The following blog comes from Olson Graduate Assistant Rich Dana, who interviewed Marvin Sackner on his collection of concrete and visual poetry.
Among the over 75,000 items in the newly-acquired Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry, there are many unique and one-of-a-kind art objects and artists’ books. Along with original artwork, there is an impressive collection of reference material, monographs, and other rare books. Among Dr. Sackner’s favorites is a little-known work written by the 19th-century American painter George Catlin with the alarming title, Shut Your Mouth and Save Your Life. Catlin’s book, first published in 1870, was one of the inspirations for the Sackner’s 1992 “Beauty in Breathing” exhibit.
Dr. Sackner recalls: “Catlin did all of the illustrations, and there is some very interesting typography in the book… on the last page, “Shut Your Mouth” is printed in very large type. When I was giving tours of the collection, sometimes I would show this book at the end of the tour, and say, “Now I’m going to shut MY mouth!”
Catlin, who is most famous for his many paintings of the indigenous people of the North American plains, penned Shut Your Mouth in response to what he observed as the superior health of the tribes among which he traveled. He came to the conclusion that the key to their vigor was their practice of breathing through the nose, and “…that breathing should be done as Nature designed it, through the nostrils, instead of through the mouth.” Although the book was criticized in medical journals at the time for its lack of scientific rigor and the popular press derided the author as “Indian-loving Catlin,” the little book sparked interest among health-conscious readers, and the volume was widely reprinted.
Despite some common terminology of the era that we may find cringe-worthy today, the book reflects Catlin’s deep passion for improving the health of people of all backgrounds, his profound respect for Native Americans, and in some cases, his sense of humor. The illustrations are sometimes comical and often satiric. To some degree, history has proven Catlin’s theory correct: mouth-breathing has been shown to cause health problems ranging from tooth decay to sleep problems – even abnormal jaw growth in children.
What can we learn today from Catlin’s passion for proper breathing and public health? As many of us are now spending our days working from home, the tendency may be to also be less physically active. Dr. Sackner, a retired pulmonologist, reminds us that during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is vitally important to protect our lungs. We need to maintain our immune systems by staying physically active, practicing good sleep hygiene, and avoiding smoking, vaping, and other harmful habits.
All images in this blog post come from a 4th edition of George Catlin’sShut Your Mouth and Save Your Life found on Internet Archive. See the full digital copy here.
The following blog comes from Olson Graduate Assistant Rich Dana who interviewed Marvin Sackner on his exhibit “The Beauty in Breathing.”
An exhibition of works from the newly acquiredRuth and Marvin Sackner Collection of Visual and Concrete Poetryat the Main Library Gallery is one of the countless art events that have been postponed due to the current global health crisis. In some respects, however, the Sackner Collection is more relevant now than ever.
Dr. Marvin Sackner is not only one of the world’s foremost collectors of artwork that combines visual elements and text, but he is also an internationally respected pulmonologist. The inventor of several medical devices designed to aid oxygen flow in patients, the 88-year-old former Head of Medicine at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Miami Beach is keeping a close eye on the epidemic and is currently completing a paper on potential alternative treatment strategies to address the ravaging effects of COVID-19 on the human respiratory system.
Visual poetry is, at its most basic level, the depiction of the sounds made by the air moving from our lungs and across our vocal cords. It’s not surprising then that breath is one of the common themes found in the Sackner’s vast collection of artists’ books, framed images, and 3D objects. In 1992, Dr. Sackner created a unique exhibition of work by an international selection of artists entitled “The Beauty in Breathing” as a special event at the annual meeting of The American Lung Association & American Thoracic Society. Some of the works were already part of the Sackner’s collection, but many were commissioned especially for the 3-day event.
“It was a scientific meeting,” recalls Sackner. “And in the middle of it, here is this exhibition. A lot of people got exposed to “art and poetry” for the first time. It was really great fun to observe them. A lot of doctors aren’t necessarily art-inclined, but here, over a thousand people got to see this exhibit over a three-day period.”
