Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Showcasing a personal collection of African American Poetry
A while back, some years ago really, I was telling myself that I needed to build an extensive bibliography of all the books in my library. The task was a little overwhelming. So I decided to make things more manageable by concentrating on just the volumes of African American poetry from my collection that were published since 2000.
I ended up producing a series of bibliographies. Still, I realized that I could and should do more, especially since I was producing the content for the web, a medium that is highly visual. If I was charting my collection for an academic article, it would be ok to just provide a list, but in this space, I decided I needed images.
Actually, fragments of the idea of showcasing images of volumes of poetry have come to me at different times over the last few years. Once, a few years ago while working on the bibliography, I had placed dozens of volumes on the floor to keep track of what I was preparing for a bibliography. The sight of the books and more specifically the aesthetic beauty of so many of the covers really caught my attention. What was lost, I wondered, by simply producing a list of books?
A list of book, more formally known as an enumerative bibliography, has always been the standard approach for students and literary scholars. We produce those types of bibliographies for papers and book publications. For some reason, we devote little time to exploring other kinds of bibliographies.
I clearly value lists. However, there were things I was seeing with the actual packaging of the volumes that took me well beyond what a standard bibliography could offer. The story of African American poetry in the 21st century was also a book history of sorts.
Over the last year, I have been even more diligent about showcasing images of poetry volumes that I own. For the last several months, I've been working with Joycelyn Moody to co-edit a special issue on black print culture studies for the journal MELUS. In the process, I read more and more on print culture and book history, which subconsciously and directly affected how I presented materials -- the actual volumes -- on the blog.
Showcasing the books was a reminder that I was discussing more than poems floating out in space. Instead, I was often thinking about individual aspects of the contents of books. Those books always sit next to various other books on the shelf in a room with a few different multiple book cases.
In some realms, placing literature in context means drawing connections to different themes and techniques among writers. I still abide by that idea, but I've also expanded. Thinking about books and poets in context also means giving some thought to where they fit within my personal collection. Presenting images on this blog is one way that I attempt to remember.
• Book History