Melissa Watterworth Batt

About Melissa Watterworth Batt

Archivist for Literary Manuscripts, Natural History Collections and Rare Books Collections, Archives and Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut Libraries

Michael Rumaker, 1932-2019

Author and Black Mountain College alumnus Michael Rumaker — writer of fiction, poetry, short stories, non-fiction and memoir — passed away on June 3, 2019.

Michael Rumaker was born in South Philadelphia to Michael Joseph and Winifred Marvel Rumaker, the fourth of nine children. He spent his first seven months in the Preston Retreat charity ward, too sickly to be brought home, while his mother helped pay for her keep and his birth by peeling potatoes in the hospital’s kitchen. He grew up in National Park, New Jersey, a small town on the Delaware River, and later attended the school of journalism at Rider College in Trenton on a half-scholarship. After hearing artist Ben Shahn speak enthusiastically of Black Mountain College during a lecture at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, he applied to the college and was granted a work scholarship. In September 1952 he transferred to Black Mountain–washing dishes seven days a week, managing dishwashing crews, and taking care of the kitchen his first year–and studied in the writing classes of Charles Olson and Robert Creeley. While at Black Mountain College he produced three stacks of manuscripts, each a foot high, which he kept hidden on a top shelf.

His breakthrough was “The Truck,” written for Olson’s writing class in October 1954: “after two years of confused false starts and superficial scratchings, I wrote my first real short story, although, in what was to become usual for me, I didn’t know it till after the fact.” He had “reached back,” by his own account, into his adolescence in the mid-1940s and a street gang he knew in the northern section of Camden, New Jersey, “to get it.” Olson’s response was enthusiastic, and he suggested that Rumaker send the story to Robert Creeley for the Black Mountain Review, which he published.

In September 1955 Rumaker graduated from Black Mountain with an honors degree ( Robert Duncan was his outside examiner)–one of only two or three students to have graduated from the college in its final years. After graduation, he lived in Philadelphia for a year, working in an advertising agency during the day and writing stories at night (“Black Mountain College,” he wrote, “had prepared me for nothing but my destiny”). In October 1956, he quit his job at the agency and hitchhiked the three thousand miles to San Francisco, where he worked as a clerk for a steamship company, again writing in his spare time while staying with former Black Mountain friends there, on hand for the energies shortly to be recognized as those of the Beat Generation. He describes these days vividly in “Robert Duncan in San Francisco,” part of his memoir of a literary life in progress.

He returned to New York in April 1958, suffered a breakdown some six months later, and was hospitalized, first at Bellevue and then at Rockland State just north of New York City, until August 1960. His first contract, then–four stories for Scribners’ Short Story 2 anthology–was signed in a mental institution. Since recovery he continued to live in Rockland County.

Rumaker received an M.F.A. in creative writing from Columbia University in 1969 and taught writing at the New School for Social Research, City College of New York, the State University of New York at Buffalo, and Rockland Center for the Arts.

Beginning in the 1970s, Rumaker began publishing memoirs and poems as well as fiction, often using a first-person narrator. His principal subject was gay life in the novels A Day and A Night at the Baths and My First Satyrnalia, the memoir Robert Duncan in San Francisco, and the poem “The Fairies Are Dancing All Over the World,” originally published in the periodical Gay Sunshine (1975) and later included in the 2005 release Pizza: Selected Poems

According to George Butterick, who began reading and collecting Michael Rumaker’s literary papers at the University of Connecticut in 1974, “Rumaker proceeded from writing about disengaged youth in a generation willing to declare its difference, to being a celebrant of total life and human joy. Actively participating in his own destiny, he has left a glowing trail of work to document the struggle toward identity. He represents, in his later writings, one extension of the Beat revolution: the embracing of sexual diversity. Governing all his work is an indefatigable spirit that gives the creative life reward.”

The Michael Rumaker Papers, assembled by Rumaker, contains his literary manuscripts, letters, notebooks, diaries, photographs, audio recordings and periodicals documenting his life, writing, activism, friendships, and literary affinities from 1950 to 2015.

Rumaker was a friend, supporter and collaborator to archivists and staff at the University of Connecticut over the years. We send our condolences to Rumaker’s friends and family. Read more on the website of The South Jersey Times.

“Thinking with my hands” in the Archive: Second Generation New York School Gems

 

Currently a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Literature, Media and Communication at Georgia Institute of Technology, Dr. Nick Sturm is an Atlanta-based poet and scholar. His poems, collaborations, and essays have appeared in The Brooklyn RailPENBlack Warrior Review, The Best American Nonrequired Reading, and elsewhere. His scholarly and archival work on the New York School of poets can be traced at his blog Crystal Set. He was awarded a Strochlitz Travel Grant in 2018 to conduct research in the literary collections, including the Notley, Berrigan, and Berkson Papers, that reside in Archives and Special Collections.

 

In my first-year writing course at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta where I teach as a Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow, my students are reading books by Second Generation New York School poets to critique and creatively reimagine concepts of youth, coming-of-age narratives, and the overlap between do-it-yourself and avant-garde aesthetics. We already read Joe Brainard’s I Remember and Ted Berrigan’s The Sonnets, two versions of youth, memory, and selfhood constructed by male poets of the New York School, and were beginning to read Alice Notley’s Mysteries of Small Houses (1998) to extend this intertextual conversation about youth through the perspective of a female poet. While re-reading Mysteries, a book of autobiographical poems that tracks Notley’s “I” through the prismatic complexities of life and writing, I returned to her poem “Waveland (Back in Chicago)” in which Notley, challenged by the responsibilities and strictures of living inside concepts like motherhood and femininity in the mid-’70s, describes her process of collage-making, a practice Notley continues to be devoted to.

Frozen collection of world—this is “art” I don’t

write much poetry;

I’m thinking with my hands—a ploy against fear—

I have a pile of garbage on the floor

 

The poem then catalogs a series of collages with titles like “WATERMASTER” and “DEFIES YOU THE RHYTHMIC FRAME,” and also describes a collage composed of “a photo of a stripper I’ve named / Barney surrounded by cutout words she / dances to poetry.” Reading these lines, I remembered that I had actually just seen this collage in Notley’s papers at the University of Connecticut. Among a couple dozen collages by Notley, there was Barney herself, headless, cape trailing behind her, walking across a fragment of moon. After discussing this poem in class, I was able to show my students the collage to talk about how seeing an example of Notley’s visual art helped us think about her critiques of femininity, motherhood, and aesthetics. Students were surprised that I had such an example to show them—what had seemed like a passing reference in a poem suddenly become material. They immediately started to describe the effects of juxtaposing the collage’s title “2 Nursery Rhymes” with the presence of a nearly-nude woman. They asked what it might mean for Notley to be a “brilliant mother” in association with the mythological feminine connotations of the moon. And they noted how the epistolary gesture that opens the collage’s text, “hi Carlos Dear Henry,” resonated with Berrigan’s The Sonnets, which is riddled with salutations like “Dear Marge,” “Dear Chris,” and “Dear Ron.” Seeing Notley’s collage projected in front of them, pairing the material evidence of the poem’s description with a conversation about how the visual medium supplemented their reading of the text, students said they felt a different connection to the poem, to Notley’s work, and to our entire discussion that day.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without my recent visit to the archives at the University of Connecticut. Thanks to the generosity of a Rose and Sigmund Strochlitz Travel Grant, I spent a week in the papers of poets and artists like Notley, Ted Berrigan, Bill Berkson, and Ed Sanders, among others, reading voluminous correspondence with Joe Brainard, Anne Waldman, Bernadette Mayer, Lewis Warsh, Ron Padgett, and a litany of other Second Generation New York School writers. Well-known for its Charles Olson Research Collection, the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center is also home to a wealth of materials associated with the New York School and is a necessary destination for any scholar of 20th century American poetry. And though a week of nonstop work in the archive allowed me to read and assess a lot of material, the sheer amount of New York School material stored at UConn, much of which has only barely begun to be utilized by scholars, meant that I was inevitably rushing through stacks of papers, quickly unfolding and refolding letters, swiftly scanning folder titles, and scratching my own nearly incomprehensible notes in a frenzied, focused attempt to see and catalog as much as possible before having to return to Atlanta. Like Notley’s description of collage-making in Mysteries, the archive is a place where I’m also “thinking with my hands” as I arrange, photograph, and order material in “a ploy against [the] fear” of overlooking or not knowing the full extent of what’s present in the archive. Every piece of material, like in Notley’s collage, is necessary and meaningful. This is how “a pile of garbage” becomes both art and scholarship. Starting with what you touch, a life and intelligence are animated.

