Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Representing the Countess: Constance Markievicz in the Poetry of Eva Gore-Booth & W. B. Yeats

April 25th, 2013

This week’s post comes from undergraduate public services student Meaghan Moody, who during this last week of National Poetry Month examines poetic depictions of Irish nationalist Countess Constance Markievicz.

On Monday, April 24th, 1916, Irish nationalists seized strategic infrastructure in Dublin to expel the British and establish an independent Irish Republic. Among these insurgents was Constance Markievicz (1868-1927), who served as second in command under Michael Mallin of the Citizen Army force in St. Stephen’s Green.  Markievicz was sentenced to death for her involvement in what became known as the “Easter Rising,” but the sentence was later commuted to life in prison based solely upon her sex. Markievicz is remembered and celebrated for her fearlessness, her intrepid nature, and her radical military dress. In the image below, you can see her in her full military regalia.

Image of Constance Markievicz excized from the Tatler, Nov. 28, 1917.

“A Rebel Leader” (Constance Markievicz) [image excised from the Tatler, Nov. 28, 1917]. Call Number: O’Hegarty Q38.

While conducting research for my English 530 course, Irish Renaissance Literature, I came across two strikingly similar depictions of the Countess by two Irish writers with diverging political beliefs. W.B. Yeats, a cultural nationalist, and Eva Gore-Booth, a pacifist suffragist and Constance’s sister, both fundamentally condemned the Rising and its resulting violence. They both also depict Markievicz and her subsequent imprisonment in their poetry.

W.B. Yeats knew Markievicz in her youth. He preferred his memory of her innocent beauty and rejected her involvement in politics.

Cover of  Yeat's Michael Robartes and the Dancer  Image of Yeats's poem "On A Political Prisoner"

Cover and “On A Political Prisoner” from W. B. Yeats’s Michael Robartes and the Dancer. Churchtown, Dundrum: The Cuala Press, 1920. Call Number: Yeats Y45. Click images to enlarge.

Eva Gore-Booth, too, disapproved of her sister’s involvement, but, unlike Yeats, depicted Constance as an ethereal, spiritual being, as seen in this poem that she sent the imprisoned Constance for Christmas.

Image of Cover of Eva f Gore-Booth's Broken Glory  Image of Eva Gore-Booth's poem "To Constance--In Prison"

Cover and “To Constance–In Prison” from Eva Gore-Booth’s Broken Glory. Dublin; London: Maunsel, 1918. Call Number: B11104. Click images to enlarge.

In her prison letters, Markievicz reflected on herself as a poetical inspiration, remarking, “I love being in poetry and feel so important!”

Though she recognized her sister’s aversion to violence, Markievicz took pride in the role she played in the Easter Rising and felt a sense of honor in her subsequent incarceration. She wrote to Eva, “Don’t worry about me. I am quite happy. It is in nobody’s power to make me unhappy. I am not afraid, either of the future or of myself.”

Meaghan Moody
Public Services Student Assistant

Source consulted: Weihman, Lisa. “Doing My Bit for Ireland: Transgressing Gender in the Easter Rising.”  Éire-Ireland 39.3&4 (2004) 228-249.

History in a Bottle

April 18th, 2013

Those of you who have visited the Kenneth Spencer Research Library in the past few months have discovered that we are in the midst of another small renovation project. This time, we are renovating our processing spaces, where books, manuscript collections, and other items are described and prepared for use. Our collections keep growing, while the space we have for these essential activities does not, so we are removing some interior walls and opening up some spaces to allow us to house materials more efficiently before and during processing, and also to refresh staff spaces. There has been some noise and some other disruption, but work is well underway, and we look forward to great results.

As part of this process, the in-wall exhibit case that had once welcomed visitors into the  space when it was the Kansas Collection reading room was removed. One day a few weeks ago, KU Libraries Associate Dean Kent Miller arrived at my office door with a small glass bottle. The demolition crew had found it in INSIDE the wall as they took down the case, so it was obviously placed there during construction.

Image of whisky bottle found during construction at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library.

This bottle of Grant’s Stand Fast Scotch (8 years old) is empty, but still has the tax sticker, and you can see a yellow notation of “238.” I have no idea what a half-pint of scotch costs now, so I’m not sure this would reasonably have been a price in the late 1960s—perhaps it means something entirely different. I am certainly not a historian of alcohol, international commerce, or product design. But I have been keeping this bottle in my office and thinking a lot about it lately as we continue to rethink the physical spaces that we inhabit.

First of all, this bottle was empty, so I’m wondering who drank it, and when. Was it a construction worker who brought it from home as a lark? Or was it consumed in situ? I have been told of a tradition where building workers leave behind something, like a mark that will be covered by paint, to claim their work. If this is the case, who could this bottle of scotch have served as a signature? Or perhaps a prankster staff member snuck it in during construction? Is the person who did this still in Lawrence, and have I unknowingly seen them at Dillon’s?

Forbidden substances, of course, have a colorful history in libraries, and the Spencer Library is no exception. We still prohibit food and drink in most areas, although we maintain a robust schedule of catered events, and our staff members have a comfortable break room as well. We are scrupulous about removing trash every day to discourage pests and protect collections even from a seemingly harmless glass of water. Smoking has been prohibited for decades, but I remember sneaking a smoke in what is now one of our classrooms when I was a student assistant, something that is inconceivable now. We certainly never would have expected whiskey-drinking construction workers to leave behind evidence, but we do still need to remind visitors that their Cokes and Skittles should be consumed outside.

