Did you see trees full of angels today? Did Moses sit next to you while painting? Did a Flea whisper to you that fleas everywhere are the souls of bloodthirsty men?
There’s really no other way to imagine being William Blake, one of the world’s great poets, than to step inside his fully realized visions. Considered absolutely insane in his era — Songs of Innocence and Experience sold only 30 copies — Blake created a whole personal mythology and wrote epics intended to be a new scripture of his universalist ideas. Trained as an engraver, printer, and artist, Blake’s poetry is literally inseparable from his art — he engraved, colored, wrote, and printed each volume in his own home.
When you come up to SCUA (4th Floor of Parks Library, M-Th 9-5), you can look at old renditions of Blake’s works as they were meant to be seen. Take out Jerusalem, Blake’s self-acknowledged masterpiece and see the unbelievable art together with his own personal Book of Revelation. Or look at the source of many famous proverbs in English (“The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”) in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell with bodies floating in fire around you. Rather than the dry black and white print of most Blake books, seeing them as they originally were is like having your face shoved in a rainbow.
Ahoy and welcome to the one of the most wonderful months of the year! Rain, flowers, SPRING, and National Poetry Month.
National Poetry Month is fairly new, originating only in 1996. Inspired by the success of Black History Month, the American Academy of Poets organized booksellers, librarians, and other poets to celebrate this often today under-appreciated art form. Since then, it has expanded globally and led to a big increase of people rhyming, speaking in iambic pentameter, and stuck with their noses in books in the month of April.
How will you celebrate?
Here’s a beautiful Langston Hughes poem from Special Collections to start you off!
Here at SCUA we are going bananas for International Monkey Day! Wildlifealliance.org shares that “Monkey Day was created and popularized by artists Casey Sorrow and Eric Millikin, in order to spread awareness for the animals, and to show love and care for them.” You can find out more about Monkey Day and it’s humorous origins here as well.
In celebration of Monkey Day, we are highlighting three works in SCUA that are monkey-related.
First, check out this 1926 play, Monkey Business, created for the Iowa State VEISHEA celebrations:
Monkey Business was the 5th VEISHEA performance at Iowa State and was an all-college music comedy. Skimming the synopsis of the play, romance and love are at the heart of Monkey Business‘s plot. Come visit this collection to see more materials and music included in this 1926 play!
Next, we are highlighting The Naturalist’s Library book on the Mammalia classification, regarding monkeys specifically. This book dives deep into the natural history of monkeys, and elaborates on physical features and characteristics of over 43 types of monkeys! Check out some of the illustration plates of monkeys included in the book:
Last, we are featuring Norma Cole’s poetry book titled Do the Monkey. Cole’s book is a compilation of poems that cover an array of topics. Shown here is part 1 and 2 of a poem that includes monkeys:
Be sure to stop by SCUA this week and come celebrate Monkey Day by checking out some monkey related collections or books!
If you are from Ames, chances are you’ve heard of Ada Hayden. You’ve probably taken a walk through Ada Hayden Heritage Park, or you may have visited the Ada Hayden Herbarium on ISU campus. “But Poetry Month?” you may be thinking. “Ada Hayden?”
Hayden was born in 1884 in Ames, IA, and attended Iowa State College (University), where she worked closely with Professor of Botany Louis Pammel. She graduated in 1908 with a B.S. in Botany and later became the first woman to receive a Ph.D. from Iowa State in 1918. She spent her career at ISC as an Assistant Professor of Botany and was named Curator of the Herbarium from 1947 until her death in 1950. As curator, she collected and preserved plant specimens, but she also had spent much time drawing many botanical illustrations and photographing plants in their native habitats. She spent much of her later career working for the preservation of the few remaining native prairie areas in the state, and Hayden Prairie in Howard County is named in her honor.
While she is best known for her work in prairie preservation, she also did quite a bit of writing. Most of her writings were articles on botany or prairie preservation, but in her Papers here in the University Archives is one rather lovely poem titled “The Iowa Rose.” It begins,
Beyond the Mississippi
Where the slow Missouri flows,
In the land of the Des Moines river
There blooms the Iowa Rose;
Not in the early springtime,
Not when the gold leaves fall,
But the summer’s radiant sunshine
The rose from the rosebud calls.
