Before posting further, I thought it might be interesting to contextualize the gestation of the LitMore Small Press Poetry library from its birth at Towson Arts Collective (2008-2011), to Douglas Mowbray’s home office and my basement (2011-2013), and to LitMore (October 2013-present).
The image above details the view into our small library space in the basement of the Towson Arts Collective, which was located below the Towson Framing Gallery in south Baltimore County. In a former life I acted as the Secretary of TAC, and even had a hand in curating my first ever exhibit of text-based artworks called, appropriately, The Text and its Discontexts. As you can clearly see from the frames to the left of the door, my curatorial duties and librarianship garnered much praise in the community, something I will always cherish for the rest of my life because it brought meaning to an often thankless and exhausting endeavor. But about the library…
Notice the slimness of the collection. At this point there were no more than a few hundred volumes, including the very-hard-to-define-and-catalog ephemera (broadsides, unbound cards and drawings, packages, etc.) that crossed my path via trades with writers, mail artists and other creative peoples. As the publisher of a small poetry press (Furniture Press Books), I had the esteemed joy of swapping books and chapbooks with people from around the world (all of which will be available for your visual pleasure in the coming months). But this collection was just a mess: disorganized, piled up in heaps… but it had a home.
Amidst the collection sprang up a very important project called Onthology/audio, which was my extension of Paul Blackburn‘s audiophilia. When time permitted, I invited local poets to the library and recorded their poems. This, I believe, is a natural aspect of collection building, archiving the beautiful voices of our contemporaries for future enjoyment and research. It was (and still is, since this is an ongoing project) my hope to archive and celebrate the manifest voices of Baltimore and regional poets whose work defines our current state of affairs. When I left TAC in 2011, I took my gear on the road and began recording in the field. The Onthology/audio site will soon be part of the interactive catalog of text, images and audio.
When the library was removed from TAC, some titles went to Douglas Mowbray’s home office and some to my basement office. Above is an image of the collection shortly after it was moved, and includes a large portion of books from Douglas’ private collection. Unable to locate a large enough space to relocate the library, the collection remained stagnant for three years, with titles coming in randomly from our purchases or jaunts to The Book Thing (a warehouse in midtown Baltimore that houses thousands upon thousands of books that are FREE for the taking).
But when Douglas and I founded Poetry in Community, developing poetry programming in conjunction with libraries in the Waverly and Charles Village neighborhoods, we envisioned a resource center where a small press library could act as a hub for events and research into contemporary practices in poetry. As word of our endeavors and collection building spread through the literary and educational communities, we began receiving donations of books from individuals and presses, and in a few years we amassed approximately 2500 books. Our largest donation came from Alan C. Reese, publisher of Abecedarian Books, in the form of the entire archives of the now defunct Harford Country Poetry Society. I do not lie when I say we were sitting on cartons of books for about a year before a breakthrough occurred in the form of an angel: Julie Fisher, host of numerous reading series and events and manager of the very awesome poetry resource, Poetry in Baltimore, and the leasing of the former rectory for the nuns of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Mt. Washington, a quaint neighborhood in the heart of Baltimore.
On a rainy day in mid-October 2013, Douglas and I took turns driving boxes and bags of books, shelving, book ends, everything associated with that vagabond library. When the last box was opened and the last book put into place in the built-in shelving units, we stood back and assessed the enormity of the task before us: separating titles by genre (single author collections, anthologies, poetics, etc.), alphabetizing and serializing the periodicals, weeding out works of prose and fiction that did not fit out poetry-only criteria, developing a cataloging system and applying a unique code to each and every object in the collection, and finally, digitizing images of each and every piece in the “rare books” collection. By a stroke of luck, and because I work for Cook Library at Towson University, I was able to acquire about 76 large archival clamshell boxes, which we will use to store and catalog the rare books. I have been very fortunate to find many helpful tools from their archives department, which saves us a lot of money (and time) locating necessary infrastructure to keep the collection safe and sturdy.
As you might see, this has been an ongoing process for six years, even if the changes and progress are too small to measure and account for. But one very noticeable difference is that the collection has grown to more than 4000 pieces! But we are making progress every day, and this blog will help to alert our current and future patrons to the extent and necessity of this very important resource for Baltimore’s exciting and vital literary arts communities. We are currently soliciting for donations of poetry books from small and micro presses, individuals with private libraries, and community libraries and organizations that are weeding their own collections. Without a steady source of income, we rely heavily on donations (which are tax deductible through the Greater Homewood Community Corporation, who have been sponsoring LitMore for almost a year). In the future, we hope to accumulate enough funds to start subscribing to small and micro presses around the world. In the meantime, your help, and resources, are greatly needed. And appreciated.
Keep looking for updates. I’ll have pictures from the library and past events and the rare books collection posted very soon. (Apologies for the lack of images here. I only hopes to put the library’s endeavors into perspective while we gear up for big things!)