Tag Archives: poetry

Read, Hot and Digitized: Get in the Midst for National Poetry Month

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this series, librarians from the Libraries’ Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship to encourage and inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.

A poem in its printed form can feel complete and final. What I have learned, though, about poetry as both a reader and writer is that it is never linear. I don’t usually read a book of poems from start to finish – I jump around the book, pull phrases here and there. Writing poetry is even more complicated. A poem may start on a scrap of paper or in the Notes app on my phone. I may rewrite it by hand, then type it out again on my laptop. Drafting is never done in one sitting.

While every writer has their own process, I suspect many poets will admit to a similarly messy approach to drafting. And what if you could witness that process in real time? Poet, artist, and UT MFA student Annelyse Gelman and her collaborator, software programmer Jason Gillis-Grier, seek to answer that question through their delightful new poetry journal Midst.

Midst, which launched its inaugural issue in December 2019, provides readers a time-lapse view of a poem’s drafting process. Readers can watch the entire process from start to finish, or move around the timeline by rewinding or fast-forwarding. Each version of the poem is time-stamped, demonstrating that poems do not just magically appear but rather are the product of weeks, or even months, of work. This peek into the lengthy process of editing is intentional. Gelman and Gillis-Grier state on the journal’s website that they hope that Midst will demystify poetry and make it more accessible by showing the reader the writing process.

An early draft of Jenny Qi’s “When This Is All Over” in the Midst time-lapse web player (top). Compare it to Qi’s final draft (bottom). The Midst web player allows you to move along the timeline of a poem’s drafting process, so you can compare early drafts to the final poem.

Gelman and Gillis-Grier have plans to expand the project with the Midst app, which will allow poets to capture their drafting process and then submit their time-lapse poem to the journal. Right now, featured writers are nominated and invited to submit versions, but with the app, they can open up the journal to a wider audience of writers and readers directly.

And Gelman and Gillis-Grier haven’t limited their creative poetry projects to just Midst. They also recently debuted the web app Relineator, in collaboration with UT English graduate student Zoe Bursztajn-Illingworth and the UT Digital Writing & Research Lab. Relineator allows poets and students to enter poems and see them reformatted with new line breaks.

A fun re-interpretation of William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow,” reformatted in the Relineator app.

April is National Poetry Month. While this year’s celebration is marked with a more somber tone due to the global pandemic, it also feels fitting to enjoy poetry from home through experimental, interactive projects like Midst and Relineator. If this has inspired you to further explore poetry, April is the best time of year to do it! Take a look at this curated selection of poetry ebooks on the UT Poetry Center’s guide. Once our print collections open again, you can find Annelyse Gelman’s book Everyone I Love is a Stranger to Someone and many other great collections of contemporary poetry at the Poetry Center’s physical location in the Perry-Castañeda Library.

Diverse Adaptations in Classical Literature

“Illuminating Explorations” – This series of digital exhibits is designed to promote and celebrate UT Libraries collections in small-scale form. The exhibits will highlight unique materials to elevate awareness of a broad range of content. “Illuminating Explorations” will be created and released over time, with the intent of encouraging use of featured and related items, both digital and analog, in support of new inquiries, discoveries, enjoyment and further exploration.

I’m excited to share these diverse adaptations of classical literature in our library collection, especially since they hold a special significance for me as a Latina who completed her undergraduate work in Latin and History here at UT Austin.

The study and teaching of Greek and Roman Classical Civilization has largely been a white and male tradition. As there are increasing calls for diversity in academia, Classics has made some strides, but largely from students and early career scholars, raising the questions about just who is Classics ‘for’?

Red Figure Kantharos, a large drinking vessel. In the style of the Penelope painter, classical period, mid 5th century BCE. From Homer’s The Odyssey, translated by Alexander Pope with art by Avery Lawrence.