You can read the entire poem by clicking on the image below.
You can see slides of Hayden’s plant specimens in our Digital Collections. To see what else can be found in her papers, check out the collection’s finding aid.
“I have sprung my heavy door aside
so that the sun will not be hindered
sweeping its pattern and its warmth into my room.”
So begins the poem, “The Open Door,” by Helen Sue Isely in her book The Moon is Red. April is the month to swing open Iowa doors to the growing warmth of the sunshine after the snows of winter. (Never mind this week’s rain!) April is also the time to celebrate “poetry’s vital place in our culture” during National Poetry Month. Iowa State may best be known for its agriculture and science programs, but it is not without its contributions to poetry, one of which is Isely.
Helen Sue Isely was born in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in 1917, but she moved to Ames in 1945 with her husband Duane Isely, ISU Professor of Botany, and spent the rest of her life here. She published more than 800 poems in over 200 literary journals and magazines, including such well-known titles as Southwest Review, Antioch Review, and The McCalls Magazine. Her book of poems, The Moon is Red, was published by Alan Swallow in 1962, and won the first place award for poetry from the Midland Booksellers Association. Her other honors for poetry include those from the Iowa Poetry Association (1955-1958, 1961-1963), the Georgia Poetry Society (1954), and the South West Writers Conference (1956, 1959). To learn more about Isely and read her poems, check out the Helen Isely papers, MS 352.
Richard Gustafson and Poet and Critic
In 1964, ISU Professor of English Richard Gustafson revived the literary journal Poet and Critic, publishing it through the Iowa State University Press. The journal had been founded three years earlier by William Tillson of Purdue University. Unable to keep it up with multiple demands on his time, Tillson ceased publishing it after only a couple of years. With the aid of a grant from the President’s Permanent Objectives Committee, Gustafson took the journal under his wing and revived it. The magazine’s rebirth was greeted with enthusiasm by those who had been familiar with it under Tillson’s editorship, and many supporters sent in letters of support, such as this beautifully illustrated note from Menke Katz, editor of Bitterroot, a quarterly poetry magazine.
The note reads,
“Dear Editor Richard Gustafson, staff and supporters,
“Delighted to know Poet and Critic is living again. Knowing Poet and Critic when William Tillson was editor, I am certain it will again be an inspiration to everything which is just and beautiful in poetry. I certainly feel refreshed to hear the good news! Good luck to you! I enclose $3 for a year subscription and will do all I can to influence others to do the same.
The text around the flower, reads, “A flower for Poet and Critic from Menke Katz.” (Poet and Critic Manuscripts File, RS 13/10/0/5, Box 1).
Poet and Critic had a unique mission, not only to promote the work of lesser-known poets, but also to encourage better craftsmanship among the poets, and to do this, they encouraged the contributors to comment on each others’ work. Each poem published in the magazine was followed by one or two short critiques, thus opening up a conversation around the poem. This explains the title, as well as the journal’s tagline, “magazine of verse/a workshop in print/a forum of opinion.” Contributors include the well-known poet Robert Bly, Ted Kooser, Leonard Nathan, Colette Inez, Robert Lewis Weeks, and the aforementioned Helen Sue Isely.
Gustafson and Kooser, both poets, also both edited literary magazines. Copies of Kooser’s The Salt Creek Reader can be found in the Richard Gustafson Papers, RS 13/10/53, Box 1/Folder 7. The Reader contained a single poem per issue and was printed initially as a broadside, or a single sheet printed on one side, and later as a postcard. The first issue of the journal, published 1967, contained a poem by Gustafson titled “Tornadoes, Earthquakes, Plagues and Sultry Deaths.”
As you celebrate National Poetry Month, feel free to stop by Special Collections to examine these and other collections. Happy reading!
