THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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54 posts categorized "Poetry"

23 November 2017

Artist and Poet collaboration: Carolyn Trant and James Simpson

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A guest post by Carolyn Trant.

James and I met at Schumacher College, at a week-long event combining poetry and bookbinding workshops, and soon realised our creative inspiration came from similar sources. We enjoyed discussing our ideas from a position of intuitive understanding. This was quite special, enabling us to get down to the nitty-gritty and fine-tune our arguments without time-consuming explanations, to push ideas forward without tedious back-stories.

Since I was a small child I had always loved poetry but was forced to choose between writing and painting by the tenor of the times (art school in late 60’s/early 70’s); James also makes wood engravings and pots. We respect each other’s judgments and feel free to criticise constructively. Our discussions inspire us each in our own medium, passing images and words between us.

We see the books as parallel texts, word and image, which we develop in tandem; neither ‘illustrates’ the other and a book is gradually extruded, together with the physical processes of its’ making, like red white and blue striped toothpaste from a tube. For me the physicality of the finished book is a major consideration from the start.

As an artist I have always been inspired by words, music, storytelling and the natural world; gradually the Artists Book seemed the natural gesamtkunstwerk I had dreamed of as a child. Although single-minded in pursuing the vision of my books, collaboration urges one to push oneself even further, with the benefits, if one finds the right person, of moral support – creativity can also be a tough and lonely business. I do also continue to make my own personal books, sometimes using texts of my own.

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My first book Gawain was inspired by Harrison Birtwistle’s music, the operatic production premiered at Covent Garden and the libretto by poet David Harsent – a fait accompli but very much chiming in with my own preoccupations of links between medieval and contemporary concerns. Similarly my book Winterreise used Schubert’s music and Wilhem Mueller’s words, in both English and German, plus my own text, all layered on top of each other with images underneath. I’ve also made a dual language edition of Llorca’s Sonnets of Dark Love with both texts and images cut in wood. Cutting texts by hand gives them a new dimension.

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Working closely with a contemporary poet was an exciting step forward. To date James and I have made Hunting the Wren and Love Poems and Curses; The Untenanted Room – published by Agenda Editions and soon to be re-thought and hand-made as The Ruin; The Rhyme of the Reddleman’s Daughter (2015) and Some Light Remains (2017). Some of these books have also later been developed into more three dimensional forms, cut-out leporellos, peepshows etc.

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For a poet, editions are regrettably small as they are very ‘hand-made’ but they find their way to important public collections here and abroad, where there is the potential to be looked read by a large number of people. We also show them at book fairs where many people come by to look, handle and often stand to read them. James also has the poems published in magazines such as the London Magazine, and Agenda, often with an image included. It all feels a worthwhile enough way to get them out into the world.

In terms of art practice, an Artists Book is for me like a little time capsule when deposited in a collection like the British Library. At the same time, when displayed, however briefly, or seen by a ‘reader’, it contrastingly becomes a transitory event – fugitive and volatile - and like a piece of land-art or a theatrical experience it can live on in the mind afterwards, with a variety of meanings for the possibly wider and more varied audience than the regular gallery-goer; a poetic event in itself which the text concentrates and refines even further.

I prefer this idea to the fixed image on a gallery wall. Book Fairs, with a democratic marketplace of tables and stands (and hopefully without curated interventions) leave room for varying kinds of interactions with the ‘the public’ by both poet and image maker, including informal conversations, talks and readings.

Innovation exists in the ways the art takes place whilst embracing longstanding methods of human communication - narrative and storytelling, aesthetic appreciation and emotional response; emotion being not merely a wash of sentiment but something that takes one from one place to another, whether comfortable or not, in a situation where the audience can talk back, critique, discuss. Working with another artist/poet places feedback at the centre of the creative process from the start, keeps one grounded and provides a sounding board at every stage.

 Any halfway attempt to reproduce our work digitally always leaves us dissatisfied. For Hunting the Wren we used silk-screened text printed by a local expert; many people thought it looked it like letterpress, which is hugely costly and time-consuming and although lovely, irrevocably linked to a historic aesthetic. Although meticulous within our parameters, we prefer to try to work fast, so that new ideas don’t go ‘off the boil’, and we can move on. I made a point of being trained by a wonderful ‘trade’ bookbinder when the need arose. Sometimes pragmatism is a virtue.

 Print runs, like the measure of the ‘acre’, are contingent on how many images for each page can be printed in a day. For Gawain I actually set myself the same task as in the story of the Green Knight, of finishing the whole project within a year and a day. The next impending important book fair often has some bearing on the case, or at least on how many hours sleep I allow myself.