Notley wasn’t the only poet whose visual artwork is held at the University of Connecticut. Take this incredible poster-size collage “Blues Bombard” (1965) by Ron Padgett with the poet’s thick, elegant cursive painted over sliced fragments of sheet music that frame a photo booth portrait of Padgett, face half-obscured, cool, and mysterious. It’s rare to find visual artwork by Padgett that isn’t a collaboration with friends like Brainard or George Schneeman, and this piece is particularly astounding both for its size and the quick, pleasing, and humorous visual narrative that follows from the newspaper clipping-title, down across the rhyming and chiding main text ”more than likely this stinks greatly,” the arrows and question marks that logically and quizzically suggest a set of correspondences, the appearance of the artist mid-gesture, and the small, humorous, non sequitur conclusion “a hole in one. THE END.” It’s a lovely piece, and entirely Padgett in its cartoonish wit and simplicity.

I was also interested to work in Ed Sanders’s papers at UConn, which includes a wealth of material from the Peace Eye Bookstore, the infamous “secret location on the lower east side” where Sanders’s mimeograph magazine Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts was published from 1962-65 until the store was raided by the NYPD on obscenity charges. Incredibly enough, the collection includes both a handwritten note from 1964 instructing Sanders to call an FBI agent and Sanders’s January 1965 mugshot following his arrest. After Sanders defeated the charges against him, Peace Eye temporarily reopened in 1967 with a Fuck You-style gala event auctioning off “literary relics & ejeculata from the culture of the Lower East Side.” The collection includes the handwritten notecards Sanders used to identify the various items for sale in the auction, like an “iron used by rising young poets to iron the buns of W.H. Auden during the years 1952-1966,” “Allen Ginsberg’s Cold Cream Jars,” and a letter—likely in protest—from Marianne Moore to Sanders in response to receiving a copy of Fuck You in the mail. Some of the material actually confiscated by the NYPD in the raid of the bookstore is in the collection as well, with the police evidence identification slips still attached, like a copy of a Joe Brainard drawing described by police as “Blue colored Headless Superman drawing with private parts exposed.”

Among collages and obscenity charges, the New York School material at UConn also runs parallel to and benefits from the archive’s already well-known collections of Frank O’Hara and Charles Olson papers. The resonance of these collections is embodied in two postcards; one from Frank O’Hara to Ted Berrigan and another from Berrigan to Charles Olson. Much can be made of the micro-lineage threads of the New American poetry and New York School that run through these three poets. Not only are Olson and O’Hara canonical energies within Berrigan’s The Sonnets, but Berrigan’s self-described “rookie of the year” arrival in American poetry occurred at the 1965 Berkeley Poetry Conference, over which Olson’s presence loomed large. Additionally, O’Hara’s work had been a guide for Berrigan on how to live as a young poet. What’s great about the 1962 postcard from O’Hara to Berrigan is that it offers a reversal on the standard hierarchical narratives of literary tradition. Here, it’s O’Hara praising Berrigan’s poems as he invites him out for a drink and “to meet K. [Kenneth] Koch,” who would also be a New York School hero to Berrigan. Evidenced by the tape arranged on the edges of the card to harden and preserve it, Berrigan clearly treasured this correspondence from O’Hara, which due to the use of Berrigan’s full name, seems to have been their very first formal exchange. One images Berrigan, then 27 years old and having just moved to New York City the year before, formally expressing his admiration for O’Hara’s poems in his initial note. This postcard shows Berrigan’s first-hand devotion to his aesthetic sources. On the other hand, the August 16, 1966 postcard from Berrigan to Olson reveals an already well-established and easy going correspondence with the author of The Maximus Poems and “Projective Verse,” as Berrigan, referencing the postcard’s text on the other side, writes, “Dear Charles, We’re about to beat upwind. A loon is crying tonight. Maine is full of sky,” and signs off, “Be seeing you, Ted + Sandy.” Likely having stopped in to see Olson in Gloucester, Massachusetts on the drive up to Maine with his first wife, Sandy, Berrigan is playfully following up with the elder poet only about three weeks after the death of O’Hara. Though Olson himself would die in 1970, and it’s unclear if further correspondence between the two poets exists, Berrigan’s “full of sky” note to Olson again shows his sense of intimacy with the poets whose work he respected and learned from. The archive, as it often does, is showing us how lineage, tradition, and aesthetic exchange are never abstract.

I’m looking forward to returning to the archives at the University of Connecticut to spend more time thinking through the material traces of the poets I love and study, and to continue to utilize these important and still-growing collections to illustrate the ongoing importance and value both of the New York School’s second generation gems and the pedagogical, personal, and scholarly correspondence that archives allow us to develop. “I must be making my own universe / out of discards,” Notley writes in “Waveland (Back in Chicago),” and there’s a sense of that same construction of a world in the loose, wayward ephemera of the archive. What’s most fulfilling is how the process of looking and reading in the archive is always one of presence, and often magically, of being in contact with your sources.

-Nick Sturm

 

 

Now on view: WRITE ON, FIGHT ON – Continuing Strategies of the Second-Wave Feminist Movement

The Women’s March, the #Metoo movement, even Hulu’s remake of The Handmaid’s Tale, these events all have their roots in a movement that began, and ended, decades ago.

On view from November 26 through December 14, 2018 in the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, Archives & Special Collections Reading Room, the exhibition Write On, Fight On: Continuing Trends and Strategies of the Second-wave Feminist Movement features banners, buttons, graphics, magazines and periodicals from the second wave feminist movement’s independent presses and media outlets.

Curated by Anna Zarra Aldrich, undergraduate in UConn’s Department of English Writing Internship Program, the exhibition highlights, through historic artifacts preserved in the archives, the strategies feminist activists used to achieve their goals. The exhibition also brings into focus the shortcomings of the movement and how modern feminists are responding.

“The second wave achieved a lot, but by the time the movement started to fall apart, there was still a lot of work for women’s equality to be done and that’s where we get these later events,” Aldrich said.

Aldrich, an English, political science and journalism major at the University of Connecticut, had conducted an internship in Spring 2018 in which she studied and blogged about feminist publications from the collections of Archives and Special Collections.

This exhibition is free and open to the public Monday through Friday 9:00am to 4:00pm.

Presented by: Archives & Special Collections, UConn Library

For more information please contact archives@uconn.edu

 

 

The Search and Struggle for Intersectionality Part II: Other Minorites and the Feminist Movement

 

Anna Zarra Aldrich is majoring in English, political science and journalism at the University of Connecticut.  As a student writing intern, Anna is studying historical feminist publications from the collections of Archives and Special Collections. The following guest post is the final post in the series.

The feminist movement has long struggled with incorporating different groups’ concerns and modes of oppression into the movement. This problem was exacerbated by the multifaceted, turbulent U.S. political atmosphere that characterized the 1960s and 1970s. The differences between black and white women’s views of the movement clashed on several essential dimensions. But the issues of other minority groups were given less attention by the feminist movement, and by society in general, due to the fact that their ethnic/racial factions were much smaller than African Americans’.

Another marginalized group that galvanized in the activist culture of the 1960s and 1970s in America were Native Americans. These men and women sought to have their tribal autonomy recognized. They were also fighting issues such as environmentally harmful mining practices on their resource-rich lands and high rates of substance abuse and poverty within their communities.

Native American women had a unique relationship with the feminist movement because the issues this minority group faced were different from those that white or black women faced, and the ethnic population of which they were a part was a severely marginalized minority. U.S. Census data from 1970 shows that a whopping 98.6 percent of the total population was either white or black/African American (87.5 percent and 11.1 percent respectively). Native Americans constituted less than .004 percent.

Native Americans were fighting for their unique political rights as well as larger environmental concerns during this period.