“Dirt Farm Editing,” perhaps it should be called for I try to tamp my stories full of dirt but never to dish it out. Clean dirt, the kind that grows your bacon and eggs, the “dirt farmer” sort of dirt, including muck, mire, mud and manure, but just the same the soil and soul of the nation.
– Ray Anderson. “My Stories are Full of Dirt! An All-American Farm Editor Gives Low Down on His Job.” The Quill, April 1928. (MS 61, box 1, folder 3)
Ray Anderson, former farmer, was best known for his work as a journalist. From 1927-1944 he served as Farm Editor for the Cedar Rapids Gazette. His regular columns included “Fence Drift: Caught in the Woven Wire” (observational poetry) and “SHUCKS! Let’s Talk It Over” (news and observations). In 1944 he left the Gazette to join the staff of Farm Journal as an Associate Editor. Calling Anderson “America’s greatest farm reporter,” Farm Journal Editor Carroll P. Streeter, described Anderson as possessing the “liveliest reportorial curiosity I have ever known. Nothing pleases him so much as striking out to go new places, see new things, meet new people, encounter new ideas. He will never outgrow this if he lives to be 100.” (MS 61, box 1, folder 11).
Sunshine, at last.
* * *
Puts color in the corn.
And happy in the heart of the farmer.
* * *
‘Twas ever so, in Iowa.
Gloom never aught but temporary.
* * *
Soil, rain, sunshine, the man on the acres.
Reasons why we live in the center of the world.
– Fence Drift: Caught in the Woven Wire.
Undated. (MS 61, box 1, folder 4)
It’s National Poetry Month, and our department has several collections involving poetry. One of particular interest may be the Iowa Sheet Music Collection, MS 474, a collection of songs by Iowa songwriters and/or about Iowa. Songs, as you may know, are essentially poetry set to music (one could even argue that music is a sort of poetry, but let’s not go there today). Within the collection, the songs about Iowa truly showcase Iowa pride in the early 20th century.
Iowa pride. It’s an actual thing, though people not from Iowa may wonder why on earth anyone would be proud to come from this state. As someone who spent a couple years out of state, I’ve gotten my share of “what do you… like… DO there?” and “do you mean Ohio?” or, “oh, you grow potatoes there, right?” No, we are not Idaho, nor Ohio, nor should it warrant a disappointed or pitying reaction. I missed my home state quite a lot when I was in Indiana (even though southern Indiana is a beautiful place). Sure I missed my family, my friends, my dog, my favorite restaurants… but I also missed the land itself. It can be very beautiful with its rolling hills and patchwork quilt fields. But above all, it’s home. I love it, and lots of other Iowans love it, too. Now before I get carried away and go on and on about the understated awesomeness that is Iowa, let’s focus on other people’s love letters to this state – in that form of poetry loved so well, song.
“Iowa, Proud Iowa,” pictured above, is a poem by Virginia K. Logan, set to music by Frederic Knight Logan. On the inside cover is a list of Iowa facts, including its pronunciation – “I’-o-wah.” A few other fun facts listed include “First settled near the present site of Dubuque by French, in 1788,” “A leading state in agricultural interests, fine livestock raising, and coal and lead mines,” and “Iowa’s State Motto: – ‘Our liberties we prize, and our rights we will maintain.'” The first verse of the song is as follows:
“All hail! Iowa, Queen of the West!
With her broad rolling prairies so fertile and blest
Where cool shady streams flow ‘mid verdure so rare,
With Iowa’s beauty no state can compare.”
Another song, “The New Iowa Song: Iowa I Love Best,” was written and composed by Coe Pettit, 1925. It was dedicated to the Kiwanis Club of McGregor, Iowa, which sponsored the publishing of the song. For your reading pleasure, here is the third verse:
“I thought I’d like to travel, I thought I’d like to roam,
So then to realize my dreams, I wandered far from home;
Now since I’ve seen the others, I know what I like best;
I’ll take my good old Iowa, And they can have the rest.”
