The Remarkable John Giorno

The following comes from Olson Graduate Assistant Rich Dana

John Giorno, poet and organizer of the Dial-A-Poem project, setting up a reel of recorded poetry at the Architectural League in Manhattan in 1969.
Photo Credit Patrick A. Burns/The New York Times

John Giorno, poet, artist, and activist, passed away Friday, October 12th at the age of 82. Although readers may not be familiar with his name, Giorno was one of the most influential American artists of the post-war 20th century. He blurred the boundaries between written, visual and performance art, fine art, and pop culture.

A native New Yorker, Giorno grew up among the literary and artistic giants of the early 1960s. He appeared in early Andy Warhol films, and he became a junior member of the beat movement, befriending the likes of William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Brion Gysin.

Put your arms around me honey, West Branch, Iowa : Toothpaste Press, 1984
Photo from UIowa Libraries

His fiery and transgressive spoken-word style laid the groundwork for the performance art and slam poetry movements, and his open and unapologetic descriptions of his life as a gay man was thematically revolutionary at the time. His Giorno Poetry Systems “Dial-a-Poem” service in the late 1960s allowed users to call a series on answering machines and hear writers discussing the Vietnam War, the sexual revolution, and other politically-charged topics. 

Sources close to Giorno say that the 82-year-old artist was in good health and was working in his studio at the time of his death. Readers can find out more about Giorno in the New York Times obituary.

Special Collections holds several of Giorno’s works, which are available to view any time in the reading room.

Selections from the Sackner Collection: The Association for Study of Arts Materials

Selections from the Sackner Collection: The Association for Study of Arts Materials

Written by Diane Dias De Fazio, Curator of Rare Books & Book Arts

 

Well, konnichiwa.

ASA journal 1-7, 1965-1974

 

The University of Iowa Special Collections announced the arrival of The Ruth and Marvin Sackner Collection of Visual and Concrete Poetry last May, and as the news rippled out across the special collections universe, excitement—and chatter—about the vast collection grew. It’s my great pleasure to share this first post, as we begin a series that highlights interesting and rare material in the Sackner Collection.

First up: Association for Study of Arts, or ASA. Specifically, the ASA (journal) and ASA Group exhibition catalogs (1969–1973).

ASA 1970 exhibition catalog

As a scholar of art history (and as a point of personal pride), it gives me great joy to state that UI Special Collections is the only institution* to hold a full run of ASA; UI Special Collections is likewise the only institution that has a complete set of the group’s exhibition catalogs. 

From a curatorial perspective, it is significant that these important Japanese-language items are available to University of Iowa students and faculty, something that bolsters curricula in creative writing, art, and undergraduate and graduate programs in Japanese. Special Collections already includes Japanese paper, artists’ books, and cookbooks; the ASA Group materials will add new dimension to extant Japanese collection materials, complement Library poetry holdings, and have the potential to draw international researchers to Iowa City. 

Part of the Multifaceted Sackner Collection

The scope of Ruth and Marvin Sackner’s collecting was expansive—there is mail art, artist publishing, book works, periodicals on artists’ books, critical studies and exhibition checklists, audio and video, in more than a dozen languages—but the core is solidly focused on concrete and visual poetry. What’s concrete poetry? you ask. While I defer to my colleague, Tim Shipe, to answer that question, I offer this definition from Oxford Art Online (which you can access from home if you have a HawkID, or another institutional affiliation that provides access):

“[An] Art form developed in the 1950s and 1960s based on the visual aspects of words. In contrast to ‘shaped’ poetry, in which the meaning of a text is enhanced by the relationship between a sequence of lines and the overall pattern or silhouette that these lines create on a page … Concrete poetry largely dispenses with conventional line and syntax. It may bring into use not only a wide range of typefaces (see Typography) but also other elements derived from calligraphy, collage, graphics and computer-generated shapes. It can appropriately be considered a visual art, though it is also a literary one.”

Got it? Concrete poetry straddles the realms of visual and literary arts. It’s a perfect fit for Special Collections!

Two concrete poems by Toshihiko Shimizu, “Portrait of L.J.” (Tribute to Amiri Baraka), and “text”.

Seiichi Niikuni & Concrete Poetry in Japan

Japanese poet Seiichi Niikuni (1925–1977), influenced by e. e. cummings, John Cage, Sakutarō Hagiwara, and Stéphane Mallarmé, studied literature in Sendai, and was first published in Japanese literary journal Hyōga in 1952. By the early 1960s, Niikuni moved to Tokyo, and was independently publishing his own journal that showcased concrete poetry, known in Japanese as: Konkurīto poetori. Niikuni named the journal after his group, the Association for Study of Arts (芸術研究協会 Geijutsu Kenkyū Kyōkai), or simply, ASA.