The March 1977 issue of “Off Our Backs” includes an article summarizing the findings of a report by the Association on American Indian Affairs (AAIA), a non-profit organization founded in 1922 to promote the well-being of Native Americans and Alaskan Natives. The report found that Native American children are placed outside of their families at a rate 10 to 20 times higher than that for non-Native American children.

The AAIA argued that this practice deprives Native American children of the ability to be raised with a proper awareness of and appreciation for their culture. This concern emphasizes the fact that Native American women who were involved in the feminist movement during this time were simultaneously combatting the United States government’s systematic efforts to diminish their independence and culture as well as the wide-spread sexism that was the feminist movement’s main concern.

Native American culture celebrates its strong connection to and appreciation of nature. When Native American tribes were forced off their lands in the nineteenth century, they were put on reservations in states like Oklahoma and South Dakota. The U.S. government later came to realize these areas were rich with natural resources such as oil and uranium.

“In the days of diminishing U.S. energy resources, the push is on to take what’s left of Indian land,” according to an article in “Off Our Backs.”

The U.S. government used environmentally hazardous practices to extract these resources, exposing people living on the land to cancer-causing radioactive materials. It also paid the Native Americans working in these hazardous mines very low wages. These practices led to outcry by Native American men and women.

The Longest Walk was a major event in the Red Power movement.

In 1978, thousands of Native Americans participated in The Longest Walk, a protest organized to bring attention to threats to tribal lands pose by several pieces of proposed legislation.

“In effect, these bills could force Native Americans to complete assimilation into the U.S. mainstream and destroy all sovereignty of the Indian nations,” the article on the march said.

In the same August/September 1978 issue that covered the march, “Off Our Backs” included coverage of a conference in New Mexico that addressed the upsurge in domestic violence against Navajo women. This increase was attributed to a “pressure cooker syndrome” created by white culture: “women-battering and child abuse (were) once practically non-existent…and has now reached crises proportions.”

The attempted forced assimilation of native people into white culture created a class system that did not exist in Navajo tribal society. This led to high poverty and unemployment rates which in turn came to be correlated with high rates of substance abuse and domestic violence.

The writers draw attention to the fact that few of the speakers at the conference were from the Navajo or from any other Native American community. Calling attention to the lack of authentic representation at this conference may be an indication of the evolution of “Off Our Backs” in how it dealt with minority issues. When the paper first began in 1970, it struggled to expand their coverage to minority women’s issues, as evidenced by its problematic coverage of a black feminist group’s conference in 1974.

Similar to black women who were involved with groups like the Black Panthers, politically active Native American women were part of efforts led by men. Women of All Red Nations (WARN) was a Native American women’s group that brought attention to issues that affected their community including the displacement of their children, forced sterilization, tribal rights, resource exploitation and racism in the educational system. The group invited several Native American men to speak at a conference it held in South Dakota in 1978 as it did not “believe in the separation of men and women who were working for the same objective.” This serves as a perfect parallel to black women activists who wanted to be a part of the black and feminist movements.

Burning Cloud’s letter serves as a quintessential example of a woman’s struggle to find a way to be politically active as someone with a complex set of oppressed identities.

In the December 1978 issue of “Off Our Backs,” the editors printed a letter from Burning Cloud, a self-described “Filipina/Indian Dyke.” In the letter, Burning Cloud shared a sentiment common with those expressed by black women — that she was “Indian first and above all other matters.”

Burning Cloud felt she could not be both an Indian and a gay woman in society. She also expressed frustration with the fact that non-black minorities’ concerns are much more widely disregarded because there are comparatively few of them in number.

Burning Cloud’s letter included a call to action for environmental activism which, from her perspective, was something of which native people were much more conscious due to their spiritual cultural connections to the earth.

“If Mother Earth is to die WE ALL DIE. Think about that one. What is the future of your children and sisters and mothers to be?” she wrote. “Are we not killing each other because we allow such things as racism, classism, separatism right here in the Lesbian community. How shall wimmin be totally free when three-quarters of the (Coloured Wimmin) are dying?”

(Feminists took to using alternative spellings of “women” and “woman” in order to avoid using the masculine root of those words.)

Native American women also faced the issue of forced or coerced sterilization. In “Off Our Backs” article from December 1978, WARN said that 25 percent of Native American Women were forcibly sterilized.

During this period, the United States government instituted polices of population control that targeted minority, underclass women. One third of Puerto Rican woman of reproductive age had been sterilized in 1976. This policy was veiled as a necessary method of population control that would help Puerto Rico develop economically. However, many argued that the problem was not overpopulation, rather that the available resources were concentrated in the upper echelons of society.

In her 1976 University of Connecticut Ph.D. thesis “Population Policy, Social Structure and the Health System in Puerto Rico: The Case of Female Sterilization,” Peta Henderson found that in addition to medical reasons, the law in Puerto Rico regarding female sterilization allowed for women to be sterilized or use other contraceptive methods in cases of poverty or already having multiple children. Henderson found that most sterile Puerto Rican women said they voluntarily chose to have the operation. However, she explores how this choice was corrupted by the fact that government actors worked to persuade these women that sterilization was in their best interest.

The U.S. Government put forth the idea that having fewer children was the surest path to wealth for minority women, ignoring institutional issues including racism and sexism that impeded their social mobility.

These kind of population control polices were also implemented elsewhere in Latin America.

The April 1970 issue of “Off Our Backs,” a female member of the Peace Corps who went to Ecuador said, “Providing safe contraceptives must be a part of a comprehensive health program,” Rachel Cawan said. “Most importantly, however, there must be available other emotionally satisfying alternatives to child raising.”

The prevailing feminist interpretation of these population control programs was that they masqueraded as liberating family planning alternatives when, in fact, many of these women were being coerced or forced to stop having children.

The Young Lords Party was founded in 1960. The men who founded the organization had a series of objectives including self-determination for Puerto Rico, liberation for third-world people and, problematically, “Machismo must be revolutionary and not oppressive.”

Early in the party’s history, the men in the movement did not listen to women’s ideas and concerns during meetings. These women were limited to essentially being glorified secretaries for the party according to a November 11, 1970 New York Times article.

The women in the movement soon tired of this dynamic and demanded to be taken seriously – and they succeeded. Several women were able to assume leadership positions in the party and the pillar relating to machismo was changed to one supporting equality for women. However, this victory did not mean women were automatically able to achieve true political and social equality within the party or on a larger scale.

In a subsequent issue of “Off Our Backs,” a black/Native American woman wrote a response to Burning Cloud’s letter, which had also said black people should support Native Americans’ issues, saying that: “There is a need for Dialogue, a conversation, between Indian people and Black people…We have been divided in order to be conquered, even though for many, our blood flows together.”

A theme that emerges again and again when studying the second-wave of the feminist movement is that by separating women into sects with seemingly irreconcilable differences, men have managed to prevent them from forming a powerful united front capable of combatting not only sexism, but racism and other social ills that afflict them.

 

-Anna Zarra Aldrich

 

 

The Search and Struggle for Intersectionality Part I: Black Women and the Feminist Movement

 

Anna Zarra Aldrich is majoring in English, political science and journalism at the University of Connecticut.  As a student writing intern, Anna is studying historical feminist publications from the collections of Archives and Special Collections. The following guest post is one in a series to be published throughout Spring 2018.

The feminist movement has long struggled with incorporating different groups’ concerns and modes of oppression into the movement. This problem was exacerbated by the multifaceted, turbulent U.S. political atmosphere that characterized the 1960s and 1970s.

“Chrysalis,” a quarterly women’s periodical that was self-published in Los Angeles from 1976-1980, struggled to incorporate African American women’s issues into its editors’ ideals for the movement. In an issue of the magazine that came out in spring of 1979, poet Adrienne Rich wrote an article called “Disloyal to Civilization: Feminism, Racism and Gynophobia.”

“Chrysalis’s” article sharing the story of Annie Mae was a clear attempt to give a black woman a voice in the publication.

Rich’s article emphasized some of the inherent similarities between the struggles of black people and women in America. She wrote that all women and all black people in this country live in fear of violence being committed against them solely due to their gender or race without the hope of justice being served.

Her article went on to explain that dividing women against each other has historically been a means by which men have maintained their oppression: “The polarization of black women in American life is clearly reflected in a historical method which, if it does not dismiss all of us altogether or subsume us vaguely under ‘mankind,’ has kept us in separate volumes or separate essays in the same volume.”

