Tag Archives: poetry

Rubenstein Events: Music and the Movement and more…

Please join us this week for three very exciting events:

The SNCC Digital Gateway Project presents “Music & the Movement,” Tuesday, September 19, 7:30-9:30 pm

Please join us for an exciting discussion with five veteran activists on Tuesday, September 19th at 7:30 p.m. at NCCU’s Alfonso Elder Student Union. Music & The Movement – During the Civil Rights Movement, mass meetings overflowed with people singing and clapping to freedom songs, demanding justice in the face of oppression and showing courage in the face of danger. Join us for a roundtable discussion with five veteran activists as they speak about the power of the music of the Movement. As song leaders, Bettie Mae Fikes, Charles Neblett, and Hollis Watkins carried the music in their own communities in the South or across the nation as part of the SNCC Freedom Singers. Meanwhile, Candie Carawan and Worth Long worked to document the music of the Movement, recording and preserving the songs that moved people to action. They experienced firsthand how music was a tool for liberation, not only bringing people together but holding them together. The conversation will be moderated by SNCC veteran Charles Cobb. Many thanks to our co-sponsors: SNCC Legacy Project, Duke University Libraries, The Center for Documentary Studies, North Carolina Central University, and SNCC Digital Gateway Project.

Event Speakers: Bettie Mae Fikes, Charles Neblett, Hollis Watkins, Candie Carawan, and Worth Long
Event Location:  NCCU’s Alfonso Elder Student Union
Event Contact: CDS Front Desk
Event Contact Phone: 660-3663

Exhibit Tour and Reception: ‘I Sing the Body Electric’: Walt Whitman and the Body, Thursday, September 21, 11:45-1:30pm

Continue reading Rubenstein Events: Music and the Movement and more…

New Acquisition: Langston Hughes Revises His Text

In the Rubenstein Library, sometimes we primarily judge books by their covers, be they bejeweled, finely bound, or otherwise interestingly decorated.  And sometimes we certainly do not. Case in point: the book below.


The Library wouldn’t acquire most copies of the third edition of Langston Hughes’s Shakespeare in Harlem, especially not a copy without its original dust jacket and rather heavily worn.  But this was no ordinary copy.  This appears to be  Hughes’s own copy of the last edition of this book issued during his lifetime.

Inscription on front endpaper of this copy of Shakespeare in Harlem.
Inscription on front endpaper of this copy of Shakespeare in Harlem.

Not only that, Hughes made changes to fifteen of its poems, some of them dramatic shifts in the tone, rhythm, length, or meaning of the text.

Hughes's poem "Down and Out," with repetitive lines crossed out and some representations of dialect changed.
Hughes’s poem “Down and Out,” with repetitive lines crossed out and some representations of dialect changed.

The copy recently turned up in a sorority house at Lincoln University, from which it was sold at auction and entered the rare book trade.  Much about the volume remains to be discovered.  The changes that Hughes made in this volume have not been published or incorporated into any of the later editions of Hughes’s collected works or poems.





Goodnight, Stacks

Well, it’s finally happened.  The 2,065 newspaper boxes and volumes and 8,526 pamphlets, books, and ledgers that could not move in January or February have finally been sent to the LSC. We also moved our framed art collection from the stacks to our swing space, where we have an ingenious new storage solution (stay tuned for further blog coverage on our art move). Now all of that work is complete, and with the exception of books and portraits in the Gothic Reading Room, our collections have officially moved out of the old stacks space.


Our last day in the 1928 stacks was Friday, April 26. We checked under the 1928 elevator and took one last look at every shelf on our 8 labyrinth-like levels to make sure we left nothing behind. And so now we say good-bye. While cleaning up the last of the collections I found this appropriate bit of graffiti on the stack walls. What a lovely way to bid our old stacks farewell. Goodnight 1928 stacks!

Post contributed by Molly Bragg, Collections Move Coordinator in Rubenstein Technical Services.