As we come to grips with the devastating effects of COVID-19 on individual lives and on society, Dr. Sackner’s life’s work illustrates the importance of scientific progress and the discovery of new, life-saving treatments. His passion for art reminds us that despite hardship, we must continue to value creative expression, which is such a large part of how we process both the beautiful and terrible in the world around us.
The works included in “The Beauty in Breathing” show, along with copies of the exhibit catalog, original photographs from the event, and Dr. Sackner’s curatorial records are all part of his donation to the University of Iowa’s Special Collections. Until visitors are once again able to visit our reading room, we will do everything we can to share these materials with the public.
Today is April 8th, 2020, the day we were supposed to gather for the last Iowa Bibliophiles of the academic year. The plan: come together, eat some tasty snacks, and explore some of the highlights from our collection with the help of our wonderful student workers. Our students had selected manuscripts, books, and more, researched them, and planned to present the information at their own “viewing station” for anyone interested.
That’s how it was supposed to go. However, as all of us have experienced in the last few weeks, plans had to change. The world threw us an unexpected twist, and to protect our family, friends, and community, we cancelled this event.
Yet, the students had picked some interesting collection material, and it would be a shame not to find a way to share them with you. While we cannot meet in person, perhaps this blog can provide some of the entertainment and education we are seeking at this time. Below are a few items described by our hardworking students, a virtual Iowa Bibliophiles if you will. We hope you enjoy.
Star Trek Fandom with Zoë Webb
The Mary Jennara Wenk Star Trek Collection (MsC1031) was originally acquired in 2015 as part of the continuing efforts to collect and preserve pop culture and fandom material. Because we have many new collections, the donor of the L. Falcon Media Fandom Collection gave the library a very generous gift to allow a student (it’s me, Zoë Webb) more time to focus on processing a number of newly acquired fandom collections, including the Wenk Collection.
Mary Jennara Wenk was an active member of the Star Trek and Star Wars fan communities of the 1970s and 1980s, attending conventions, collecting fan art, and engaging in lively correspondence with other fans, as well as creating award-winning content for fanzines. This collection reflects her active lifestyle, containing a number of Star Trek zines, a sizable stack of fan art (including a painting done by author Hal Clement), correspondence, convention material, and an impressive collection of 3D objects—notably including some ears worn by Leonard Nimoy on the set of Star Trek. There are many quality items in this collection, but my personal favorites are the handmade dolls, the Starfleet Academy Class Rings, and, of course, Spock’s ears.
Both the Andorian girl (right) and the Vulcan child (left) were made by Devra Langsam, co-editor of Spockanalia, the very first all-Star Trek zine ever published, and apparently an excellent crafter. The doll version of Spock’s Vulcan father, Sarek (center), was made by a mystery artist in the 1970s. The Andorian girl is perhaps my favorite of the three, with her little pipe cleaner antennae, the pearl-decked gold bikini, and her adorable yarn braids.
The Starfleet Academy Class Rings (Class of ’66 and ’67) were commissioned by an unknown genius of a fan, and was legitimately made by Jostens, the company that still has a monopoly on class rings. The 14k rings depict the Starfleet Command insignia on top, the Academy’s official emblem with the Golden Gate Bridge, and the flag of the United Federation of Planets. I never bought a class ring in high school because they were absurdly expensive, but would I have bought this and worn it in public on a normal day? Yes.
Of course, we can’t talk about this collection without mentioning Spock’s ears. Leonard Nimoy went through dozens of these flimsy foam ears, held on by glue and coated in makeup, melting under the hot lights of the set. Everyone was terribly excited to see them, but during the initial unboxing of the collection, to everyone’s horror, the ears were nowhere to be found. They re-boxed and re-un-boxed the collection several times before someone thought to look in the plastic Barbie purse which, in hindsight, did seem like a very incongruous part of the collection. Now the ears are housed in a sky blue bespoke box with a secret drawer underneath for their original home, the Barbie purse.