Rich urged women that they “can’t keep skimming the surface” of the women’s movement by refusing to engage with black women’s issues.

“Chrysalis’s” winter 1980 issue featured a story called “I am Annie Mae” which was the story of Annie Mae Hunt, a 70-year old black woman from Texas. Annie Mae’s story was told through a transcript of hours of interviews.

Annie Mae’s story shared the hardships of her life, including her dropping out of school after fifth grade, getting married and having her first child when she was only 15. Annie Mae was pregnant a total of 13 times in her life and had six living children at the time of the article’s publication. Annie Mae said she was never educated about birth control and was told having more children was better for her.

“Birth control – that wasn’t in the makings then. I mean the black people didn’t know it. Poor people like me. There may have been some well-to-do people that knew about it,” Hunt said.

While this article was an earnest effort by “Chrysalis” to tell the story and plights of a woman of color, it was only through a white mouthpiece that Annie Mae was able to share her story; the reporter who conducted and organized the interviews was white as was the staff and, presumably, much of the magazine’s readership. Furthermore, aside from Rich’s essay and this article, examples of “Chrysalis” covering women of color’s issues are sparse.

“Off Our Backs,” a bi-weekly newspaper printed in Washington D.C. (1970-2008) did put forth a more valiant effort to communicate the struggles of black women in America through their own voices even if they often fell short of true intersectional understanding.

In the April 15, 1971 issue of “Off Our Backs” an unnamed black woman, identified as someone who held a “high position in the Health, Education and Welfare Department,” was interviewed about her response to the women’s liberation. She pointed out at that at time the women’s movement was predominantly led by and composed of white, middle class women. She said that black women do not want to be a part of what they considered to be a, frankly, racist movement.

In their article on the Kitty Genovese Women’s Project, “Off Our Backs,” asks directly about this criticism of racial bias.

The 1960s and 70s were a period rife with tension in multiple dimensions, only one of which was the women’s lib movement. This period saw the continuing struggle by African Americans for equality and civil rights. The woman interviewed for the April 15 article emphasized that she, and many other black women, identified as black first and a woman second in terms of their identity and sources of oppression.

In 1977, the Kitty Genovese Women’s Project, named for the woman who was murdered while numerous people who were aware of what was happening did nothing, posted a list of 2,1000 male sex offenders in Dallas County. A group of 30 women handed out over 20,000 copies of the list. Many black feminists took issue with the list as black men were disproportionately represented due to a higher conviction rate among blacks for all crimes due to the racial bias of the criminal justice system.

In 1966, the militant civil rights activist group the Black Panthers formed in in Oakland California. Many black women were involved in the black movement and wanted to work with the men in that movement to achieve their collective goals. Many white feminists, however, argued for a complete break with men.

This argument originated during the first wave of feminism in the United States. Some male abolitionists argued that it was the “Negro’s Hour,” during the last ninetieth century, to quote Wendell Phillips. Men such as Phillips, and Frederick Douglass believed the main focus of the period had to be black men’s rights and that women’s suffrage would have to be pushed to the back burner.

This led women’s suffrage leaders like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony to found the women’s-only National Woman Suffrage Association. This break from the abolition movement may be viewed as a break from black issues in general, which sowed the seeds for the division that reemerged in the next phase of the movement.

In June 1979, “Off Our Backs” published a special “Ain’t I a Woman” issue, named for a famous speech given by Sojourner Truth at the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. Truth’s speech confronted the stark differences between the treatment of white and black women: “Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman?”

The special issue included a statement from the Combahee River Collective, a black feminist group from Roxbury, Massachusetts. The statement said: “As black women, we see black feminism as the logical political movement to combat the manifold and simultaneous oppression that all women of color face.” They emphasized that, “Black women’s development must be tied to race and class progression for all blacks.”

This special issue was produced by the Ain’t I a Woman Collective, a black feminist organization based in D.C.

The black women and feminists of the period did not believe their plights as black people living in America and as women living in America could be separated. They believed they could not progress as whole humans without both issues, in addition to class, which was often correlated with race, being addressed.

One of the important issues that black women said white feminists did not grasp was welfare. A much larger proportion of black women were in poverty than white women during this period. The U. S. Census (Current Population Survey and Annual Social and Economic Supplements data) from 1975 shows that 27.1 percent of black families were in poverty compared to 9.7 percent of all families. Those statistics become even more staggering when we look at poverty rates for single-female households. 50.1 percent of black families with a single mother were in poverty compared to 32.3 percent of all other single-female households.

Intersectionality hinges on the idea that people have a complex identity that is shaped by a variety of demographic and experiential factors such as race, class and education. Black women were dealing with a variety of issues and sources of oppression during this period that, evidently, many of the white leaders of the feminist movement did not see as falling in line with their goals.

In the winter of 1974, some of the “Off Our Backs” staff attended the first meeting of the National Black Feminist Organization (NBFO). The group’s mission was to “fight racism and sexism jointly.” “Off Our Backs'” coverage of the event acknowledged that black women have an ethos to speak about issues that white women are unable to assume: “While ‘Off Our Backs’ has never been vague about its commitment to cover the issues and to carry messages about them to feminists, only a group like NBFO deeply immersed in the survival struggles of low-income black sisters and their own experiences, can be a valid messenger and a forceful mover of these issues.”

The coverage of the event emphasized that racism has kept women systemically divided by making minority women feel they could either be black or a feminist. Unfortunately, the article is critical of the fact that that many speakers ranked racism over sexism in terms of which was a more pressing issue. This clearly displays that many white feminists could not grasp the fact that these women felt they needed to confront the systemic racism in the country in tandem with, and perhaps, some would argue, before, sexism.

The “Off Our Backs” article said that black men did not want black women to join the feminist movement and point out that male-dominated black media outlets like “Jet” or “Ebony” did not attend the meeting when many white feminist presses did. The writers also criticized black feminists for not utilizing these feminist outlets. This provides an interesting area to use to examine the underlying issues here – black women’s issues were not covered well by most white-dominated feminist media outlets, yet the writers of “Off Our Backs” suggest that these women were not reaching out to allow their stories to be told by these papers.

It is necessary to mention that there is a conspicuous lack of exclusively black feminist publications in Archives and Special Collections’ holdings at the Dodd Center. This may be attributable to gaps in the collection or there may have been few publications that served this specific interest group. It seems that black women’s issues were split between the feminist and black movements with some overlap in the media for each.

 

-Anna Zarra Aldrich

 

Charles Lewis Beach’s Legacy at UConn

Charles Lewis Beach (1866-1933), 4th President of the Connecticut Agricultural College.

Charles Lewis Beach was born in Whitewater, Wisconsin in 1866, graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1886, and came to the Connecticut Agricultural College as an instructor in Dairy Husbandry in 1896. He stayed with the college until 1904 when he then went to the University of Vermont, but returned to Storrs in 1908 to take the position of the CAC’s 4th President, a role in which he served until 1928.

Under Beach’s leadership the CAC grew and prospered. In 1908 the college had just 165 students enrolled; by 1928 there were 518 student enrolled. Beach sought to increase the number of women enrolled so in the same approximate time period the number of women students grew to 133 from 22. In 1908 there were 18 bachelor degrees granted; by 1924 that number increased to 78. Beach recognized that the growth of the college depended upon increased funding from the state, and, as Walter Stemmons wrote in his book Connecticut Agricultural College – A History, “Beach compelled a reluctant State to take pride in its college.”

Other initiatives under President Beach included an expanded curriculum that included courses in the liberal arts, a fairly radical idea for a college with such deep roots in the study of agriculture. He believed that “students graduating from the college [go] into the world equipped not only to be efficient farmers but also to be understanding individuals” as is written in his obituary.

Charles Lewis Beach Hall under construction at the Connecticut Agricultural College in Storrs, ca. 1927

Charles Lewis Beach retired from the presidency on July 31, 1928. He suffered a cerebral hemorrhage on September 1, 1933, and died on September 15, 1933.

Beach Hall is, of course, named in his honor. Built in 1927 for $343,000, it was originally used as an administrative building and held the library and science classrooms. An extensive renovation of the building was done in the 1970s.