“Iowa Corn Song,” pictured above, was written by J. T. Beeston with the chorus written by G. E. Hamilton. Beeston was the director of the Za-Ga-Zig Temple All Shrine Band, who played this song in Des Moines and “all conclaves” in 1921. It is also titled “The Official Za-Ga-Zig’s ‘Iowa Corn Song’.” The first verse of the song goes as follows:
“Of all the states in the U.S.A. There’s only one for me,
It’s the good old state of I O A and we’re proud of her by gee,
We’re a bunch of corn-fed shriners, full of mirth and merry jest,
Our Temple it’s Za-Ga-Zig, all shrinedom knows the rest.”
Here’s the chorus:
“We’re from I O A, I O A,
From that grand old land trav’ling o’er the sand,
We’re from I O A, I O A,
That’s where the tall corn grows.”
“On a Little Farm in Iowa,” by Fred Howard and Nat Vincent, 1936, is referred to in the sheet music as “the new Iowa Corn Song” and the “state theme song.” It was used by Farm Folks Hour, Hawkeye Dinnertime, and Tall Corn Gang on the Iowa Br0adcasting System. The following is a verse and the very start of the chorus (which is most of the song):
“Yesterday I met a stranger,
Far away from his home town
And his tear filled eyes, made me realize,
How I long to settle down,
[Chorus] On a little farm in I-O-WAY
Where the folks are happy all the day…”
“I’m From Iowa (That Beautiful Iowa Song),” picture above, was written by Alice E. Snow with music by Clifford R. Snow and published in Goldfield, Iowa. The first verse follows a familiar theme:
“I’m a long way from home,
For I’m out on a roam;
And the world seems sad to me,
I would give all I own for a note from home sweet home;
From those friends I am longing to see,”
And the chorus also contains something familiar:
“Oh I’m from Iowa
Yes she is queen of the west
I’ll say that she is the best
That’s where I’m goin’
I can hear the cattle lowin’
Out in my home in the west.”
Either “queen of the west” was a common phrase for Iowa at the time, or this alludes back to “Iowa, Proud Iowa.” Either way, it’s interesting. The other theme here and throughout much of this list is homesickness. Clearly, it has played a significant role in the love for Iowa. So many of these songs convey a sense of longing for the author’s homeland, it makes one wonder whether this is common with all places, or if there is something different about Iowa that draws people’s thoughts back here. A discussion for another day, perhaps.
“Flag of Iowa” was penned by Mrs. Laura Wright in the hope of it being incorporated into the classroom in Iowa schools to familiarize students with the state flag. No year is given on the sheet music, as it simply says “Copyright applied for,” but based on information about the flag provided on the back of the music, the design of the state flag was made official in March 1921. Presumably, this song was written not too long after. The first verse is as follows:
“Dear old flag of Iowa. Wave, O, Wave.
You’re the emblem of a noble state. Wave, O, Wave.
For an hundred years she’s battled for the right
And we pledge our allegiance,
We’ll never give up the fight to keep her honor bright.”
Last to be featured here, but by no means least, is “Iowa,” written by Iowa’s own Meredith Willson, 1944. As many from this state know, Willson, who came from Mason City, wrote and composed the Broadway and cinematic hit The Music Man. The song pictured above was performed by none other than Bing Crosby. Here is the introduction and first part of the chorus:
That’s how they sing it in the Tall Corn Song
Other people call it I-“O”-WA
And they’re both just a little bit wrong.
[Chorus] I-O-WA, it’s a beautiful name
When you say it like we say it back home
It’s the robin in the willows,
It’s the post-master’s friendly hello.
I-O-WA, it’s a beautiful name
You’ll remember it where ever you roam;
It’s the sumac in September,
It’s the squeak of your shoes in the snow.”
Yet another song that harkens back to an earlier song on this list! Several of the songs in the collection use “Ioway” as a pronunciation, though of course no one today pronounces it that way. Mr. Willson has the right of it. And again, there is a hint of homesickness in this song. Oh, what papers could be written on this subject (hint, hint).
Keep in mind that this is only a small selection of the songs in the Iowa Sheet Music Collection. To see more, as well as songs not about Iowa but by Iowa songwriters, stop in and see us sometime!