The journals contain essays, reviews, and work by luminaries Ilse and Pierre Garnier, Timm Ulrichs, Harry Guest, Bob Cobbing, Ian Hamilton Finlay, John Furnival, and Iowan Mary Ellen Solt (who edited Concrete Poetry: a World View). Two issues in the series are hand-inscribed by Niikuni to Emmett Williams, himself an icon in the Fluxus Movement, which makes our copies even more valuable, for their association with two important figures in the history of contemporary art.

 

 

Mary Ellen Solt’s energetic “Zigzag”.
Two copies, inscribed by Niikuni to Fluxus pioneer Emmett Williams.

Four exhibition catalogues hint at the breadth of the group’s influences and impact: the 1970 exhibition featured films by Norman McLaren alongside two-dimensional visual poetry.

Interested in seeing more? The Sackner Collection will be available in January, and you’ll be able to request this material with your Aeon account

 

 

 

 

 

*Our friends at the Getty Institute have a set; a full collection is not known to exist, in private or public hands, though Japanese institutional records are vague.

—-Photos by Diane Dias De Fazio, unless otherwise noted

Picture of Micaela

An Olson’s Goodbye

An Olson’s Goodbye

By Micaela Terronez
Picture of Micaela
Micaela Terronez

For the past two years, I have had the great fortune of learning about the inner workings of special collections and archives as the Olson Graduate Assistant at The University of Iowa Special

Collections. It’s hard to believe my time at Iowa has already come to an end. It feels like just yesterday when I arrived on my first day and was in complete awe of the amazing collections and people in the department. I remember being so utterly terrified, however, of the stacks upon stacks of materials. How would I ever figure out where something was?! It took time and, well, a library catalog. But I also relied heavily on the talented staff and students of the department to help me adjust to what seemed like a never-ending world of manuscripts, books, maps, and artifacts. I have learned so much in the past two years, and I am forever grateful to the department for their guidance and knowledge that they have graciously shared with me. Also, thank you to my friends – both old and new—and my family for your unconditional support and love over the past two years. Like former Olson Hannah Hacker’s goodbye, I have also decided to leave with my own spin on a classic song. Here is “The Stacks are Alive,” a rendition of “Prelude/ The Sound of Music.”

 

The stacks are alive with the sound of book carts
With squeaks that they have sung for several years
The books fill my heart with the sound of reading
My heart wants to hear every word that appears

My heart wants to beat like archival boxes
that open and close by patrons
My heart wants to sigh like brittle paper
from near and far places
To laugh with a friend when you are working
tears on the way
To sing through the day like an old book cart hoping to stay

I go to the stacks when my heart is lonely
I know I will hear what I’ve heard before
My heart will be blessed with the sound of libraries
And I’ll return once more

 

Thank you Micaela for everything you’ve done for this department! We wish you the absolute best in the next chapter of your adventure. 

Clay Tablet in hands

A Unique Document, a Unique Opportunity

The following is a post written by graduate student Kristi Hager, who recently finished her certificate for Book Studies at Center for the Book. As a student in Dr. Jennifer Burke Pierce’s History of Readers and Reading course through the School of Library and Information Science, Hager was given the opportunity to explore and learn more about an unexpected item found in the archives.

 

Imagine how many pieces of paper are used each year to record population changes, business transactions, or taxes.  Even in an era of digital processes and storage, many companies and individuals still rely on paper as a secure version of a document and will print hundreds of pages of records.  Finding secure ways to document business is not a new process. Thousands of years ago, administrative documents were being recorded, and some still are readable today.

On recent visits to the University of Iowa Libraries’ Special Collections, I was drawn repeatedly to a small display box covered with grey buckram holding a single object, an object that seems so out of place among the other books and papers displayed. In an archive full of unique items, it can be tough to stand out, but this clay tablet does.

Labeled simply as “Clay tablet dated to ca. 2050 b.c., from Umma, modern Djoka,” (call number xPJ4054.U55) this lump of dried clay is the oldest item in the archive.  The tablet is small and almost square, only about 1.5 inches per side and no thicker than a slice of bread.  There are black markings now on the tablet, almost reminiscent of small black ink droplets. It is hard to say where these marks came from or what they are.  Even the content is unusual: written in Sumerian cuneiform, the tablet is actually a receipt.

For a sacrificial offering. Of a goat. 

Proof that even 4,000 years ago in the Third Dynasty of Ur in Mesopotamia, in what is today part of Iraq, administrative and bureaucratic paperwork were a common enough occurrence that documentation was necessary.

In the center of the back of the tablet, there is the seal of the scribe who recorded this transaction.  He identifies himself as Akala, a son of the “chief cattle manager.” The seal is a bit difficult to see, as it isn’t as deeply inscribed as the text of the receipt.