You can find more information about the life of Charles Lewis Beach in this profile of him in our digital repository at Conecticut Digital Archive.

-Laura Smith

 

 

I smell a RAT

 

Anna Zarra Aldrich is majoring in English, political science and journalism at the University of Connecticut.  Anna is a student writing intern studying historical feminist publications from the collections of Archives and Special Collections. The following guest post is one in a series to be published throughout the Spring 2018 semester.

In February of 1970 a terrorist group took over a prominent underground newspaper in New York.

The Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell (W.I.T.C.H.), a direct-action political group, along with several other women’s groups and female “RAT” staffers took over the newspaper for what was supposed to be a single, token issue of the paper. The headline on this issue read, “Women Seize RAT! Sabotage Tales!”

This comic, published in the women’s issue of RAT illustrates the takeover which was enabled by numerous women’s groups including W.I.T.C.H.

The women’s issue featured an essay by Robin Morgan, an American writer and noted feminist activist, titled “Goodbye to All That.” The essay sharply criticizes the advertisements using photos of women that bordered on pornographic and the continual exclusion of a feminist viewpoint from the paper.

“We have met the enemy and he’s our friend. And dangerous,” Morgan wrote.

Morgan’s article rallied against the white, male domination of the radical anti-war/anti-establishment movement. She said, “Goodbye, goodbye. To hell with the simplistic notion that automatic freedom for women – or nonwhite peoples – will come about zap! with the advent of a socialist revolution. Bullshit.”

Grievances against male radicals were common among feminist writers during this period. A pamphlet written by Andrea Dworkin in 1973 titled “Marx and Gandhi Were Liberals” stated that men permitted women to take part in their vision of the revolution so long as they kept their own demands moderated and subsumed within the male-dominated agenda.

“Liberal gestures of good will are made when we are shrill enough or when we are fashionable enough as long as we do not interfere with the ‘real revolution.’ Increasingly we understood that we are the real revolution,” Dworkin wrote.

The January 25-February 9, 1970 issue of “RAT,” the last one published by the male editorial staff, included numerous articles on pornography and masturbation. An article by Uncle Leon Gussow argued that pornography gives young men unrealistic views of sex and creates a separation between him and the act of sex. The women who worked at “RAT” took issue with how this topic was approached by the male staff; they believed this article, and the paper in general for quite some time, promoted pornography. Many women saw pornography as problematic as it often portrayed violence against women and this became a major issue in the women’s liberation movement.

The women also disliked the fact that the tongue-in-cheek titles that appeared on the masthead of each issue were often demeaning and stereotypical to women, referring to them as “princess” or “muffin purchaser.”

The Feedback Page of “Vortex” following the Women’s Lib issue

After the women of “RAT” published their issue they were loath to return control to the men who had been running the paper since its inception in 1968. So they didn’t.

In the next issue, the women still made up the entirety of the editorial staff, but some men came back temporarily as production staffers to ease the transition. In a letter to the readers, the editors said they were trying to “work it out” with the men. All male staff members were eventually asked to leave the paper and control remained in exclusively female hands.

A letter to the readers from former editor Paul Simon explained that after a “stormy” meeting between the men and women of the paper, it was decided that the paper would continue to be published by the women.

The takeover at “RAT” inspired women working at other papers across the country to follow suit. In the April 4, 1970 issue of “Vortex,” an underground paper published out of Lawrence, Kansas, W.I.T.C.H. wrote a letter to the paper saying, “you are a counterfeit left male-dominated cracked-glass-mirror reflection of the American nightmare.” The letter said the group was preparing to organize a boycott of the paper.

This letter was published in the issue of the paper following issue on the women’s liberation similar to the one that initiated the permanent takeover of “RAT.” In September of that same year, “Vortex” moved to a collective model of publication. This altered the existing editorial structure at the paper and gave women a larger say in its production beyond their single issue which, unfortunately is not available at the Dodd Center Archives.

“RAT” continued its coverage of issues like the Vietnam War and the trial of the 21 members of the Black Panther Party who were charged with coordinating attacks on a series of New York City buildings. However, the new editors made sure to make women’s issues and the accomplishments of female activists more prominent.

The cover of the January 12, 1971 issue celebrated the anniversary of the women’s takeover of “RAT”

They featured letters from Mary Moylan, one of the Cantonsville Nine, a group of activists who burned draft files to protest the war. Moylan went underground, hiding from the authorities for a period and her letters about her time underground were published in “RAT” and other publications like the women-run “Off Our Backs.” “RAT” also featured articles about women’s role in the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

In March of 1971, the paper changed its name to the Women’s LibeRATion.

One thing the women sought to dissemble with their takeover was the hierarchical structure that had allowed men to squelch their voices for so long. This led them to establish a newsroom that was much more free-flowing and less rigidly structured. In a letter to the readers, the editors describe the RAT work collective’s meetings as “un-chaired and chaotic.”

The paper continued publishing with relative consistency through 1972 and then stopped abruptly for several months. Then, in April of that year, a newsletter came out.

The single printed sheet explained to readers that the fate of “RAT” was in limbo due to internal fractionalization. A group of six black gay women had seized control of the paper after airing their grievances against the white feminist viewpoint that had been almost exclusively featured by the paper.

The black women writing the article said there were too many fundamental misunderstandings between the white and third-world women in the movement to be reconciled into a cohesive vision in which all voices could be heard.

 

The letter published on the back cover of the single-sheet issue asked readers to respond with feedback and monetary donations to support the continuation of the publication

The newsletter closed with a request for feedback from readers, “Your responses will determine the outcome of the almost defunded ‘RAT;”. The paper also asked for monetary donations to help keep the presses running.

Unfortunately, it appears these women were unable to keep the paper afloat either due to a lack of interest or lack of funds.

The downfall of “RAT” showcases the lack of an understanding of the idea of intersectional feminism during this time. Perhaps it also demonstrates a lack of will on the part of white feminists to create connections with minority women and engage in meaningful dialogue to understand their issues. Minority voices were not generally included in the more-prominent feminist outlets, or if they were given a space, it was still through the good graces of white editorial staffs. This is an unfortunate truth that the feminist movement continues to grapple with today.

-Anna Zarra Aldrich

Edwin Way Teale’s Photographs of American Nature

Photographs of nature may be many things. Some may be primarily artistic; some may be primarily scientific. In their simplest, most matter-of-fact forms, they are merely “catalogue” pictures of objects or creatures. The best nature photography, however, records both the object and the setting. It arrests, in its normal surroundings, some form of life, portraying it in a characteristic moment of its existence. Such pictures possess emotional as well as intellectual impact [and] carry us on an adventure of discovery. …

– Edwin Way Teale, Photographs of American Nature (NY: Dodd, Mead, 1972)

 

During his sixty-year career as an author and naturalist that began around 1930 with regular submissions to Popular Science magazine, Edwin Way Teale produced over fifty thousand pictures documenting his travels, nature observations, and personal discoveries. A self-taught (and self-financed) photographer, Teale worked with the utmost economy — careful in framing his shots, utilizing consumer-grade cameras and equipment, writing letters seeking advice from other photographers, and processing prints in his household dark room. By 1966, when Teale was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction, and nearly a million copies of Teale’s books had been sold, the artistic value of his photographs was recognized throughout the world.

For his book Photographs of American Nature, published when the Connecticut-based author was 73 years of age, Teale hoped to showcase the “strange and beautiful” creatures he had encountered in his lifetime. Teale selected two hundred and eighty-nine pictures from his archive of photographs to be included in the book. Half of those pictures selected appeared in print for the first time. As Teale’s choice of images for Photographs of American Nature reveal, depicting the beauty and fragility of the natural world is simple and “matter-of-fact.” Ultimately, the best nature photographs are ordinary and spontaneous, a consequence of our human instincts not only to observe the world around us, but to recognize and to bear witness.

The exhibition “Edwin Way Teale’s Photographs of American Nature” explores Teale’s skill and creativity as a photographer and the role of photography in his writing and storytelling. The exhibition features Teale’s photographs and cameras alongside a selection of notebooks, manuscripts, letters, and drafts from the Edwin Way Teale Papers preserved in UConn’s Archives & Special Collections. A highlight of the exhibition is a collection of original photographic prints on loan from the Connecticut Audubon Society Trail Wood Sanctuary, the former home of Edwin Way Teale located in Hampton, Connecticut.