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Latterly, the use of magnesium line-blocks, made by a helpful company called Metallic Elephant, has opened up new possibilities for texts; they are tricky to handle on my etching press, which is what I use for the woodcuts, but any imperfections are part of the process – something I always love about medieval technologies which are often working right up to the edge of possibilities.

In other words materiality, ‘words made flesh’ as it were, seems exciting and important alongside the digital world, a sort of ‘slow bookmaking’ for a fast age, within which James and I can keep up the pace of excitement about further collaborations, and battle to get things done with heads full of ideas stretching into the future. The Ruin, with hand-cut texts, is to be finished for the Oxford Fine Press Book Fair in spring 2018.

 

Further information:

http://carolyntrant.co.uk/  

http://carolyntrantparvenu.blogspot.com

 

James Simpson

https://jamessimpsonactaeon.wordpress.com

 

 

14 September 2017

No Longer in the Garage: The Archive of Galloping Dog Press, Poetry Information and Not Poetry

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Chris Beckett writes:

The small press publisher Peter Hodgkiss begins his memoir essay ‘It’s All in the Garage’ contemplating ‘a tatty cardboard box’ with ‘GDP’ written in fading red felt-tip pen on the side: ‘It has moved from landing to attic to garage 1 to garage 2 in two houses in Newcastle to its present residence in Whitley Bay’ (Cusp: Recollections of Poetry in Transition, ed. Geraldine Monk, 2012). That tatty box of Galloping Dog Press books (1974-91), plus the original author manuscripts and associated correspondence, now has a new and settled home, as do comprehensive sets of files relating to the two magazines Hodgkiss edited, typed and printed concurrently: Poetry Information (1970-80) and Not Poetry (1980-85). Peter Hodgkiss has generously donated his publishing archive to the British Library.

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Galloping Dog Press logo (from Gustave Doré, Don Quixote)

Hodgkiss recalls that the origin of the name of his press was serendipitous: reading Ulysses at the time, and living not far from Swansea beach, he drew the name from Joyce’s description of the dog on Sandymount Strand in Episode 3 (‘Proteus’). But serendipity aside, it is entirely fitting that Galloping Dog Press should owe its name to one of the great ur-texts of modernism: the writers and poets Hodgkiss published – and documented in Poetry Information – set their compasses by modernism’s experimental star. They learned their ‘ABC’s and ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ of best imagist practice from Ezra Pound, took their metrical lead from the ‘variable foot’ of William Carlos Williams, and avidly read contemporary American poetry (the biggest influence of all) from the Beats to the post-war schools of Black Mountain, New York and San Francisco. Closer to home, they cherished the Northumbrian modernist Basil Bunting. Bunting had appeared in Pound’s combative Active Anthology (Faber, 1933), although years of obscurity followed. In 1966, however, prompted by the curiosity and enthusiasm of a young Newcastle poet called Tom Pickard, Bunting published to great acclaim the long poem Briggflatts (significantly, with non-mainstream Fulcrum Press). Poetry Information 19 (1978) was a ‘Basil Bunting Special Issue’. Bob Cobbing’s (75th birthday) ‘poem for two voices for basil bunting’ was reprinted on the back cover:

  2 Hodgkiss blog PI front cover  3 Hodgkiss blog PI back cover


Geraldine Monk’s introduction to Cusp highlights the regional origins of a ‘seemingly spontaneous outbreak of poetries and poetry communities’ in the 1960s. As one thread, however, within a larger pattern of creative renewal across all the arts during a dynamic period of great social and technological change, the case of poetry was not unique. The contribution of Butler’s far-reaching Education Act (1944) to this renewal, which bore a strongly working-class stamp, from poetry to music to film, cannot be over-estimated. Regional origins are reflected in the two publishing locations of GDP – first Swansea, then Newcastle – and in the geographical spread of the authors Hodgkiss published in the 1970s and 1980s, which included for good international measure two Americans and a Canadian: Gilbert Adair, Guy Birchard, Paul Brown, Bill Butler, Richard Caddel, David Chaloner, Bob Cobbing, Kelvin Corcoran, Owen Davis, Ken Edwards, Clayton Eshelman, Peter Finch, John Freeman, Alan Halsey, Lee Harwood, Ralph Hawkins, Jeremy Hilton, Tony Jackson, Nigel Jenkins, Peter Larkin, Tom Leonard, Phil Maillard, Eric Mottram, John Muckle, Maggie O’Sullivan, Maurice Scully, Gavin Selerie, Colin Simms, and Chris Torrance.