The Beauty of Handwritten Cookbooks with Diane Ray
I really admire everyday items that are well made and functional, but also beautiful in a way that enhances use without interfering with functionality. Well-crafted wood furniture comes to mind, or mosaic floors. After looking for items to highlight for Bibliophiles, I have a new item to add to that list—cookbook manuscripts!
This 1818 cookbook from East Hartford shows that the writer was intentionally enhancing the titles, as many of them are unfinished. A few show the writers intent, with flourishing capitals and dark, filled in
letters. However most simply start with the second letter, lightly sketched, as though the author never got around to finishing. I think that’s something most of us can relate to.
The book is only 6 1/4 x 4 inches, bound in marbled paper-covered boards. There is not a lot of information given about the author of this cookbook, and the recipes are in a few different hands, suggesting multiple contributors, maybe from the same family. The last person to write in it gives us a clue of origin, as they write after their last entry “East Hartford, July 29, 1818.”
This is an American cookbook from 1759, written in a style of handwriting that calls to mind cobbled streets, buckle shoes and pewter shops. Similar to the other recipe books from this era in our collection, rather than listing ingredients with detailed instructions as one expects today, the writer assumes a certain level of base knowledge of cooking in a colonial kitchen. Details for preparation are given in a rather conversational tone, as if they were in your kitchen talking you through it.
We presume it is American because at one point it mentions the purchase of “Indian meal and corn”. There are clues to ownership with inscriptions in the beginning and end of the book “M. Ragen” & “From M. Regan to Hannah Wade.”, respectively. Other recipes include: To preserrve Quinces white; To make Marmalad of Orenges; To make Raspberry Cakes, To make Marmalad of Abricots; the best kind of perfuming Cakes to Burne; The Ordinary Sort of perfuming Cakes; and To make Puff & Past, very double & good”
Emma Cornelius Ricketson’s cookbook has the nicest cover of the three cookbook manuscripts mentioned, with the presumed writer’s name “Emma C. Ricketson’’ embossed in gold on the cover. Said author also took the most care to insure proper inheritance, which is spelled on the first page: “Published by Wm. K. Tallman to whom it is willed in case he outlives the above Emma Cornelia. But in case the said Emma Cornela outlives the Publisher then it is to pass over to Abby Y. Gherman provided however she outlives the 2 aforementioned.” Special Collections, while not listed, is proud to take their place in what was surely a distinguished line of previous owners.
Similar to the previous cookbooks, these recipes do not offer extensive instruction. In fact, it often simply lists the ingredients and trusts the reader knows how to do the rest.
Dated 1862 and labeled as being from New Bedford, the recipes are broken into categories such as “Meats,” “Breakfast and Tea,” “Sauces,” “Puddings,” “Pies, Desserts, Jellies, Gingerbread Cookes, Etc.,” “Cake,” “Wines,” and “Miscellaneous,” which includes recipes for such things as cologne, pomade, hair tonic, and to perfume sick rooms (A few drops of oil of sandalwood dropped onto a hot shovel in case you were interested)
An Introduction to the Archival Manuscripts Collection of Chinese Writers with Shu Wan
I feel delighted to introduce the rare Chinese-language collection, Manuscripts of Chinese Writers held in Special Collections & University Archives. Growing up in a family with the tradition of bookworms, I have been passionate about reading literary works since my childhood. Chinese writer Wang Meng’s novels, journalist Xu Chi‘s non-fiction books, and poet Can Xue’s poems were my “pillow books” (Zhen Bian Du Wu). This Chinese phrase refers to the books placed under someone’s pillow, which enables them to read those books for convenience before falling asleep. So, when I found the rare Chinese-language collection containing those writers’ manuscripts, I felt excited to introduce them to my American friends and patrons. As a graduate student working in Special Collections & University Archives, I was given the opportunity to touch those manuscripts in the Chinese Writers’ Collection.