Edwin Way Teale’s Photographs of American Nature
On view: February 12 through May 4, 2018
Thomas J. Dodd Research Center Gallery
University of Connecticut

Exhibition is free and open to the public Monday through Friday 9:00am to 5:00pm
Presented by: Archives & Special Collections, UConn Library

Contact: Melissa Watterworth Batt, Curator

 

Aphradisiac

 

Anna Zarra Aldrich is majoring in English, political science and journalism at the University of Connecticut.  She is a student writing intern studying historical feminist publications from the collections of Archives and Special Collections. The following guest post is one in a series to be published throughout the Spring 2018 semester.

During the 1960s and 1970s feminist writers established themselves with a distinct and demanding voice. In order to accomplish the feat of integrating a prominent female presence into the literary world, women created and utilized exclusively female publishing mediums. Women took to using alternative methods that allowed them to cultivate this unique literary culture outside the realm of the traditionally male-dominated publishing world.

In 1985, noted librarian and author Celeste West published a book titled “Words in Our Pockets: The Feminist Writers’ Guild handbook on how to gain power, get published & get paid.” The book provided an in-depth look at the publishing world through a feminist lens and provided women with resources and options for alternative paths to publication.

The cover of the book depicts a woman’s portrait composed of the words of a poem by Denise Levertov’s from which the book gets its title. It reads: “But for us the road/ unfurls itself, we count the/words in our pockets.”

The introduction of the book states that, “The present wave of feminism is…creating a women’s cultural renaissance, the first since matrifocal times. At last, we are building, in large numbers, our own literary tradition, finding our own audience, and from these, shaping a world view.”

This book emphasizes the fact that many of the most influential members of the movement have been writers who use the power of the written word to express the urgency and necessity of the changes they demanded.

West’s book begs the question: “Who among us can afford silence?” West wanted to encourage women to make their voices heard through the literary mire that was oversaturated with male perspectives.

The book goes through a basic how to process for practical elements of publication including writing proposals, making sense of the legal jargon in contracts and financing options. The book also deals with the sexism of the industry. The book provides advice on how to deal with people, namely powerful men, who refuse to take women writers seriously and list feminist publishers and a guide on self-publishing as a means to circumvent discouraging male publishers.

“You are a writer, not a wallflower. Why wait for some gentleman publisher to sweep you into his arms and carry you off to the Big House?” West proposes.

In an article published in the summer 1979 issue of “Chrysalis” magazine, West wrote “Book publishing, like all industries, is controlled by rich, white, heterosexual men. To retain this power, their books naturally reinstate status quo attitudes of privilege and discrimination.”

The article cites the figure that 70 percent of books published were produced by 3.3 percent of the over 6000 publishing houses that existed at the time. West calls independent, alternative press outlets “the slice of tomorrow.”

The book’s engagement with the challenges female writers faced showed that even as women encouraged each other to write, the established system often operated to keep them excluded. This created a space for female-run literary publications that provided a platform for women writers who were not welcomed into traditional literary circles.

“Aphra” was an feminist literary magazine published quarterly from 1969 to 1976 out of New York City. The magazine got its namesake from the pioneering English poet, playwright and author Aphra Behn (1640-1689) who was the first woman known to have earned her living by writing.

“Aphra’s” mission statement was “Free women thinking, doing, being.” In the preamble to their first edition, the editors state that the purpose of the magazine is to provide women with an outlet to express themselves: “We submit that one reason for the form of the current upsurge in feminism…is that the mass media provides such biased and commercially oriented material. The literary and entertainment scene are dominated by male stereotypes, male fantasies, male wish fulfillment, a male power structure,” echoing West’s complaints.

The magazine was a clear response to the male domination of the literary field in contemporary American society and historically. Each issue contained a collection of “Aphra-isms” which were quotes from feminist figures such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Sojourner Truth and more modern feminists like Kate Millet. The section also featured historical and modern examples of sexism from literature and the news.

“Aphra” published work from a variety of authors, including Margaret Atwood and Alice Walker, who each provided a unique take on feminist issues of the day yet they all had an underlying tone that was unapologetic and focused on confronting the problems they observed in society.

In a short story by one of the magazine’s editors, Elizabeth Fisher, titled “My Wife,” she explores the downside of the sexual revolution which allowed and encouraged women to enjoy the sensual pleasures of sex. The story is told from the perspective of a man who believes he has the honor of sexually awakening his future wife. The man becomes disenchanted with his wife soon after they are married and her body changes as a result of her pregnancies and their sex life naturally dwindles. The kicker of the story is the conclusion when the husband overhears his wife admitting to a friend that she faked every single orgasm he thought she had had with him. This sends the narrator into a devastating existential crisis as his fragile male sexual ego is absolutely destroyed.

“I look at the children. They’re my daughters, but they’re hers too. Will they, too, grow up to betray me and their husbands, a man’s whole raison d’etre?…There’s nothing left. How can I live now, how can I go on?”

This desperate conclusion to the story shows how a female writer revealed the negative side of the sexual revolution. Since women were now allowed to admit they enjoy sex, they were expected to. Despite this revolution in sexual philosophy and the growing availability of a variety of birth control methods, male views of sex remained chauvinistic and self-centered. The narrator displays a kind of toxic masculinity that created a culture in which women felt obligated to fake orgasms and feign pleasure. These women felt they had to play the role of the sexually liberated woman even when reality remained stalled in antiquated sexual attitudes that prioritized male sexuality and pleasure.

An unsigned editorial in the second issue of the magazine addresses the difficulties the second-wave feminist movement faces in terms of measurable accomplishments. The first iteration of the women’s movement in the early 20th century was focused primarily on women’s suffrage. The passage of the 19th amendment in 1920 was a clear victory for the movement and led to its dormancy for the next forty years. The goals of feminists in the 1960s, aside from fighting to achieve the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, were geared toward largescale social change. The author of the editorial astutely observes that, “It is an aim which all too often proves illusory since you can’t legislate orgasm — produce it by fiat, despite all the promises which seem to say, ‘Let there be orgasm!’”

In the spring of 1971, “Aphra” had a special “Whore Issue”. This issue dealt with problems of women being condemned for sexual promiscuity as well as the exploitation of women as sex workers.

An editorial by Fisher argues that the problem with sex is that it has been made into a commodity. Women are defined by their sexual relationship with men as a wife, a mother, a mistress or a whore. Fisher writes that by viewing sex in these terms, female pleasure is devalued and the woman is transformed into a dehumanized sex object.

While “Aphra” was primarily a literary journal, through Fisher’s editorial leadership it engaged questions of the sexist nature of sex. Fisher also wrote repeatedly on the role of men in procreation, which had recently become optional given advancements in invitro fertilization.

A similarly satirical take on issues of sexual freedom can be found in a 1973 issue of another feminist literary magazine, “Velvet Glove.” A story by Susan Watkins follows a woman working in a pharmacy who is required to inquire if a customer is married before she is allowed to sell them contraception. The female protagonist asks her condescending male manager if people could not just easily lie and he tells her she must ask anyway in compliance with the law. The protagonist’s retort is to wonder if she should also be required to ask young women buying menstrual products if they’re 12-years old. This story is another example of satirical writing which was clearly a way feminists saw fit to combat the social ills they observed.

Feminist have long been thought of as humorless and in modern times many even refer to them as “feminazis.” While much of the work published in literary journals like “Aphra” and “Velvet Glove” is of a serious nature, it also provides women with a platform to express a brand of humor that would not have been well-received by a male audience.

Even “Words in our Pockets” participates in this emergence of a female comedic culture as the copyright information on the inside of their front cover warns readers that “a Surveillance MicroblastchipTM embedded in this spine will blow you to bits in the event of unauthorized copying.”

When women were writing to and for other women, they embraced the satirical and humorous side of the movement. Women could rarely do this publicly for fear of being dismissed as frivolous; but women’s publications provided women with an outlet for their special brand of ingroup feminist humor.

