Category Archives: Poetry

Small press hero image.

Discovering the Texas Small Press

Ask A Librarian GRA Mitch Cota curated an exciting exhibit for the PCL Scholars Commons and Poetry Center called “Lone Star ImPRESSions: A History of Small Press in Texas.” This exhibit is the fruit of many months’ labor and the culmination of Mitch’s iSchool Capstone project, and features books published by small presses in Austin, Houston and San Antonio.

When I began my degree in information studies, one of the many reasons that drove my decision was the tension between libraries and the corporate publishing and copyright model. I do not believe that anyone really enjoys having materials chosen for them or having materials withheld from them while pursuing research and education. While literature has its own unique set of complications between authors rights and non-traditional content, it too is affected by this tension. My project to examine small press was an exploration into the individuals who are fighting for the right to publish content they view as valuable and different. Texas small press is born out of a denial by large publishing houses to acknowledge underrepresented voices and content that defies easy categorization.

Lone Star imPRESSions: A History of Small Press in Texas

We are getting ahead of ourselves though. Small press is a term that often inspires a multitude of definitions in everyone’s mind. For the exhibit, small press was defined as a press that is truly home grown. Some of these presses began in Texas, while others started somewhere else and now call Texas home. There are presses in the exhibit with a more historical presence and others that have begun in the last five years. They all share one core goal, to publish content that is different and voices they believe deserve to be heard.

Group discussion at Slough Press.

Historically, presses like Wings, Thorp Springs, and Slough were created in an effort to publish content that each saw as pushing against the large publishing house model. Many of the materials utilized in the research of the exhibit are located right here on campus. The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History has a portion of the archival collection of Joanne Whitebird, the original owner of Wings press. The Harry Ransom Center has the entire archival collection of Thorp Springs press. While Slough and Wings are still currently publishing work, Thorp Springs has now gone defunct with the loss of their original creator and editor John Paul Foreman. Each of these presses were created in order to publish specific work, whether that be female authors, Southwest/Texas authors, or authors of color. The small presses of today have broadened their approach to include voices from queer and trans authors. Without someone focusing on producing this type of content, there would be far less work to represent these different communities.

Wings press books.

The PCL collections serve to preserve these materials for generations to come. One of the largest hurdles small publishing faces are financial constraints. In conducting interviews and combing through archives, I found that many of the papers and materials from different presses were never preserved. Work was lost in time. The University of Texas Poetry Center and the general collection here at the PCL now serve as a medium to protect these small presses from fading into history. Not only do these materials represent unique voices, they also serve our students in critical theory research in literature. Whether they are looking through a historic, feminist, racial, or queer lens, these collections here at the PCL serve to not only preserve the presses, but provide examples for beliefs and ideologies of the times in which they are situated.

The exhibit — Lone Star imPRESSions: A History of Small Press in Texas — also examines different authors situated throughout the history of small press. One of these authors, a poet actually, worked right here at the PCL and has work that speaks to his time while employed here. Some voices like Jim Trainer and Andrew Hilbert represent fresh voices from today who refuse to play by the rules. A few of these authors own their own small presses while publishing their work through other small presses. The content produced by authors and presses alike includes multiple different genres, mediums, and formats. Many of the items are handcrafted with hand sewn bindings. When you purchase an item from a small press, you are getting an item that is one of a kind.

Lone Star imPRESSions: A History of Small Press in Texas

So, come visit! The exhibit has been extended into January, and we have items in both the Scholars Commons and University of Texas Poetry Center.

Besides what is on display, there are items in the PCL collection to read and check out. I have also taken the liberty of producing an exhibit catalog that has a more extensive examination of each press and author. One of the other great services this exhibit provides is a link in the catalog to each small press that is accepting open submissions. Students and faculty looking to publish work can review each press and see which one would best suit the content they have to offer.

Texas small press is home grown from the sweat and tears of the hard-working editors that believed in the content they were producing. Come visit the PCL and see the fruits of their hard work, support small press but furthermore support the idea that large publishing houses do not have the right to choose content for everyone.

 

 

 

Read Like A Librarian: Staff Poetry Recommendations

Sarah Brandt, Librarian for First-Year Programs, shows off her selection (including the creepy illustrations), The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe from 1945.
Sarah Brandt, Librarian for First-Year Programs, shows off her selection (including the creepy illustrations), The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe from 1945.

Poetry can be intimidating – it can be vague, filled with too many metaphors, caught up in form. We’ve tried to de-mystify poetry with our latest display at the UT Poetry Center, Read Like A Librarian: Staff Poetry Recommendations. Library staff found a great range of selections, including 19th century classics by Edgar Allan Poe and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and recently published volumes by poets like Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Peter Macuck.

Here’s a selection of staff recommendations and what they had to say about these books:

Fat Girl Finishing School by Rachel Wiley
Selected by Stephanie Lopez, Weekend & Evening Desk Supervisor

“Fat Girl Finishing School pulled me in with its cheeky cover, and once I started reading I was hooked! Wiley’s words are so powerful and thought-provoking that I found myself looking around to see if anyone else felt the earth shift under them. Before long, I was chasing down everyone I saw so that they, too, could read the words that caused such a visceral reaction in me. Do yourself and favor and read this. Your heart will thank you.”

Aurora Leigh by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Selected by Sarah Morris, Learning & Assessment Librarian

“Barrett Browning is best known for two things: Marrying Robert Browning and writing Sonnets from the Portuguese. But she’s also the author of Aurora Leigh, a feminist epic that explores issues of class, gender, art, and the challenges women face in finding opportunities for work, and respect for their work, in a restrictive society. Groundbreaking at the time, it’s still a great read today.”

Come visit the UT Poetry Center in PCL 2.500 to see more staff picks and read the books in person!

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