The history of this rare Chinese-language collection can be traced back to the early 1990s. The first Chinese reference librarian in the UI Libraries, Dr. Peter Xinping Zhou, was engaged in the creation of this collection. According to his memoir, “in October 1991, the University of Iowa Libraries authorized the creation of a Chinese writers’ special collection consisting of the complete works and selected manuscripts authored by Chinese writers who have participated in the International Writing Program or the Iowa Writers’ Workshops.” (Peter X. Zhou, “Chinese Writers in Iowa.” Books at Iowa, no.58, 1993, p. 6. https://doi.org/10.17077/0006-7474.1229) Thanks to Dr. Zhou’s efforts in contacting those Chinese writers and seeking the donation of their manuscripts, we can now read them in the reading room of the UI Special Collections.
The most interesting discovery, which I took when processing the manuscripts in the collection, is the new lens to look at the Chinese feminist writer Ting Ling. Different from the impression I took from reading her books, I found a very “personal” face of Ting Ling. As seen in the following photocopy of Ting Ling’s letter to Hualing Nieh Engle in 1980, in its end, she wrote, “let me shake your hand closely again. ” She is so passionate and emotional!
Although the lack of knowledge in the Chinese language may hinder local readers’ exploration of this collection, they may take opportunities to read and grasp those manuscripts very soon. The librarians, archivists, and student workers in the library are working on selectively translating these literary works. For example, I am engaged in establishing a bilingual linked-data database. The initial outcome of this project will be presented in the 2020 LD4 Conference on Linked Data in Libraries in Dallas this summer. Moreover, another in-progress project of an annotated bibliography of those literary works in the collection will be posted online late this summer.
The following is written by Rich Dana, Olson Graduate Research Assistant for Special Collections.
As librarians, we are engaged in service to our communities, and that service doesn’t end when the library has to lock its doors to protect its patrons and workers. All of us are faced now with leveraging any tools at our disposal to serve those who need to continue teaching, learning, researching, creating and maintaining some continuity in their lives during the “social distancing” of the current moment.
I was sitting in a comfortable weekend rental apartment above Rago’s Funeral home in Chicago (famous as the location of Al Capones wake) with my family when the reality of the situation really set in. The Art Institute was closing. Concerts were canceled. Visiting a nearly empty Quimby’s bookstore, manager Liz Mason and I discussed the cancellations of all upcoming zine fests, art book and small press events. It occurred to me that zine-makers would be dealing with the quarantine as they do many of life’s struggles; by making zines about it. Liz threw out a title for such efforts, calling them “quaranzines.”
That afternoon I set up a Facebook group as a hub place for collaboration and as a collection point for these quaranzines. By the time I got back to Iowa the next day, cities across the nation were implementing “shelter in place” orders, and well over 200 people had joined the Covid-19 zine group.
Members hail from all over the world, reporting on what they are seeing and making, sharing their work. Marc Fischer from Chicago prints a 2-page issue of Quaranzine every day, posting them on light poles and bus stops around the neighborhood. Ashley Thuthao Keng Dam in Siem Reap, Cambodia is asking for people to send artwork and writing for her first issue of QuaranZINE. She is working on it despite the high temperatures and the lack of air conditioning caused by power outages in the village. As I prepare the first issue of my own quaranzine, Dri-Koff Weekly, another zine arrives in my mailbox. 5 Ways to Keep Busy (when you can’t leave the house) by Kelly Wooten in Chapel Hill.
We all hope that quaranzines are a thing of the past soon. Until then- I’ve got another issue to put out.
The Social Distancing Festival
Submissions are open to all, though the organizer is currently prioritizing work that was cancelled/disrupted/delayed due to the need for social distancing and COVID-19.
