 19 of John MacKay Shaw’s second book of poems, Zumpin’. It was published by The Friends of The Florida State University Library in 1969. “Read us zumpin’, Daddy!” we cried every night as he came in the door after work. And soon we were sitting on his lap listening, reciting and singing again.

The Friends published his first book of poems for children in 1967 titled The Things I Want.

A Lick of Raspberry Ice

One of our long-time volunteers, Cathmar Shaw Prange, was unable to come visit this winter and we’re missing her but she did send us a blog post! Cathmar has helped us curate her father’s collection for many years. 

Drawing from Oaknoll, Iowa City, IA
Drawing from Oaknoll, Iowa City, IA

One day in 2016, exploring the halls of Oaknoll, my new Iowa City home, I was stopped in my tracks by a child’s drawing of “raspberry ice” hanging beside a resident’s door. Raspberry ice is almost unheard of in my Midwestern world, and indeed this one came from New York State — a granddaughter’s loving remembrance of her grandmother’s fondness for raspberry ice cones. Once on the Jersey shore it was my cousin Connie’s favorite ice cream cone. I could hardly wait for summer when she would come to live with us again.

We spent our days on the beach and in the ocean. We lived just one empty sandlot from Sam’s near the north end of the boardwalk in Ocean City, NJ. Sam’s daughter Dottie was one of our playmates and Sam’s shop was our source for ice cream cones. My brother Bruce liked Sam’s chocolate ones and I liked strawberry, but raspberry ice was always Connie’s favorite. My father John MacKay Shaw made a poem for her that immortalizes raspberry ice.* And my daughter Meg further commemorates it in one of her fabric pictures.

Cathmar's daughter commemorates Sam's in a fabric picture
Cathmar’s daughter commemorates Sam’s in a fabric picture

Daddy visited us on weekends at the shore, and so did Connie’s father. As was his habit in the city, Daddy read and sang with us every evening. Too soon we tired of hearing about other children. He promised to write poems about US. He wrote “Girls and Boys” for Bruce and “Teasin’ Daddy” for me, and for Dottie and Sam “Five Little Elephants” on a chain of gold. Later the friends of the Library at Florida State University published two books of his poems. As adults, Connie, Bruce and I often recalled the joy of our summer days, arguing in fun over which of us was the scaredy cat who inspired “The Ice Cream Ocean.”

Late in John Shaw’s life, Susan Russo discovered his poetry. She chose “The Ice Cream Ocean” for the title of her anthology of poems for children. She illustrated it with round dips of ice cream floating on every page. He was delighted to receive copies of her book in progress but he died in 1984 before he could purchase its final edition.

What fun it would have been to discover this drawing at Oaknoll with my father!

*Sources of poems in books by John MacKay Shaw published by The Friends of the Florida State University Library:
Zumpin’, 1969
“Raspberry Ice” — p. 19
“Five Little Elephants” p. 3
The Things I Want, 1967
“Girls and Boys” p. 13 in ;
“The Ice Cream Ocean” p.38
“Teasin’ Daddy” p. 2

RUSSO, Susan: The Ice Cream Ocean; William Morrow.

The Miscellanies of Mr. John Shaw

Happy 119th birthday to John MacKay Shaw, founder of our Childhood in Poetry book collection and bibliophile extraordinaire.  To celebrate Mr. Shaw, and in our ongoing commemoration of 400 Years of Shakespeare, we present a Scope and Content Note for John Shaw’s papers in the style of title pages from the early hand-press era.  Mr. Shaw would surely appreciate our gesture, as the Shaw rare book collection feature works by Shakespeare along with many, many other authors.

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Further Reading on Mr. Shaw and his collection:

A Visit from the “‘Twas the Night” Collection

‘Twas the week before Christmas, when all through our section
We were ready to work on a festive collection.
Many boxes of books (and this part makes it fun),
Each with the same poem. You all know which one.

Editions of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" from 1890 to 1900

The boxes were nestled all snug in their cart,
Holding old books and rare books and books filled with art,
Toy books with sleigh bells that jingled a tune,
Plus archival items, including a spoon.

"Night Before Christmas" spoonAudio recordings and a book with jingle bells

And we catalogers, as a matter of course,
Had settled our brains to describe each resource.
Each one was related, but each was unique,
And our records must help people find what they seek.
But no cataloger would let that disturb her,
Remembering concepts that she learned from FRBR.
When faced with this “Night Before Christmas” incursion,
We would deal with each item, no matter which version.

Pop-up image of SantaPop-up image of house

Now, pop-ups! now, postcards! now, stamps for the mail!
On, parody versions! on, versions in Braille!
Whether titles be missing or typeface be small,
Now catalog! catalog! catalog all!

The Braille edition of "'Twas the Night" includes a figurine of a deer instead of an illustration.Parody versions include a feminist and a fitness-themed version, as well as a Cajun and a Texan "Night Before Christmas"

And, as our work on these books we’re completing,
We send you our very best seasonal greeting
For a year of discoveries wherever you look:
Happy holidays, all, and to all a good book.

Visit of St. Nicholas, illustrated by Thos. Nast