Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Collection Snapshot: Amiri Baraka (1934-2014)

January 18th, 2014

Last week, the poet, playwright, and critic Amiri Baraka died at the age of 79. Baraka (who was born Everett Leroy Jones and published as LeRoi Jones until the late sixties) was a founder of the Black Arts Movement.  As his New York Times obituary suggests, his career took many turns and was punctuated by both accolades and controversy, but there can be little doubt that he was a significant figure for post-WWII American literary culture.  The Kenneth Spencer Research Library houses over 45 items by or containing contributions from Amiri Baraka, with more than double that amount in the KU Libraries circulating collections. Spencer’s holdings include several scarce or ephemeral items, such as an advance proof of his important study Blues People: Negro Music in White America (1963), a 1965 fundraising letter for the Black Arts Repertory Theater/school of Harlem, the illustrated broadside A Traffic of Love (1967), and the 13-page mimeograph edition of his play Slave Ship, An Historical Pageant (ca. 1967).

Photograph of the covers of all eight issues of Yugen (1958-1962)

Yugen, edited by LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) and Hettie Cohen. Nos. 1-8 (1958-1962). Call Number: Ser C170. Click image to enlarge.

 Among our earliest holdings for Baraka is a complete run of the journal Yugen (1958-1962), which he edited with his first wife, Hettie Cohen. Only eight issues of the magazine were published, and it included contributions from writers such as William Burroughs, Robert Creeley, Diane DiPrima, Allen Ginsberg, and Gary Snyder. Spencer’s holdings are strongest for the first decade and a half of Baraka’s career, from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, during which time he was associated first with the Beats and then the Black Arts Movement.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

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.

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

Gossip and Literary Celebrity, Circa 1871

March 21st, 2013

Though public figures in late nineteenth-century England might not have had to contend with paparazzi or gossip bloggers, their lives and personal writings were nonetheless a subject of interest and speculation.  What might begin innocently as a jovial private communication between friends could one day find itself before a much wider circle of readers, or so Pre-Raphaelite artist and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) warned his friend and fellow poet Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909).

Photogravure of Dante Gabriel Rossetty by G. F. Watts.        Image of black and white reproduction of Dante Gabriel Rossetti's portrait of Algernon Charles Swinburne

Left: Dante Gabriel Rossetti from photogravure by G. F. Watts;  Right: Black and white photograph of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s portrait of Algernon Charles Swinburne, both reproduced in H. C. Marillier’s Dante Gabriel Rossetti: An Illustrated Memorial of his Art and Life. London: George Bell and Sons, 1899. Call Number: E1470.

In a letter likely dating from November 1871, Rossetti cautioned Swinburne,

[…] You seem to think that such things are likely to be restricted to the circle of their recipients. Why, my dear fellow, every line you have ever written will one day be religiously raked up by greedy & often doubtless malevolent exploiteurs, and it is very hard for those who receive these wonderfully funny things of yours to resolve on taking the only safe course with them for your sake — that is, to destroy them after they have been abundantly laughed over by a circle of friends who know what mere fun they are. (Call Number: MS 23D:3.2)

Though we can only hope that Rossetti wouldn’t have considered the staff at the Spencer Research Library to be greedy and malevolent “exploiteurs”–he had in mind perhaps critics of the day, publishers, or members of the periodical press–time has proven the validity of his concern.  For example, a number of Rossetti’s own private communications now reside in Spencer’s collection of Rossetti Family Correspondence (MS 23).  This collection includes letters by his father, Gabriele Rossetti, his sister, the poet Christina Georgina Rossetti, his brother, critic William Michael Rossetti, and his sister-in-law, painter and biographer Lucy Madox (nee Brown) Rossetti.  These letters are a boon to scholars, students, and the general public, even if their creators might not have wished for all of them to reach our prying eyes.

To read Rossetti’s letter to Swinburne, click on the thumbnails below to enlarge:

Image of Rossetti to Swinburne [circa Nov. 1871p.1]  Image of page 2 of Letter from Rossetti to Swinburne.  Image of page 3 of letter from Rossetti to Swinburne  Image of page four of letter from Rossetti to Swinburne

Letter from Dante Gabriel Rossetti to Algernon Charles Swinburne. [Shortly after 6 Nov. 1871?]. Rossetti Family Correspondence. Call Number: MS 23D:3.2. Click images to enlarge.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

Civil War Valentine

February 13th, 2013

Written at a time of great bloodshed and uncertainty, this valentine poem’s tone is more self-reflective and, perhaps, morbid, than you are likely to find in a card in the drugstore rack in 2013. The choice of stationery heightens the war-time effect.

The year on the first page of the poem might read either /64 or /66. What do you think it says? Was this valentine poem written during or just after the Civil War?

Photograph of poem manuscript, "A Valentine" (1 of 2) Photograph of poem manuscript, "A Valentine" (2 of 2)

“A Valentine” Addressed to Mr. Stephen Jones, [Kerney?] City, Colorado Territory. [1864 or 1866?] Amory K. Chambers Collection. Call number: RH MS 531, Box 1, Folder 7. Click images to enlarge (poem transcribed below).

A Valentine

When years have wrought their changes
Up on the human heart
When lifes bright hopes have vanished
And early friends depart
And would some voice attend
I think that mine for one would say
I truly am thy friend

When time has parted us on earth
And years have taken flight
Lets not forget our friendship here
That hope hath made so bright
Let us oft think of how we met
[page 2]
Our voices raised in prayer
And let our lives be pure on earth
That we may meet him there

When shared each others griefs and joys
We know each others hearts
But years will make great changes
For we will have to part
Yet let our friendship ere be true
While earth life here has given
And we if live as God requires
We will meet again in heaven

Whitney Baker
Head, Conservation Services