A new online exhibit, “Diverse Adaptations in Classical Literature” showcases items from the UT Libraries collection of original classical Greek literature in translation and contemporary adaptations created by a more diverse authorship than usually discussed. UT Libraries contain a depth of diverse adaptations but showcased here are works of authors from Latinx & Latin American, African & African Diaspora, Asian-American and LGBTQ+ communities.

Variety of adaptation is also highlighted in the form of plays, novels, visual art and in a wide array of translations and scholarly approach. The collection and themes presented in this exhibit on diverse adaptations are intended to encourage those, especially people of color (POC) and LGBTQ+ folks, who may not have historically felt included in conversations related to classics or classical literature. For those already engaged in classics, they can see the evolution of translation studies and how classical antiquity draws parallels to the contemporary realities of diverse communities.

The Land of the Lotus Eaters, 1977, Collage of various papers with paint and graphite on fiberboard, 36 x 48 inches. From Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey.

These adaptations are fantastic in their own right but also showcase the illuminating perspectives and unique takes on classical literature. Everyone loves a good Simpsons take on the Odyssey, but there is something novel about reading an adaptation of Medea that includes culturally familiar dialogue of English mixed with border Spanish. These types of perspectives elevate the original work.

Production poster from Arizona State University MainStage production of The Hungry Woman: A Mexican Medea, directed by Dora Arreola, 2014.

In highlighting diverse publications, this exhibit also calls attention to the issue of diversity in the field of Classics itself. This showcase also challenges us to grapple with questions around structural issues such as the lack of retention of those from underrepresented backgrounds in the academy. It will take a combination of entities and systemic efforts to transform a field that historically does not include POC or LGBTQ+ scholarship. This exhibit asks us to redefine who Classics is ‘for’ by delving into how the ancient world has been received and recontextualized by diverse adaptations engaging with classical literature.  As such, it is but one effort to illustrate a fresh and more nuanced face of a field that is no longer just for an exclusive class, gender or color of people.

Home is Where the Art Is

The Tiger’s Eye

There’s a certain honorable quality of humility that is seemingly characteristic to bibliophiles.

The book, being inherently sacred as some see it, belongs to the world — especially those that are part of a library’s collections and meant to be shared across time. So when a former UT teaching fellow recently rediscovered a borrowed volume that he had inadvertently packed away during a move some 60 years ago, he did what any guilt-ridden lover of books would do: he returned it along with a confessional (see below).

Thus a partner volume to the bound collection of an abstract art journal came home again — be it on a slightly lengthened extension of the normal lending period.

The Tiger’s Eye — its title a clever reference to Blake’s masterwork — was an important abstract expressionist journal published for a two-year run from October 1947-October 1949. The format of the journal emphasized the artistic process with poetry, fiction, drawings and reproductions of works being directly accompanied by the artist’s writings, criticism and essays. Internationally distributed, the quarterly journal was printed in editions of 3,000-5,000, with full-color covers and quality heavyweight stock that featured the occasional color plate, making it one of the more urbane publications of the era.

The journal was published by painter John Stephan and his wife, poet Ruth Stephan, in whose name the Libraries also maintains the large collection of poetry volumes that compose the bulk of the University of Texas Poetry Center.

The publication was seen as important enough to the abstract expressionist movement that it warranted an entire book dedicated to its history, The Tiger’s Eye: The Art of a Magazine (Yale University Press, 2002) of by Pamela Franks the Yale University Art Gallery.

To the great benefit of present and future users of the Libraries, The Tiger’s Eye, Volume 1, Numbers 1-4 (1947-8) has now rejoined its companion Volume 1, Numbers 5-9 (1947-8) after over a half-century apart thanks to an unexpected act by devoted patron of the written word.

A Poet in the Science Library

“Backmasking” by Harold Whit Williams.

One wouldn’t necessarily expect to find a poet in the stacks of a science library, but then again, creativity often occurs in the least anticipated of places.