Women began working their way into the literary world earnestly and consciously during the 1960s and have not turned back since. In 1960 only 24 percent of the books that landed on the New York Times Bestseller List were written by women. That number fluctuated each year but never rose above 40 percent until 1992. Since then, the gender divide has been roughly equal, though never exceeding 50 percent. It is not a stretch to say that publications like the ones described here have helped establish the feminist literary tradition that has allowed modern female writers to have much more proportional representation in the field.

“Words in our Pockets” ends on a poignant and unmistakably optimistic note. The second to last page contains the words “The End.” When the reader turns the page, she reads: “The statement on the other side of this page is false.” And clearly, that latter statement was correct.

-Anna Zarra Aldrich

 

 

The Proper Sculpture: A Week with the Charles Olson Papers

 

The following guest post is by Stefanie Heine who was was awarded a Rose and Sigmund Strochlitz Travel Grant in 2017 to conduct research in Archives and Special Collections. Dr. Heine studied English, Philosophy and Comparative Literature at the University of Zürich. She was a Research and Teaching Assistant at the Department of Comparative Literature in Zurich. After completing her PhD (cf. Visible Words and Chromatic Pulse. Virginia Woolf’s Writing, Impressionist Painting, Maurice Blanchot’s Image. Wien: Turia + Kant, 2014), she started working on a post-doc project on the poetics of breathing and she is now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto (Centre for Comparative Literature).

 

“we are ourselves both the instrument of discovery and the instrument of definition”

“this instant, […] you on this instant, […] you, figuring it out, and acting, so”

– Charles Olson, Human Universe

 

Without my knowledge, the GPS of the car I rented at Boston Logan airport was set to “discovery route”. I drove for over three hours, red maple, black oak, sweet birch and white ash making me indifferent to the fact that map turned to maze.

I arrived at the University of Connecticut on the day of the solar eclipse. Caught in those first moments of archive fever, I probably would have forgotten about it, if my partner hadn’t texted me: “You should go out now.” When I did, I couldn’t see. Only for a few seconds the blaze yielded to a clear-cut sickle through the glasses a woman lent me in front of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center.

These two scenes composing the mood of my arrival at the Charles Olson Research Collection kept determining my exploration of the archive, and they turned out to be instances where Olson’s paths crossed mine. On the one hand, they were points where my own research met Olson’ methods. “methodos […] turns out to be meta hodos […] the principle of—PATH”, “the way the path is known”, Olson explicates in a letter to Robert Creeley in June 1952 (152). The way the path is known involves the person on it and for Olson, research is inextricably linked to the experience of the individual who conducts it, in the very moment it is conducted. On the other hand, there are more specific correlations between what I encountered on the way to and through the archive and Olson’s methodological and poetological approaches. The title of a section of the Maximus Poems, “Each Night is No Loss, It is a daily eclipse, / by the Earth, of the Sun” (448) can be read in line with these approaches. The phenomenon of eclipse could be considered as something that happens on a continual basis when we do research and write: instances of blindness and sudden illumination reoccur, again and again. In an unpublished essay I came across in the archive, Olson explicitly comments on the overlaps of “blindness” and “recognition” in the process of literary production, the creation of poetic form: “A form does only disclose itself if a man does go blind.” (Form, no more than means, is caused) With his emphasis on the writer’s or researcher’s sensation of blindness (literary writing and scientific discovery are inextricably linked for him), Olson counteracts what he considers as the most dominate way in which knowledge is achieved, the ‘Western logos’, in which the rational mind at clear daylight engages in classification and abstraction. This method is what for Olson prevents an immediate involvement of the writer or researcher with their objects of discovery and destroys the “kinetics of the thing” focused on (“Projective Verse” 16). In the archive, the proximity to the new material as such prevented any critical distance for me. The massive amount of writing held in the Charles Olson Research Collection offers too much input to process straightaway; most of the time, I was in a haze, reading and copying as much as I could, assembling material to be ‘investigated’ later. But maybe the point where I was closest to ‘knowledge-bringing event[s]’ in Olson’s sense (he borrows that term from Maurice Merleau-Ponty, for example in A man’s life is a continual allegory) was in the archive itself.

One of these events particularly stands out: in one of Olson’s early notebooks from 1945, a passage on syntax caught my attention. Being aware that this must be one of Olson’s the very first written reflections on literary composition and one of the first attempts to formulate principles for his own writing, I was excited. But my enthusiasm was soon overshadowed by a banal fact: Olson’s handwriting, which needs some time to get used to in general, is specifically hard to decipher on these two pages of the tiny notebook covered densely with words in pencil. I was entering a domain where language becomes utterly private and is almost impenetrable because of its singularity. “Syntax is a key”, Olson writes – and it seemed to me at first sight that it would be denied to me to unlock the gate presented by Olson. “I have a hunch I allow too much of … into my syntax.” I was too curious about what he thought he allows too much of in his syntax to turn away from the passage. When I met Melissa Watterworth Batt on the next day, knowing her experience with Olson’s manuscripts, I asked her to help me with the passage. The collaborative effort turned out to be fruitful – in the process of thoroughly scrutinizing the text, one word after the other came to light. We turned the notebook around in our hands to change the angle so that a fresh perspective might change curves into letters and a magnifying glass helped to make visible what our eyes failed to see. We zoomed in and out digital images of the page on laptop and iPhone – lines turning into pixelated patches and then to a “b”, an “l”, an “o”. The last hitherto obscure word became legible when I was back in my hotel room in Vernon, and there it was:

I tend to think that I need to maintain a more natural syntax than the process of my thinking + feeling sometimes accomplishes. I have a hunch I allow too much of the complication of both to intrude into my syntax. Yet how to arrive at an objective language without changing the syntax? Nouns, verbs, and images are the answer (see Yeats or Pound for this). Actually, of course, all this is technical + the thing will come out of me as a poem. Otherwise, no. So I must continue + be led by my nose, willy-nilly. I have no choices. Hammer each step of the way. You have rid yourself of the orphic, a little. Continue to beat with the hammer to get the proper sculpture.

The proper sculpture – the image Olson uses to describe a poem in process ceased to be a metaphor when I had the deciphered passage in front of me. In fact, the whole process of deciphering echoed the activity of a stonecarver. Or, rather, the archeological experience with Mayan glyphs Olson describes in his letters to Robert Creeley in 1951. Tracking the shape of penciled lines was a sensual experience of words as things, graphite on paper, it was a physical engagement with Olson’s written material that may come close to what Olson perceived in Lerma while digging out the stones on which the glyphs are engraved, holding words in his hand as solid objects. The transformation of curves into letters and words I observed while deciphering allowed me to partake in a “kinetics of the thing”. I was involved in an act of paying attention to “what happens BETWEEN things”, which, according to Olson is one of the last “acts of liberation science has to offer” (“The Gate and the Center” 169). Between things: between the words on the page, between my eyes on the page and the digital image, between my eyes and Melissa’s.

Washington Fall 1945 I. Charles Olson Research Collection. No. 55. October 25, 1945 – December 19, 1945

The process of deciphering is not the only way in which I experienced the archival material in its physicality. A preoccupation with Olson’s papers does not only involve investigating the contents of his thought. The writings archived in Storrs do not only occupy the mind, they are things to be experienced with all senses. The material dimension of his texts does not only become perceptible through the resistance caused by Olson’s handwriting – when the words’ meaning is interrupted by their particular shape. It is primarily the things Olson used to write on that strike the eye: besides notebooks, notepads and sheets of different size, colour and texture, and objects he found in front of him like a paper placemat, he scribbled notes between the printed words of flyers and booklets, even his passport.

The principle extrications and new coordinates now called for. Charles Olson Research Collection. Prose No. 40. Holograph/typescript. 8p. ca. September – December 1951

Olson’s passport. Charles Olson Research Collection. Annotated. No. 64. 1957.

You can’t use words as ideas. Charles Olson Research Collection. Holograph. October 1964.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After this personal account of my “discovery route” through the Olson archive, a few words on the research project that led me to Storrs: In the first chapter of my planned book titled “Poetics of Breathing” I investigate how breath is discussed as a compositional principle in the context of the Black Mountain School and the Beat Generation. The focus is on concrete attempts to establish an embodied poetics of breathing. In this context, I explore how Olson sketches compositional principles based on breath in essays, poetological manifestoes, notes and letters about his own writing practice. The unpublished material I found at the Charles Olson Research Collection gives me further insights in the development of Olson’s poetics of breathing and the Rose and Sigmund Strochlitz Grant I was awarded enabled me to make important steps on the path towards my book.