I spend a lot of time imagining how these amazing spaces may evolve, and this small time capsule forces me to consider how it once was. The care and dedication and craftsmanship that led to this beautiful building reflects a time when even a utilitarian item like an alcohol bottle seems to have been created a little more carefully. The processes for printing both the duty stamp and the label itself were much more labor-intensive than in the computerized present. And while I celebrate the changes we have brought to make our library more functional, more inviting, and more comfortable, I’m tempted to raise a glass to the people who put that bottle in the wall forty-five years ago, reminding me of where we have been as we look towards where we want to go.

Beth M. Whittaker
Head of Kenneth Spencer Research Library

Celebrating Ronald Johnson and Poetry In Kansas

April 12th, 2013

April is National Poetry Month, and in honor of this KU Libraries will host an event celebrating Ronald Johnson and poetry in Kansas at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library on Tuesday, April 16.

Revered as a poet’s poet, Ronald Johnson (1935-1998) was born and raised in Ashland, Kansas. Though he spent much of his literary career away from Kansas, first on the East Coast and then in San Francisco (where he lived for over two decades), his literary papers have long acted as a physical tie to his birth state.

The Kenneth Spencer Research Library acquired its first cache of the poet’s papers in April of 1969. By this time, Johnson had already published his early collections A Line of Poetry, A Row of Trees (1964) and The Book of the Green Man (1967), but was still building his reputation as a poet. Subsequent major installments followed in 1971 and 1987, culminating with a final acquisition of papers from Johnson’s literary estate in March of this year (2013).

Photograph of a selection of book and manuscript holdings for Ronald Johnson

The papers are a magnificent record of Johnson’s life and literary endeavors. They include,

  • multiple drafts of his poetic works, such as his erasure poem Radi os (a re-writing of sections of Milton’s Paradise Lost by excision), and ARK, a long poem composed over twenty years (which will be republished by Flood Editions later this year)
  • drafts and prototypes for his concrete poetry (poetry which emphasizes and plays upon the visual element)
  • correspondence with friends, loved ones, and literary peers, such as writer Guy Davenport, a great champion and admirer of Johnson’s writing; Jonathan Williams, Jargon Society publisher, poet, and former love; and fellow poets such as Ian Hamilton Finlay, Louis Zukofsky, Mary Ellen Solt, and Robert Creeley.
  • materials documenting Johnson’s “other” career as a chef, caterer, and cookbook writer, including drafts of his popular cookbooks, such as The American Table and The Aficionado’s Southwestern Cooking, and (in the most recent accession) correspondence with food writer M. F. K. Fisher
  • research notes and writing journals
  • photographs and audio recordings of Johnson

One of the highlights of the new acquisition are drafts of Johnson’s The Shrubberies, poems which he composed upon returning to Kansas from San Francisco.  These were collected, edited, and posthumously published by his friend and literary executor, poet Peter O’Leary.  The poems were inspired in part by Ward-Meade Park in Topeka, where Johnson had worked before succumbing to brain cancer and where a plaque now stands in his honor.

Though the materials that arrived in March are not yet cataloged, an online guide exists for the twenty-nine boxes of Johnson’s earlier papers.  The library also houses a large number of Johnson’s published works, many of which exist in scarce and limited editions. These materials complement Spencer’s New American Poetry holdings and its wealth of materials for Kansas writers.

The celebration on April 16 will feature three Kansas poets renowned in their own right: Joseph Harrington and Kenneth Irby, Professors in KU’s Department of English, and Denise Low, Kansas Poet Laureate, 2007-2009.  These speakers will fête Johnson by reading favorite passages from his works alongside poems of their own.  A selection of materials from the library’s Ronald Johnson holdings will be on display during the event.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

 

 

What is that?: Book Snake Edition

April 4th, 2013

One of the most common questions we receive when new patrons enter the reading room is “what are those things on the desks?”  Most users are able to identify the clear acrylic (plexiglas) stands as book cradles (used to support a book while it’s being read), but the cushion-y, fabric-based “things” lying next to them present more of a mystery.

Acrylic book cradle and book futon rolled around book snakes.

These are in fact another type of book support: one that consists of a roll-able, padded mat called a “book futon” and two long, pliable, cylindrical objects called “book snakes.”  Since some of the volumes in our collections can be quite fragile, it is important to limit the stress on their bindings during use. By rolling the ends of a book futon (or futons) around book snakes, you can create an adjustable support to accommodate books of various sizes.  The goal is to arrange the futon and snakes so that the volume lies open at a safe angle, with its “boards” supported.  This minimizes the pressure on the book’s spine and hinges.  Smaller book snakes (sometimes referred to affectionately as “book worms”) may be positioned on the book to keep it open to a given page.

book in book futon cradle, with book "worms" keeping page open.

Book snakes are not only an essential tool when handling rare and fragile books; they can also prove quite handy for the average reader at home! (Think about all of the times that you’ve struggled to keep a cookbook open while following a recipe or have needed to prop a book open in order to take notes).  Fortunately, making your own book snake is a relatively easy craft project. Roberta Woodrick of KU Libraries’ Conservation Services has made a wonderful video tutorial to walk you step by step through the process.  The tutorial is based on the guidelines of Jennifer Hain Teper, Conservation Librarian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  Enjoy!

How to Make a Book Snake, with Roberta Woodrick

Roberta Woodrick
Assistant Conservator, Conservation Services

and

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian