Tag Archives: poetry

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

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