 

 -Stefanie Heine

  

Works Cited

Archival Material

Olson, Charles. A man’s life is a continual allegory. Charles Olson Research Collection, University of Connecticut. Prose No. 136. Typescript. 4p. December 26-27, 1963.

Olson, Charles. Olson’s passport. Charles Olson Research Collection, University of Connecticut. Annotated. No. 64. 1957.

Olson, Charles. The principle extrications and new coordinates now called for. Charles Olson Research Collection, University of Connecticut. Prose No. 40. Holograph/typescript. 8p. ca. September – December 1951.

Olson, Charles. Washington Fall 1945 I. Charles Olson Research Collection, University of Connecticut. No. 55. October 25, 1945 – December 19, 1945.

Olson, Charles. You can’t use words as ideas. Charles Olson Research Collection, University of Connecticut. Holograph. October 1964.

 

Published Material

Olson, Charles and Robert Creeley. Charles Olson & Robert Creeley: The Complete Correspondence. Volume 10. Ed. Richard Blevins. Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow Press, 1996.

Olson, Charles. “Human Universe”. Collected Prose. Ed. Donald Allen and Benjamin Friedlander. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1997, 155-166.

Olson, Charles. “Projective Verse”. Selected Writings. Ed. Robert Creeley. New York: New Directions, 1966.

Olson, Charles. The Gate and the Center. Collected Prose. Ed. Donald Allen and Benjamin Friedlander. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1997. 168-173.

Olson, Charles. The Maximus Poems. Ed. George F. Butterick. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.

 

 

 

A Tale Of Two Art Journals

Anna Zarra Aldrich is majoring in English, political science and journalism at the University of Connecticut.  She is a student writing intern studying historical feminist publications from the collections of Archives and Special Collections. The following guest post is one of a series to be published throughout the Spring 2018 semester.

The second advent of the feminist movement that washed over American society in the 1960s and 1970s like a tidal wave emphasized a pervasive message of empowerment which manifested in a variety of periodicals during this period, including art journals.

Women had largely been excluded from the world of fine art for centuries as geniuses like Michelangelo, Van Gogh, Picasso, Dali and Monet were celebrated and revered while their female contemporaries, such as Georgia O’Keefe or Frida Kahlo, were few and far between as their talent went largely unencouraged and unrewarded.

“The Feminist Art Journal” was published quarterly from 1972 to 1977 out of Brooklyn, New York by Feminist Art Journal Inc. One of the early editions of the journal from 1973 addresses the idea that women have created art for the centuries during which they were strictly confined to the home. An article titled: “Quilts: The Great American Art,” discusses how quilts, tapestries and other home décor have acted as mediums of female artistic expression that have historically been disregarded by men as mere frivolous decorations. The article states that, “Women have always made art. But for most women, the arts highest valued by male society have been closed to them for just that reason.”

An editorial from the same issue emphasizes the need of women to “rediscover their own history.” One of the primary aims of “The Feminist Art Journal” was to reclaim women’s place in art history through articles such as the one on quilts and by discussing issues of female representation in classical art. An intriguing article on Marie De Medici from the Summer 1977 issue explores how the powerful Florentine heir-turned-French-monarch commissioned portraits of herself and her life accomplishments like those that were traditionally done for prominent males of the period. Medici also pointedly decorated her palace with statues of great women like Saint Bathilde and George Sand. The article emphasizes how Marie de Medici understood the power of art as a political statement, underscoring another one of the journal’s core messages: art is political.

Interestingly, a short-lived lesbian feminist journal published from 1973 to 1975, the “Amazon Quarterly: A Lesbian-Feminist Art Journal” expressed a much different viewpoint from “The Feminist Art Journal”. “Amazon Quarterly” was published from the other side of the country, in Oakland, California by Amazon Press. It should be noted that both of these journals were published independently, sustained by revenue from subscriptions, single issue sales and advertisements. Both journals also had exclusively female editors.

The “Amazon Quarterly” commended women’s lack of participation in the male-dominated art world, in which they were routinely objectified in the works of male artists, rather than seeking to place women’s accomplishments within this patriarchal frame work.

Both “The Feminist Art Journal” and “Amazon Quarterly” promoted and provided a platform for female artists to share their literature, poetry, drawings, photography. However, “Amazon Quarterly” made promoting the art of women, specifically lesbians, its primary artistic goal, rather than engaging in discussions of history.

The division in purpose and ideology of these two journals which served, broadly, the same role, reflected a deeper division in the feminist movement between lesbians and straight women. Some lesbians believed women could not fully participate in the true revolution of the feminist movement so long as they were still sexually involved with their male oppressors, a radical idea that is discussed in articles published in the journal.

In an article, “Distinctions: The Circle Game” from the February 1973 issue of
“Amazon Quarterly” written by one of the editors, Laurel Galana, whose byline is simply a familiar: Laurel, explores these divisions within the movement.

Laurel breaks down the group of women who are feminists into increasingly small subcultures from lesbians to “new lesbians” to dykes. The “new lesbians” Laurel describes had several verboten relations including those with men and straight women, whom they viewed as “men’s women.”

Laurel herself abides by these taboos, she explains, “My energy, my time, my sisterly love was indirectly useful to the male for keeping his woman content. And secondly, I decided not to relate to straight women because they already had made a choice which did not include me – that is all of me.”

The piece goes on to criticize lesbians who distinguish themselves based on class, believing that such internal divisions will only cause the movement to fracture and be less effective. She seems to miss the irony of the fact that she believes lesbians should not associate with straight feminists and form a united front of all feminist women.

Much of the art and especially the literature published in the journal reflected the fact that “Amazon Quarterly” branded itself as a periodical that intended to cater specifically to lesbian women. Many of the pieces published in the journal deal with tales and the feelings associated with homosexual awakenings and attraction. The publication had an entire issue dedicated to the topic of sexuality as their swan song before shutting down in 1977.

While the journal ceased publication in 1977, the editors went on to run Bluestocking Books, a publishing house which published a few novels including “The Violent Sex” by Laurel Holliday. Holliday’s book confronted the evolution of masculine sexuality and behavior that has led to the sexual and social oppression of women.

Despite their differences, both these journals considered art in an expansive sense, including all forms of visual and literary art, and stressed the importance of the inclusion of the female perspective in them.

While these two journals had different audiences and somewhat different goals, they both served to underscore the important idea that art is political, and that women had to understand how they could use any and all forms of art to express their ideas and achieve their objectives.

The art of many female artists of the period, during which feminist art truly began to flourish and find its foothold, was clearly in line with this philosophy. Some notable works include Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party,” which portrays a dinner party of 39 notable historical women, and Hannah Wilke’s avant garde “Starification Object Series,” a series of photographs for which she covered her body with wads of gum folded to resemble female genitalia.

These two journals and the art they supported show how women utilized the arts to promote the feminist agenda as they worked toward achieving social and political equality despite divisions within the movement.

In a 1977 interview published in “Chrysalis” magazine, Chicago commented on the value of art to the feminist movement.

“Art is particularly important for women and can catapult women into a different realm of consciousness by symbolizing and objectifying our experience. That expression, that impulse, has such potential power, and it is that power that society tries to contain by trivializing, by repressing, by suppressing the art impulse,” Chicago said. “As long as women participate in that process, we will never be able to realize our full creative potential. We must bust out of that, just absolutely bust out of that and reclaim art as the basic outpouring of the human spirit and pour out our songs and all our feelings and all our beliefs and all our visions in a way that everyone can hear.”

-Anna Zarra Aldrich

 

 

UConn Archives to House Maurice Sendak Artwork

Jo Lincoln Photo, courtesy of Archives & Special Collections, UConn LibraryOn behalf of the University of Connecticut, we are thrilled to announce that Archives and Special Collections will preserve and make available the artwork of Maurice Sendak.

The finished artwork for his published books, and certain manuscripts, sketches, and other related materials created by Maurice Sendak, considered the leading artist of children’s books in the 20th century, will be hosted and maintained at the University of Connecticut under an agreement approved today by UConn’s Board of Trustees.   Read more…