The Life Science Library boasts among its staff a prize-winning poet, as Library Specialist Harold Whit Williams has garnered praise for his work, which is both a catalog of his experience as a musician, and reflective of his southern heritage. His most recent collection of poems, Backmasking, earned Williams the 2013 Robert Phillips Chapman Poetry Chapbook Prize from Texas Review Press, and his poem “Blues Dreams,” received the 2014 Mississippi Review Poetry Prize.

In some ways, it would seem to make perfect sense that Williams would understand the finer points of cadence and pentameter  — he’s also the guitarist for notable Austin pop band Cotton Mather.

Williams’ first collection of poetry, Waiting For The Fire To Go Out, was published by Finishing Line Press, and his work has appeared in numerous literary journals.

Whit kindly indulged a line of questioning about his poetry, his music and his life at the Libraries. 

When did you start writing poetry? Was it an outcropping of your music?

Harold Whit Williams: I’ve been writing poetry off and on since college days, but started giving serious attention to it, and publishing, now for about seven years.

Strange, but poetry is a totally separate thing to me from songwriting. As a guitarist first, my songs, or the guitar parts I play in Cotton Mather, happen musically first. Then lyrics come later. But with poetry, it’s all wordplay from the get-go, and the musicality in the words themselves tend to direct where I go in a poem.

Does the inspiration for poetry and music come from the same place, even though the jumping off point is different? Or are they driven by different urges? 

HWW: Good question. What makes me plug in an electric guitar and make loud horrendous noise has to come from a much different urge than the one making me get to a quiet place, alone, to jot down a poem. Continue reading A Poet in the Science Library

Poet Adds His Voice

The Ruth Stephan Poetry Collection

On a steamy day in September, renowned poet and fiction writer Ken Fontenot welcomed Sean O’Bryan, Manager of Preservation and Gifts Processing at the UT Libraries, and I into his downstairs apartment. The walls in the living room and hallway were lined with bookshelves packed with brightly-colored poetry, poetry journals, writing guides, and stacks of chapbooks. This is a poet’s home, and Fontenot wants these bound words to feed our next generation of poets. Ken Fontenot received the Texas Institute of Letters Best Book of Poetry Award for his 2013 In a Kingdom of Birds (Pinyon Publishing), his second book of poetry; he has also published translations of German poetry and a novel. The poetry began when he attended a reading series at Tulane, his alma mater, and seemed more possible when he made his way to the Ruth Stephan Poetry Collection at The University of Texas at Austin Libraries.

In the 1980s Fontenot moved from his home in New Orleans to Austin and to UT where he would receive an MA in German Language and Literature. While here, he found himself at the Flawn Academic Center, in a room adjacent to what was then the Undergraduate Library, a room full of poetry. “You go on filling your jar of hope with yet more hope,” he wrote in A Kingdom of Birds. Ruth Stephan founded the Poetry Collection at UT Austin in 1965, and Fontenot realized amidst these books and poetry reading events that he was a poet. The influence of the Poetry Collection stayed with him.

Last year he decided he wants his collection to make poetry possible for other potential poets and readers. His donation will add hundreds of volumes and contributes to an ongoing revitalization of the Ruth Stephan Poetry Collection, now on the 6th floor of the Perry-Castañeda Library, in collaboration with the English Department and the New Writers Project. Ken Fontenot, along with the UT Libraries, hopes that the sweet cacophony of verse he has added to the Ruth Stephan Poetry Collection will feed you, poet. Revel in the work of Rosemary Catacalos, Kay Ryan, Cyrus Cassells, Ai, Louise Gluck, Naomi Shihab Nye, Mary Oliver, W. S. Merwin, Rita Dove, Billy Collins, and many more. You’ll see these titles added to the shelves over the next couple of months.

Fontenot’s fiction towers still in his apartment on other shelf-lined walls. These books, he says, he is keeping as he writes his second novel.

– Kristen Hogan, English Literature and Women’s and Gender Studies Librarian