Flatland Press invites you to submit pieces for Flat Space, a publication that will be created around this period of social distancing.Present themes orbiting around forms of communication, shorten the distance between us, and antiquated tech/dead tech.
Please submit ideas, images, writings at Flatlandspress@gmail.com
Please add: Flat Space to subject headings.
THE SPACE BETWEEN: a free PDF coloring/activity book by PS1 & friends
Local Iowa City group, Public Space One brings you Space Between: The PS1 & Friends (never ending) activity book (vol. 2 could be with you!)
A viral safe-space for your zines!
Quaranzine Fest is simple. Post your work on the platform of your choice April 4th and 5th tagged #quaranzinefest. There’s more info on their website including a funny / awkward tutorial on how to digitize your analog zine with an iPhone!
On April 4th and 5th like, comment, and share the work of others! Be a good samaritan – do more than just browse and passively like. If you can afford it, mail order some zines – after all it’s a zinefest!
A Daily Riso zine by Marc Fischer is open to publishing work by others:
Copies are posted in public places in his neighborhood in Chicago, left in some Little Free Libraries in the area, shared online on social media, and distributed more formally eventually when it’s safe for people to get together in groups. Get in touch if you are interested.
From Ashley Thuthao Keng Dam:
If you are fortunate enough to be in (self) quarantine, I would like to create a zine, aptly titled, “QuaranZINE”. In this work, I aim to collectively publish short writing pieces, poems, art, rants, and almost anything that is produced during quarantine.
For more information please contact email@example.com with the subject heading: QuaranZINE.
A one page mimeograph zine available by mail, or as a print-and-fold pdf. Coming out weekly until this is over. Art, writing, comics, helpful hints and observations about living and staying sane during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Send submissions or requests for copies to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Downloads available soon.
Social Distance Quara-zine! Collective zine-making in the age of Covid-19 Facebook Group
Social Distance Quara-zine is an online zinefest. The world was a lonely enough place before, and now this. While we are all in lock-down mode, maybe we can find a way to get together via pictures and words, to share ideas, make communal art and survive the madness together (while staying at least 3 meters apart.)
Want to learn more about zines, zine-making or the zine collections at the University of Iowa? Check out:
Through some great research, our University Archivist David McCartney discovers some of the “unknown” facts that are part of new UI Presidential Portrait Gallery in the Main Library, as he explains below.
When the UI Presidential Portrait Gallery was formally dedicated late last year, staff in Special Collections responsible for this display knew that there were still some ‘gaps’ in some of the portraits’ stories. For example, labels accompanying some of the displayed portraits note that the artist is unknown. But as we continue to learn more of the history of this collection and how it came into being, we update and correct our records – and labels – as needed.
The George Thacher portrait is a case in point. Thacher (1817-1878) was the University’s fifth president, serving from 1871 to 1877. His portrait is an oil-on-canvas, dark in tone and realistic, a style appropriate for the late nineteenth century. The artist’s name was somehow lost in the records as the portrait, along with others in the collection, moved from one campus location to another for nearly a century, until settling in the Main Library.
Well, now we can fill in this gap. Recently, a closer examination of the portrait revealed a nearly-obscured name in the lower left corner: “E.D. Hale.” The signature is difficult but not impossible to ascertain. From this, we were able to confirm via an internet search that the artist was Ellen Day Hale (1855-1940). Our sources for this include the Smithsonian Archives of American Art and an entry on American Gallery online.
for training in the last quarter of the 19th century. She is best known for her Impressionist figure studies. Hale, the only daughter of the noted orator and author Edward Everett Hale and Emily Baldwin Perkins, came from a family filled with notable figures. Her great-great-uncle Nathan Hale was a Revolutionary War patriot; her great-aunt Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin; and her brother Philip and his wife Lilian Westcott Hale were also professional painters.”