A Tale of Two Archives; or, The Persistence of ‘Girl Land’

Anyone reading this blog knows that archives are full of wonderfully weird ephemera just waiting to be discovered and discussed, of conversations waiting to happen. This is the story of two archives that, it turns out, have a lot to talk about.

The John Rylands University Library at the University of Manchester has had this drawing on its webpage for some time:

Sunday evening in St. Jame's, Barton
“Sunday evening in St. James’s, Barton,” from the John Rylands University Library

Ostensibly, this is a doodle, maybe an early comic. It depicts an ordinary meeting between preachers and parishioners. Only one thing stands out: the stocky girl just off the center dressed in bright pink and orange, while everyone around her wears drab brown. Look closer and you see that she her awkwardness is not limited to her dress: oblivious to the women gossiping behind her, our young heroine “stands, patiently, while her papa shakes hands with all the colliers, not knowing but she must do so too – a perfect pattern!  Dear lady!” This oblivious fool is also the artist.

Cut to our own archive: Two summers ago, I was working in the Frank Baker Collection of Wesleyana and British Methodism when I came upon some poems. Having cataloged plenty of manuscript materials within the collection, I wouldn’t have thought much of them, except I noticed that they were tied together with string. Fanciful English student that I am, I recalled that Emily Dickinson’s manuscripts had been likewise fashioned together, and so began my grandiose visions: had I stumbled upon the British Emily? Could these poems help to reinvigorate the field of 18th-century women’s poetry – revolutionize it, even? It’s the fantasy held dear by every budding academic: to discover the next Milton or Frost, to shake the scholarly world to its core. Needless to say, literary scholarship remains unshaken, but it does have a new name on its register: Sarah Wesley.

The poems I found were written by our pink-and-orange artiste, the daughter of Charles Wesley, a co-founder of British Methodism. What is so fascinating about Sarah Wesley is her outright resistance to the restrictive practices of her every-day life – and how, perhaps as a result of that resistance, she has since all but disappeared from most histories of British Methodism.

SW_bound manuscript
Bound manuscript with Sarah Wesley’s writings in the Frank Baker Collection.

Her poetry in particular served as an outlet for questioning her father’s religion, as well as engaging with emergent conversations about the rights of women. Even while Wesley’s social commitments were progressive, she remained a devout Methodist throughout her life. But through her writing, most of which she kept hidden away from the judgmental eyes of her community, Wesley takes us to a place we don’t often think of when we read the eighteenth century: the private mind of the teenage girl.

Caitlin Flanagan’s recent book Girl Land (Little, Brown and Co., 2012) makes a compelling case for the fundamental significance of a particular marker of female adolescence: that time when a girl recedes into her room for a few years and emerges a brooding melodramatic for a few more. Flanagan posits that as a society, we take too lightly “a girl’s sudden need to withdraw from the world for a while and inhabit a secret emotional life” (1). But in fact, this is time and space that young girls need in order to come to terms with the world and their place within it. And so, Flanagan urges us to celebrate, rather than denigrate, the importance of this space she calls “girl land.”

Flanagan’s study is predicated on a particular reading of the history of the teenager. But even before “adolescence” became a discrete intellectual category in the twentieth century, Sarah Wesley was, in many ways, a typically modern teenage girl.

She wrote poetry that was evocative, romantic, and highly self-reflexive:

The Pilot Reason stays on Shore,
The boisr’ous Passions more,
Youth is the Ship and Hope the Oar,
And O! the Sea is Love!

~from “Sonnet,” 1770

In particular, much of her work is preoccupied with exploring her budding sexuality:

Her Eyes enraptur’d shall your Beauties own
Her snowy Fingers be your Virgin Lone!
Her Lips shall bid Thee with a sigh Adieu!
Her Lips shall greet Thee with ambrosial Dew!
Descending showers shall fall from Heaven to gaze!
Within your silken Folds shall Graces lie
And panting Zephryss on your Bosom die!
The Muse shall stamp Thee with Idalia’s Crest,
And Venus court Thee to adorn her Breast.