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Tom Leonard, Ghostie Men (1980). Richard Caddel and Lee Harwood, Wine Tales (1984).

But London cannot, of course, be left out of the picture. The extensive small press network within which Hodgkiss operated formed part of what is usually referred to today as the ‘British Poetry Revival’. Coined by Eric Mottram – editor of the Poetry Society’s Poetry Review throughout the journal’s most radical period (1971-77) – the name he attached to the diverse movement was deliberately polemical. Just as the title of Pound’s Active Anthology had implied the relative inactivity of other poets, so the notion of a revival in poetry’s fortunes implied a base condition of moribund decline. The tussle for the centre ground of contemporary poetry settled upon the premises – and print room – of the Poetry Society, then located in Earls Court. The history of the years in which a more radical and modernist vision held sway at the Society (in 1972, Bunting was elected the Society’s President) has been told by Peter Barry in the aptly-named history Poetry Wars (2006).

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 Bob Cobbing, Vowels & Consequences (1985). John Muckle, The Cresta Run (1987).

Hodgkiss served as a Member of the General Council of the Poetry Society in the final Mottram years (1975-77). Although he moved away from the capital, the drive to publish was nurtured in London. It was in London that Hodgkiss first got his hands dirty. In its final years, Galloping Dog Press ventured into publishing typeset books, but Hodgkiss recalls that his ‘heart was really in the muck and sweat of the clunky and irritating business of feeding that bloody duplicator & swirling that bloody guillotine handle and gluing those bloody pages together….’

Hodgkiss’s archive complements the archives at the British Library of two contemporaneous poets, both of whom he published, and both of whom were also General Council Members of the Poetry Society: Bob Cobbing (1920-2002) and Lee Harwood (1939-2015). The range of their work is a good indication of the richness of influence that permeated the British Poetry Revival. Sound and visual poet Bob Cobbing, who ran the longstanding small press Writers Forum – and got his hands muckier than anyone – drew inspiration from the international concrete poetry movement and from the sound poetry of Kurt Schwitters and Henri Chopin. Lee Harwood edited several short-run magazines in the 1960s. His poetry was greatly influenced by the New York school’s arch blend of French literature and pop art, and he also translated the poetry of the Dadaist Tristan Tzara.

Literary magazines and small press publications have always been associated with experiment and innovation. Peter Hodgkiss’s endeavours over a twenty-year-period – and especially during the 1980s when poetry’s public pendulum, if not its less visible course, swung in the direction of literary conservatism – were a vital contribution to this vanguard mission. Today, the internet and the rise of print-on-demand publishing have brought back into circulation the work of many poets who were active in the 1960s and 1970s but whose work had all but disappeared from view. Paradoxically, the burgeoning digital environment has led to increasing scholarly interest in the evidential value of paper records. The publishing archive of Peter Hodgkiss is a fascinating set of primary documents from a distant recent past.

 

04 September 2017

Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets: Call for Submissions

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Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets 2017 – Call for Submissions ends 13th September

Richard Scott Wound

Wound, Richard Scott. Winner of the 2016 Poetry Award.

There’s still time to submit entries for the 2017 Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets.

Awards are made for poetry pamphlet, publisher and illustration. Works published in the UK between 1st July 2016 and 31st July 2017 are eligible for the awards. Details for how to enter, and what works are eligible can be found here.

2017 will see the 9th annual awards, which will be presented at a ceremony in December. The awards celebrate the printed pamphlet as a vital part of the ecology of poetry publishing. They recognise the pamphlet as a space for new poets to find an audience, or for more well-known poets to present new work. The format encourages experimentation and allows for a dazzling variety in the way that poems are presented.   

2016 winners were Richard Scott, for Wound (the Rialto Press), the Emma Press and Mairead Dunne (for illustration of The Clearing, published by the Atlantic Press). You can hear Richard Scott reading from Wound on our Soundcloud channel, and you can read Emma Wright’s acceptance speech here.

An important goal for the awards is to reach new poets and new presses. Recent years have seen increases in both the numbers of publishers and numbers of pamphlets being submitted. We look forward to a strong field of poets, presses and illustrators for 2017.

03 March 2017

Visual Verses: John Vicars’s God in the Mount, or Jehova-jireh, 1641.

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by Christian Algar, Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

George Herbert’s Easter Wings (1633) is the most renowned example of an early modern English pattern poem; it appears in all the anthologies and has been widely discussed and analysed. So, it is a real treat to find an example of an early printed pattern poem that is seemingly little-known, especially when it comes from a surprisingly incongruous source having been composed by a militant Presbyterian iconoclast.