This seal and the date next to it are also proof of the importance of administrative documentation.  The name of the scribe and the year the offering was given are evidence of a population large enough that members of the priesthood who received the sacrificial goat may not have known those giving the offering on sight.

This receipt is one of thousands that still exist.  According to the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative, there are nearly 103,000 administrative texts from the same period as this one in museums and archives around the world.  The Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative (CDLI) is a joint project of the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of Oxford; and the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science that sought out cuneiform manuscripts in institutions and compiled the archival information.  Materials from places such as the Louvre in Paris; the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia; the Iraq Museum in Baghdad; the Israel Museum in Jerusalem; the New York Public Library; National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh; and the Semitic Museum at Harvard reveal a wide range of documents.  Photographs, translations, location information, age, and purpose of the document have allowed scholars access to manuscripts that may have been difficult to access due to travel and budget concerns.

And right alongside the documents from these prestigious museums is xPJ4054.U55, the clay tablet in Special Collections here at Iowa.  Being able to view a document with this sort of history up close is an opportunity a casual or budding scholar may not realize is possible.  But it is here, available for anyone interested in learning more about ancient cuneiform, historic manuscripts, administration records, Sumerian religion, and about any other subject you could think of, ready to be studied.

 

Written by Kristi Hager

For Further Exploration

 Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative, 2019.

Archival view of P235777.”  Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative, 2019.

Eleanor Robson, “The Clay Tablet Book in Sumer, Assyria, and Babylonia” in A Companion to the History of the Book, ed. Simon Eliot & Jonathan Rose, 2007.

 

Chronicles of a Coleopterists Strikingly Curious Swarm

Olson Graduate Assistant Acquisitions Project

Olson Graduate Assistant Acquisitions Project

Every year, Special Collections hosts two Olson Graduate Assistants who have chosen to specialize in the field of Special Collections Librarianship or Archives for a two-year assistantship. These prestigious positions supplement knowledge gained in the classroom with experience gained from real-world application, balancing theory with practice.

The H. John and Florence Hawkinson Libraries Acquisition Endowment has introduced an exciting new element to this experience: in the second year of their assistantship, the Olson Graduate Assistant can now be given a budget for material acquisitions. The Graduate Assistant chooses a curatorial area of interest in alignment with collection strengths, and works with the Curator in that area to learn about the material selection process. They may attend meetings with book artists and book dealers, peruse catalogs, and search online for the right item(s). They then formally recommend items for purchase and, once the Curator approves of the recommendation, are looped in on the relevant communication. This is a spectacular learning opportunity for them, and a valuable way for Curators to remain in touch with how the next generation of librarians is approaching the work of acquisitions.

This year, Olson Graduate Assistant Micaela Terronez selected four items that will be purchased for the Special Collections department using the Hawkinson Endowment. Working with Head of Special Collections, Margaret Gamm, Micaela located materials that would either develop or fill in gaps within the collections. Below, Micaela has provided a brief description of the selected works and why she was interested in them.

 

Forming Common Threads

By Mari Eckstein Gower

Redmond, Washington: Mari Eckstein Gower, 2018.

My eyes were immediately drawn to the vibrant colors and structure of Mari Eckstein Gower’s Forming Common Threads. The artist’s book features beautiful watercolor paintings by the artist, as well as silk and paper threads attached to a series of words such as “inspire,” “support,” and “heal.” Gower’s work links the many stories of strong women from history in contrast to the toxic and misogynistic rhetoric she grew up with.  From the Japanese Tarasen patterned papers to the modified stitched drumleaf format, I was also interested in this book because of the multitude of materials and techniques utilized in its creation.

Vamp and Tramp description

 

Chronicles of a Coleopterists Strikingly Curious Swarm

Chronicles of a Coleopterists Strikingly Curious Swarm
Images of Gabrielle Cooksey’s book courtesy of Vamp and Tramp website

By Gabrielle Cooksey

Tacoma, Washington: Gabrielle Cooksey, 2018.

Anyone that knows me well knows I absolutely hate bugs. Spiders, flies, beetles – I squirm at the sight of them all. Gabrielle Cooksey’s Chronicles of a Coleopterists Strikingly Curious Swarm has officially changed my mind about the beauty of these tiny creatures. Included in the artist’s book are twelve aluminum beetles with stories from the author, as well as Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Darwin, Hans Christian Anderson, and Aesop. The book, bound in Cave Paper, was meant to mirror a research field guide. Perhaps one day I’ll have the courage to do my own research on insects. Until then, I think I’ll stick to examining and admiring them from afar with the help of Cooksey’s work. The book will certainly be an enchanting addition to the artists’ books collections.