The Boston Art Club was the setting for the first exhibition of her work in 1876. Because both she and George Thacher were from New England, we can speculate that the portrait was completed during the last one or two years of his life, after he left Iowa to return to the northeast to be close to family in light of illness. Hale was perhaps in her early twenties when she completed the portrait, likely one of the first works of a long and distinguished career. She was also the first woman to produce a presidential portrait for the university.
In the darkness of these Midwest winter months, a new exhibit comes to our reading room to shed light on nine nearly forgotten Iowa women writers.
Lanterns in Their Hands: Nine Nearly Forgotten Iowa Women Writers was curated by Processing Coordinator, Jacque Roethler. The exhibit examines nine women writers whose names may have faded with time, but whose work continues to resonate with readers today. While a majority of the exhibit features the books written by these women, there are also manuscripts, photographs, end paper design, periodical appearances, and a few other ephemera pieces that accompany a brief biography written by Roethler.
Retiring this February, this exhibit is Roethler’s encore to showcase some of her favorite material found in Special Collections.
“What got me to the idea of doing an exhibit on nearly-forgotten Iowa women writers,” explained Roethler, ” was the book, The Plough on the Hills by Merriam Gearhart. I came across it in the Iowa Authors section one day. Here was a woman who lived in Iowa all her life and she created these poems, not sublime, but beautiful in their own right. And I, who had lived most of my life in Iowa, and majored in English here, had never heard of her. And I thought, ‘How sad that she’s sliding into oblivion.’ I remembered seeing books by Grace Hebard and Mary Winchell, and I hadn’t heard of them, either. I started looking and there were others like her. Women like Amy Clampitt, who worked in New York all her life, most of it in the publishing industry when suddenly, when she was 63, people began to take notice of her. She became popular – she had many poems in the New Yorker, which is the top of the heap. Then she was gone, and I hadn’t heard of her either. In fact, the only Iowa woman writer I knew about before coming to work in Special Collections was Ruth Suckow.”
As Roethler mentioned above, she was an English major here at the University of Iowa, which might explain why she has consistently been drawn to the papers of authors and poets while working here in Special Collections. Before getting to Special Collections, however, she worked at the University of Iowa’s hospital cafeteria, served as a the secretary for the African American studies department for ten years, and after getting her master’s in Library and Information Science in 1995, started working for the UI Libraries in the serials department and math library before finally coming to Special Collections. While Roethler has worked diligently on large collections like the Gallup Organization’s records and the Ken Friedman papers, some of her favorite collections to process have been those of authors like Lewis Turco, who wrote The Book of Forms, or John Gawsworth whose Georgian poetry, according to Roethler, wasn’t appreciated in his time. Working on these collections and completing their finding aids has clearly helped hone Roethler’s ability to find the remarkable in the often overlooked.
“I found so many things when I put the exhibit together,” explained Roethler. “The fact that Bess Streeter Aldrich had won an O Henry Prize; that three of Dorothy Johnson’s short stories had been turned into films, all of which I HAD heard of… that straight-laced Octave Thanet may have had a lesbian relationship with her long-time companion; that Josephine Herbst knew Hemingway well enough to write the extraordinary letter that appears in the exhibit and that that letter is probably to Katherine Ann Porter, with whom Herbst was very close; that Eleanor Saltzman died in a sanitarium operated by her cousin.” The fascinating stories of these women go on and on.
For Roethler, she wants people to know that this exhibit is just the tip of the iceberg. Narrowing down to just nine writers was a difficult task, having to exclude Susan Glaspell, Katinka Loesser, Actea Duncan, and so many more.
“I want people to seek out these writers–to help them not slide into oblivion,” stated Roethler. “I think that’s one of the main jobs of any Special Collections.”
The following comes from Olson Graduate Assistant Rich Dana
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.
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.
Selections from the Sackner Collection: The Association for Study of Arts Materials
Written by Diane Dias De Fazio, Curator of Rare Books & Book Arts
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, theASA (journal) and ASA Group exhibition catalogs (1969–1973).
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 (seeTypography) 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!
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.
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
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.
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.