John Vicars (1580-1652) schoolmaster and poet, is remembered most for his Parliamentary chronicles printed during the 1640s, a series of newsbook-style pamphlets written in the sermon rhetoric of popular puritanism. In his sixties by the time of the Great Rebellion he wrote in favour of iconoclastic reform and in praise of Parliament’s efforts to bring it about. He specifically contributed to the literature of iconoclasm with The sinfulness and unlawfulness of making or having the picture of Christ’s humanity (1641) in which the poet William Prynne also contributed a verse against images. Vicars gleefully chronicled incidents of the removal of images, crucifixes, popish books and ‘Babylonish trinkets’, his reports manifest an un-hinged enthusiasm. Fiercely anti-Rome, he staged a dramatic scene to personally pull down a crucifix discretely located in Christ’s Hospital.

Following his sycophantic poem England’s Remembrancer, or, a thankfull acknowledgement of Parliamentary mercies to our English-nation (1641), the first of his Parliamentary chronicles proper, God in the Mount, (also known as Jehova-jireh) (1642), presents the reader with a prominent visualisation of his glorifications. The book’s first three preliminary pages hammer home its purpose as panegyric: the title page is printed in the form of a pyramid, a mount; then there is the virtual monument to the Trinity; but more playfully we see on the next page a dedicatory verse in patterned form, to the Houses of Parliament.

 

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John Vicars’s dedicatory shaped poem to the Houses of Parliament (British Library 4103.d.34)

 

To The Right Honourable, thrice Noble and illustrious Senatours of the House of Peers in Parliament.

To Our Trulie Honourable and most renowned Patriots; the House of Commons, in Parliament.

Right Noble Lords and England’s Commons rare,

(For whom the Lord hath joyn’d, disjoin who dare?)

The poem exalts the men of Parliament, offering prayer that their power is protected from “stormes and mischief” and wishes them courage, “to work a pure, A perfect Reformation”, to:

Go on though you great obstacles endure;

Sol shines most clear, though clouds It (oft) obscure;

Heav’n crown your Counsels (still) with good successe,

And you and yours for all your labours blesse,

How can the poem be evaluated? There are some rhymes constructed in there - at the line breaks (rare and dare; blast and cast; tears and re-chears, endure and obscure etc) and arranged inside the two columns (votarie and memorie; erected and protected; valiantly and malignity; Reformation and generation etc), but its literary worth as poetry is usually best declared upon by expert critics (it’s unlikely to score well!). Another way of measuring its impact though is from some estimation about whether the visual effect ‘works’? It is quite imposing and unambiguous, but also a little crude and unsophisticated. It is always worth considering these efforts as a feat of printing and typography. In fairness, this technopaegnion (the more precise term for this type of shaped poem) does look a little sloppy: we can picture the compositor sat frowning at how to set the type with the author peering over his shoulder. The compositor has had to incorporate different sized type and make much use of em-dashes and fleurs-de-lis to fill spaces to create the pattern.

Texts presented in patterns do not just frustrate the compositor; what happens in the reader’s head when attempting to read the poem? Our minds are accustomed to conventions in the structure of letters and words when reading a text. Shaped text is spatial rather than linear, so normal reading is altered and challenged. The line-by-line arrangement is subverted and the visual impact takes primacy and dominates. Whilst our brains look for conventional patterns they are also powerful problem solvers, so these patterns make us try different ways of reading: is there one way to read it, or several different possibilities? Does the subversion and domination of the pattern detract from textual and other values of poetry? Is it pleasing to look at, or just, well, a bit annoying? It can take some time and effort to read and transcribe.

Is this innovation just a bit eccentric? Here lies its curiosity – this English shaped poem is unusual and uncommon. A previous blog-post on ‘visual verses’ mentions that continental enthusiasm for shape poems in the early modern period was not matched in British Literature. Why is this? This poem by John Vicars, the iconoclast, may help explain. Fear and hatred of idolatry lay at the root of Puritan iconoclasm. Hostility towards false, idolatrous art risked deepening into an iconophobic hatred of all art-forms which appealed to the senses. A widespread antipathy towards visual art was a part of the cultural impact of the English revolution. Religious reformers withdrew from printed ballads, stage plays and pictorial art. So, it seems incongruous that Vicars, the iconoclast, here makes use of innovation and visual images to worship and proselytise the cause of Parliament, God, the Trinity and religious Reformation. Maybe, there is intentional irony and these pyramides and monuments are being offered as an alternative to the usual Popish icons. All the same, this work of Vicars does seem to sit somewhat outside the conventions of his very own prescribed culture.