Vamp and Tramp description

 

One Day · Un Día

By Alex Appella
San Antonio de Arredondo, Córdoba, Argentina: Alex Appella, 2018.

I am not a native Spanish speaker, but the language certainly carries an emotional connection to my roots and upbringing. Some of my earliest memories of Spanish, for example, originate from daily experiences with my grandparents. One Day · Un Día by Alex Appella utilizes bilingual text (Spanish, English) and a collage of family photographs to document the last day of her grandfather’s life and the last days of her mother’s life. By interweaving family and language, Alex Apella’s work recalled memories of my childhood with my grandparents – both living and passed. When I first arrived at Iowa, I had a difficult time locating bilingual, visual works in Spanish and English. Now, I hope that this work will supplement research, teachings, and emotional reunions. 

Vamp and Tramp description

 

Enumerations

By Stephanie Gibbs

Los Angeles: Stephanie Gibbs, 2018. 

As a humanities-focused graduate student, I rarely have the opportunity to truly explore the sciences. Mathematics, in particular, has never been my strongest point. Anyone else still count with their hands, or is it just me? Whether you are a science enthusiast or not, Enumerations by Stephanie Gibbs will allow you to consider the interesting intersections between the sciences and humanities. Designed within a clamshell box, the artist’s book includes different forms of memory and computing. A slide rule, memory diagram, diskettes, and Trigonometry screenprints are just a few of the interesting components. Enumerations also includes Ada Lovelace’s description of Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine. I’m incredibly excited to add another bookwork representing women in science to the collections.

Vamp and Tramp description 

 

Thank you to Margaret Gamm and Micaela Terronez for sharing this experience with us. 

Image of Arthur Bonfield

Discovering the Rich World of the Encyclopedia

Encyclopedias.

If you’re like me, then you haven’t really given them much thought. Growing up in pre-Google days, my family owned a 1988 set that was used and abused by my siblings and I, for both school reports and building forts, and they proved a go-to for school projects and reports in those early years of my education. However, I was more concerned about the information contained within these volumes that I never thought about these encyclopedias as an object in themselves. 

On February 13th, Iowa Bibliophiles will finally give you and me the chance to take a moment to appreciate the encyclopedia as an object. Professor Emeritus Arthur Bonfield will be giving his talk “Development of the Eighteenth Century English Encyclopedia or Dictionary of the Arts and Sciences,” exploring not only the history of the English encyclopedia, but also examining early Latin and French encyclopedias that preceded the 18th century English publications.

Image of Arthur Bonfield
Professor Arthur Bonfield among his collection.

Professor Emeritus Bonfield has been collecting rare books for over 60 years now. His collections includes over 1,000 original copies of books from early printing days, including volumes on exploration, geography, English literature and history, and of course encyclopedias. 

Encyclopedias might seem like an uncommon topic to collect, but as Rebecca Romney and J.P. Romeny explain in their book Printer’s Error: Irreverent Stories from Book History

“The ability to organize information and distribute it to the public is an incredibly powerful tool…to prioritize information is to control information. And to control information is to control people.” (Romeny 90)

Please join Special Collections and Iowa Bibliophiles on February 13th to hear a fascinating talk about something so many of us take for granted with Professor Bonfield. 

An image of ‘electricity’ found in an 18th C. English Encyclopedia

Event starts at 7pm in the Special Collection’s Reading Room (3rd floor of the Main Library), with refreshments served at 6:30pm. Find out more on our Facebook event or on the UI Event Calendar

A Special Goodbye from Hannah Hacker

My Favorite Things (a la Special Collections) by Hannah Hacker

For the past two and a half years, I have had the honor to work as a graduate assistant at the University of Iowa Special Collections. I am thrilled about graduating from my Library Science and Book Arts program this semester, and I am excited to see what adventures I’ll embark on next, but I will certainly miss my Special Collections family. I am thankful for the friends I have met here and the opportunities that I was given. I’m not the best at waxing emotional, so, instead, I will leave you all with my own little rendition of a classic, “My Favorite Things”:

 

Archival boxes
And sketches of spaceships
Bright crimson wax on some very aged papers
Gray Wonder boxes high on the shelves
These are a few of my favorite things

Cream-colored parchment and crisp comic pages
Dress swords and old maps
And Medieval doodles
Really small books with tiny wood-prints
These are a few of my favorite things

Kids in the classroom with handwritten letters
Red rot that stays on my shirts and nice sweaters
Staple-bound fanzines and pulp magazines
These are a few of my favorite things

When the day’s long
When the class is done
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad

 

Thanks to Hannah for the hard work, laughs, and pure librarian magic that you brought Special Collections!