 

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Title page of John Vicars’s God in the Mount, or Jehova-jireh (British Library 4103.d.34)

 

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The iconoclast’s monumental tribute to The Trinitie (British Library 4103.d.34)

 

Some further reading :

God in the mount. Or, Englands remembrancer. Being a panegyrick piramides, erected to the everlasting high honour of Englands God, in the most gratefull commemoration of al [sic] the miraculous Parliamentarie. .. by John Vicars  (British Library shelfmark 4103.d.34)

Visual Verses: Thomas Watson’s Hekatompathia, or Passionate Century of Love, 1582.

Puritan iconoclasm in the English civil war, Julie Spraggon (YC2003a22358)

The Princerton encycolpedia of poetry and poetics, edited by Roland Greene (Open Access  Humanities 1 Reading Room HLR 808.103; General Reference Collection YC.2012.b.2422)

The Word Turned Image: Reading Pattern Poems, by Sabine Gross in Poetics Today Vol. 18, No. 1 (Spring, 1997) (P.901/1862)

 

 

17 February 2017

Ken Campbell: 4 poems

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Earlier this year, the British Library completed its collection of the published works of the British artist Ken Campbell, with his most recent work You All Know The Words (2016). The British Library is the only Library in UK to hold all the works. At the end of October, the Library held a celebration of the work of Ken Campbell. The texts of presentations from Cathy Courtney and Richard Price can be found on this blog. Reprinted here, with kind permission, are four poems by Ken Campbell.  

 

He is now so close Death

that is, to speak of him is crude,

as remarking on another in the room.

Blackness around the vision

marks the card; prelude

to black ink of songs flow

through windows and door fattening

cushions of dark fill the room

leaving only the space of the client.

 

Terror, Terror 1977

 

KC A Knife Romance

A Knife Romance (1988). Image used by kind permission of Ken Campbell

 

Widow’s Song

Is that you; chance being,

a fine thing; is that you.

The stair creaks, money kept

under carpet, particular tread

now not long dead; is that you.

 

Hovers in the glass of door

your needle, my thread; dog stares,

our garden’s grown too big

with pints of sweetened tea gone cold;

time to leave: is that you.

 

A Knife Romance, 1988

 

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Father’s Garden (1989). Image used by kind permission of Ken Campbell

 

Father’s garden ran his ship:

no waves outraged his wailing walls:

no pitching keel beneath his feet

– nor claycrumb shift in his cold helm.

 

One vision, his, stood stack stock still:

his cargoes all the displaced knew,

& how they all could kill; thus twine

& baling; thus stolen, lying sleepers

 

stacked-in-law, & ordered buckets of fill

made fit. Garden ship shape never could

set sail: I so felt myself & missing went

overboard, awol. Breadcast. Fatherwater.

 

Round the chairdecks made windbreak

his hull horizon sat down stare for me:

a row of planted beanstakes breaking leaf

– our father’s juice flows everywhere.

 

Time water drowns all our fetch,

in reach of unsung dunes: - unless,

land-locked, life-tides work and move: so

ere it remembers you, remember home.

 

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Father’s Garden (1989). Image used by kind permission of Ken Campbell

 

Unlaced in springtime

stepping beneath a golden monastery

a buck in a bush

leapt to his morning furrow.

 

Such a day brought such a boy

from golden morning hoof

to the hammered dead of the afternoon:

history rang on the boiler of his engine.

 

Father’s Garden, 1989

13 January 2017

A New Acquisition: Celebrating 50 years of the Graphic Studio Dublin

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Jerry Jenkins, Curator of Emerging Media, Contemporary British Published Collections writes:

In November 2016 I had the pleasure to attend “From Yeats to Heaney: Discovering 140 Years of Literature at the National Library of Ireland” hosted by Embassy of Ireland. After the introduction from the Cultural Attaché and opening remarks from Dr Sandra Collins, Director of the National Library of Ireland, the assembled guests were treated to insightful, often humorous talks on both William Butler Yeats and Seamus Heaney given by Katherine McSharry, NLI Head of Outreach and Professor Geraldine Higgins, NLI Heaney Exhibition Curator respectively. The lectures illustrated the measurable contribution to, and healthy involvement both men had with the National Library of Ireland.  It is worth noting that the archives of both Heaney and Yeats rest within its walls. 

The British Library has also been fishing in those culturally rich waters which are Dublin. Earlier this year the Library acquired a set of six Sponsors’ Portfolios from the Graphic Studio Dublin.

Between 1962-1979 Graphic Studio Dublin produced a collection of work entitled Sponsors' Portfolios, containing art and literature by writers and artists from Ireland and internationally. In conjunction with their 50th anniversary in 2010 the Graphics Studio re-launched the Sponsors’ Portfolios in 2010.

Each portfolio contains a work commissioned by an acclaimed contemporary Irish writer, and four visual artists. A list of contributors can be found on the  Graphic Studio Dublin's website.  These showcase the printmaker’s art and the skills which are employed in producing fine press items. Each year a limited edition of 75 imprints are produced.  The project will continue to produce folios until 2019 thereby capturing a snap shot of some of the finest work of contemporary Irish writers and artists over the decade. The formula of inviting artists and a writer to work together presents a fresh and vibrant perspective to the interception where visual arts and the written word meet.

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Seamus Heaney, 'The Owl'. Translated from the Italian of Giovanni Pascoli. Letterpress. Used with the kind permission of the Graphic Studio Dublin

Poignantly Seamus Heaney contributed to the Sponsors’ Portfolio in 2013, in what turned out to be the year of his death. Entitled Translation, his subject was a translation from the Italian of Giovanni Pascoli poem “The Owl” or “L’assiolo” in the original. The acquisition of this late and rare Heaney work to the British Library is an important addition to the rich collection of Heaney’s writing the Library’s has garnered over the last forty years.  My colleague, Dr Richard Price has highlighted some of these in a previous post.

“The Owl” is accompanied by four prints: Pamela Leonard’s “For Sheer Joy ... Took Flight”, Liam Ó Broin’s “Death of Orpheus”, with Jane O’Malley’s “Still Life” and finally Robert Russell’s “Lost in Translation”. These works are beautifully illustrative of how the printmaker’s art can transfer the depth of emotion conveyed in the written word to colour and form of the artist’s reimagining.

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Pamela Leonard, 'For sheer joy... took flight'. Etching. Used with the kind permission of the Graphic Studio Dublin

 

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Liam Ó Broin, 'Death of Orpheus'. Lithograph. Used with the kind permission of the Graphic Studio Dublin

If there was any doubt about the truly individual nature these works, when measuring the individual portfolios for their protective phase boxing it was noted  that the was a slight  discrepancy  of millimetres between the size of each of the portfolios. A sure sign of a distinctive and hand crafted nature of these artist’s books.      

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Jane O'Malley, 'Still Life, La Geria'. Carborundum. Used with the kind permission of the Graphic Studio Dublin

 

GSDRRussell

Robert Russell, 'Lost in Translation'. Etching. Used with the kind permission of the Graphic Studio Dublin.

To return to where I started, a thought-provoking question was raised at the “From Yeats to Heaney” event at the Embassy: who will inherit the mantle which seemed so mysteriously to pass from Yeats to Heaney in 1939, (the year of Yeats’s death and of Heaney’s birth)? Within the folios of the Sponsors’ Portfolio might be a good place to start looking for the answer to that question.  

In closing, I would urge readers to explore the rest of the series the British Library’s copies of the Sponsors’ Portfolio. 1/10-7/10 are orderable at pressmarks:

 

Ultramarine, Jean Bardon, Carmel Benson, Roddy Doyle, Kelvin Mann and Donald Teskey RHA., 2010, British Library Shelfmark: HS.74/2280;

Journey, Caroline Donohue, Theo Dorgan, Martin Gale, Stephen Lawlor and Louise Leonard, 2011, British Library Shelfmark: HS.74/2281;

Thoughts, Jennifer Lane, Seán McSweeney, Niall Naessens, Marta Wakula-Mac & Thomas Kinsella, 2012, British Library Shelfmark: HS.75/2282;

Translation, Pamela Leonard, Liam Ó Broin, Jane O'Malley, Robert Russell & Seamus Heaney, 2013, British Library Shelfmark: HS.74/2283;

Thief’s Journal, Yoko Akino, Diana Copperwhite, Ruth O'Donnell, Michael Timmins & John Banville, 2014, British Library Shelfmark: HS.74/2284;

Naming the stars, Colin Davidson, Niamh Flanagan, David Lunney, James McCreary and Jennifer Johnston, 2015, British Library Shelfmark: HS.74/2285;

Pax, Mary Lohan, Tom Phelan, Grainne Cuffe, Sharon Lee and Paula Meehan, 2016, British Library Shelfmark HS.74/2286.

Furthermore, The National Library of Ireland, Trinity College Dublin and Queens University Belfast have also acquired sets of the Sponsors’ Portfolio series.     

14 November 2016

Treasures of the British Library: Zephaniah meets Shelley

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By Alexander Lock, Curator Modern Archives & MSS 1851-1950

The British Library has recently teamed up with Nutshell TV and Sky Arts to produce an entertaining television series in which six famous faces (Lord Robert Winston, Julia Donaldson, Meera Syal, Jamie Cullum and Benjamin Zephaniah) take a personal tour of the British Library’s fascinating collections, identifying the treasures that most interest them and speak to their work. Each episode of Treasures of the British Library follows one celebrity and it was my pleasure to show the poet, author and musician Benjamin Zephaniah some of our collections that told a very personal story about his hero, the poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822).

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Percy Bysshe Shelley by Amelia Curran, oil on canvas, 1819, NPG 1234. © National Portrait Gallery, London

A gifted poet, political radical, outcast, and early advocate of vegetarianism, Percy Bysshe Shelley had long been admired by Zephaniah as a man with whom he shared certain affinities; in particular it was Shelley’s revolutionary attitudes and his passionate opposition to injustice that inspired Zephaniah and his approach to writing. For Zephaniah:

“Shelley’s my man. If he were alive now he wouldn’t be sitting in an ivory tower only leaving to attend the odd literature festival, he would be demonstrating against the exploitation of the third world and performing at the Glastonbury festival…I used to think of Shelley as just another one of those dead white poets who wrote difficult poetry for difficult people, but then I learnt how dedicated he was to justice and the liberation of the poor. He probably saw very few black people but he was passionately against the slave trade. It was this that turned me on to Shelley, his humanity, passion, and his rock and roll attitude. His ability to connect poetry to the concerns of everyday people was central to his poetic purpose, and those everyday people overstood that he did not simply do arts for art’s sake, this was arts that was uncompromisingly revolutionary, he wrote for the masses. No TV, no radio, no Internet, but his poetry was being quoted on the streets and chanted at demonstration, not only did Shelley know the power of poetry, more importantly he knew the power of the people.”

Given the range of unique and fascinating manuscript material The British Library holds relating to the life and works of Percy Bysshe Shelley it was difficult for us to decide what would be best to show Benjamin. For instance, we could have shown him the original autograph draft of ‘The Masque of Anarchy’, a radical political poem Shelley wrote in response to the infamous Peterloo Massacre of 1819, or his notebook containing his famous poems ‘Hymn to Intellectual Beauty’ and ‘Mont Blanc’. Though these would have been fascinating items to show Zephaniah, particularly given their literary and political content, in the end it was decided to show Benjamin something much more provocative.

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 Percy Bysshe Shelley, ‘The Masque of Anarchy’, autograph draft, 1819, The British Library, Ashley MS 4086.

Instead, Benjamin Zephaniah was shown a letter Shelley had written 6 days after his first wife, Harriet Westbrook (1795-1816), was ‘found drowned’ after committing suicide in the Serpentine lake in Hyde Park. The letter was addressed to his mistress Mary Godwin (1797-1851), whom he would marry just 3 weeks later. The letter shows a very different Shelley from the Romantic rebel he is usually represented as. Shelley had left a heartbroken Harriet (who was pregnant with their second child) for Mary Godwin two years earlier in July 1814. Mary was the gifted daughter of the radical political philosopher William Godwin (1756-1836) and early feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797). In the intervening years, Shelley’s relationship with Harriet soured and he became increasingly cruel towards her.

Shelley to Mary Godwin
Percy Bysshe Shelley to Mary Godwin, 15 December 1816, The British Library, Ashley MS 5021. © Estate of Percy Bysshe Shelley & Harriet Shelley.

On 9 November 1816 Harriet departed her lodgings, leaving behind her a farewell letter for Shelley. She was not seen again until her body was pulled from the Serpentine on 10 December. As the letter shows, Shelley’s initial reaction to Harriet’s suicide was to deny any blame. He wrote to Mary:

Everything tends to prove, however, that beyond the mere shock of so hideous a catastrophe having fallen on a human being once so nearly connected with me, there would, in any case have been little to regret. Hookham, Longdill ― everyone does me full justice; ― bears testimony to the uprightness & liberality of my conduct to her...

Shelley’s letter also revealed that he believed Harriet had ‘descended the steps of prostitution until she lived with a groom of the name of Smith’ who deserted her, although there was no evidence which corroborated this assertion.

Benjamin Zephaniah was initially shocked by this letter and the apparent disregard Shelley showed towards his first wife. It raised questions about the relationship between the artist and their art and whether audiences should judge a work on its own merits or in relation to the lived experiences of its creator. Though Zephaniah was unsettled by the revelations in the letter he still considered Shelley to be a literary hero for the works he produced and causes he supported. The letter is a difficult read but helped demonstrate that no one is perfect in their private lives (even great writers) and gave Benjamin Zephaniah a more rounded understanding of Shelley’s complex character.    

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Benjamin Zephaniah with Alexander Lock, Curator of Modern Archives and Manuscripts, during filming at The British Library

Treasures of the British Library will be broadcast on Sky Arts at 21.00 on Tuesdays until 22 November 2016.

06 October 2016

Capturing poetry across formats: from print to digital to electronic literature.

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National Poetry Day comes during the judging phase of the Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets, an award administered by the British Library and the Wordsworth Trust in association with the TLS and Harvard University’s Centre for Hellenic Studies.  The Awards aim to raise the profile of poetry pamphlets and to recognise the contribution they make to the world of poetry.  For the Library, running the Awards helps to ensure that a substantial number of poetry pamphlets published each year in the UK find their way into the Library’s collections so that they can be kept for readers and researchers now and in the future.  In this sense the Awards are evidence of the Library’s continuing commitment to collect print culture, not just from mainstream publishers, but also from small and independent presses all the way through to self-published pamphlets.  The pamphlets themselves show the enduring appeal of print as a medium for bringing poetry to a wider readership.

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A selection of the pamphlets entered for this year’s Michael Marks Awards. 

It is also interesting to note the variety of sizes and shapes amongst the entries submitted, and whilst the pamphlets encompass a range of poetic forms, there is also diversity in terms of the layout of text on the printed page.

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From prose poems to spreadsheet poetry: a selection of less traditional text layouts in the pamphlets.

Many of these pamphlets are published by small presses dedicated to poetry, but some are self-published or come into being through arts projects undertaken by cultural institutions, councils or community groups.  The Library aims to capture this creative diversity; we encourage anyone publishing a pamphlet to deposit a copy in the Library for the collections, irrespective of whether it has an ISBN or is distributed formally through booksellers.   We have recently been delighted to acquire for our collections all issues to date of ‘Rising’, the niche ('nish') poetry zine produced and distributed by Tim Wells since 1993. 

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Rising poetry zine, edited by Tim Wells.

The Library’s interest in poetry does not begin or end with print.  In Contemporary British Collections we are working to collect poetry in a range of other formats, and we are also investigating the way that poetry publishing, and literature more widely, is changing in the context of digital developments. The most obvious manifestation of the move towards digital publishing is in our collection of mainstream and academic publishing where a substantial number of publishers have now switched from depositing a printed copy of each work they publish to depositing their works in electronic format instead.  This reflects the 2013 change in the law allowing the British Library, and the other five legal deposit libraries, to receive content in electronic format. Where publishers have moved over to depositing works in electronic format, readers coming to the Library’s reading rooms can click straight through from the catalogue to read these works immediately, on screen.  The screenshot below from our catalogue gives an idea of some of  the poetry collections, from Catullus and Yeats to Vikram Seth and Clive James, now being received as e-books rather than as print copies. 

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A screenshot from 'Explore the British Library' showing a sample of poetry collections received as e-books.

The e-books appearing in the catalogue reflect traditional print culture in its digital manifestation, in that these works are digital copies of works conceived of as books and replicating their form.  Digital publishing is not limited to the format of the book, nor limited to presenting only fixed text and images.  The Library has recently hosted a PhD placement student, Joe McCarney, to undertake a study of online-only poetry publishing, from online zines and journals through to e-poetry that exploits the wider potential of digital media in terms of sound, images and visualisation, animations or interactive content.  As part of his project, Joe identified online-only poetry sites to be added to the UK web archive; he described this work in this fascinating post.  Joe also produced a report on the range of formats and forms used by practitioners of e-literature and on existing efforts to archive this type of creative publishing, and his report will help the Library as develops ways to capture and  preserve emerging media formats, so that they will be available for study in future.  Whilst the rapid pace of change of new media presents challenges for the Library, our poetry collections in particular are given a further  dimension through the wide range of poetry recordings included amongst the Arts, Literature and Performance collections of recorded sound, many of which are available to listen to outside the Library.  Recent recordings include short readings by the poets shortlisted for last year's Michael Marks Awards. This year's shortlist will be announced on 19th October, with the final awards evening taking place on  13th December.

by Debbie Cox, Lead Curator, Contemporary British Publishing

 

See also: Poetry Goes Online: Preserving poetry journals and zines for the Web archive