~from “On receiving a Nosegay,” n.d.

However, she was not without some snark when it came to matters of romance:

Both Truth and Malice on one point agree
That my outside is the worst part of me
Small is the censure, whilst it stands confest
Bad as it is, thy outside is the Best!

~“Epigram: on receiving a rude Speech from a Crooked Gentleman,” 1777

SW_rude speech

As we saw in the drawing from the Manchester archive, she held some anxiety over her appearance and the perceptions of others.

And in perhaps the defining feature of “girl land,” she was adamant about challenging the values she inherited from her family in order to come to her own understanding of her world (for more on the particulars of Wesley’s intellectual rebellion, see my essay in the Winter 2013 volume of Eighteenth-Century Studies, which expounds on her feminist and abolitionist interests).

“The Elopement” figures prominently in Koretsky’s article, “Sarah Wesley, British Methodism, and the Feminist Question, Again,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 46.2 (Winter 2013), pages 223-237.

So did my work in the Frank Baker Collection yield the next Emily Dickinson? Not exactly. At the level of versification, Wesley’s poetry is derivative at best. But in the connections she asks us to draw between religion and the secular discourses of the key social issues at the end of the eighteenth century, Wesley’s voice raises many productive questions, which I hope eighteenth-century scholars will continue to engage. And further still, the familiar tenor of her poetry demonstrates the persistence of “girl land,” and how productive that sometimes alien-seeming place can be.

Post contributed by Deanna Koretsky, a Ph.D. candidate in the Duke English Dept. and a graduate student assistant in Technical Services.

Found in the Stacks: “On the Slave Trade,” Author Unknown

Volume of ca. 1700s manuscript poetry containing "On the Slave Trade"

On this date in 1807, “An Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade” was passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom.  This was a milestone in the struggle over the use of slaves in the British Empire’s colonies and a victory for the abolitionist coalition led by William Wilberforce.  The bill’s passage not only saved countless lives, changed the administration of empires around the world, and transformed nineteenth-century commerce: the research, propaganda, and theoretical efforts which led to its passage were key to developing the concept of human rights.   Many essential  resources for understanding the abolition effort are available in the Rubenstein Library, including correspondence and papers of abolitionists William Wilberforce, Thomas Clarkson, and William Smith.

In addition, a volume of manuscript poetry in a Rubenstein Library collection of British literary papers contains a poem entitled “On the Slave Trade.”  Very little is known about the poet or the poem: the poet is only known by his handwritten initials, “W. J.” or perhaps “W. G.,” and no trace of publication of the poem has yet been found by Rubenstein staff. The poem appears to have been composed before the slave trade’s abolition, probably in the eighteenth century. Study of other poems in the volume, and analysis of the poet’s idiosyncratic punctuation and contractions (such as the use of “fab’lous” for “fabulous”) may provide clues as to the poem’s date and the identity of its author.

The poem is satirical, presenting the intentionally outrageous situation of Satan commissioning his demons to find him slaves to do Hell’s dirty work. While it is unlikely that anyone will argue that it is a lost masterpiece, it does use vivid imagery and sly irony to convey the grotesque injustice of the slave trade and the unbridled greed that led to such abuse of fellow human beings.  A transcription of the poem appears below.  If you know anything about the author or the poem, please post a comment!

Opening page of "On the Slave Trade"

On the Slave Trade

Fab’lous — are storys — some will say
Yet I’ll tell one — if I’m able
That some odd tempers take it may
Either for truth — or a fable

A sort of wisper’s in the air
That Pandaemon’um Peers are met
But loud enough — some ears to hear
And now they do in council set

Satan — address’d his higher Pow’rs
My friends — what I’ll propose you’ll see
Will benifit both yours — and ours
And much improv’d our realm will be

We want more slaves for drudging work
Sewers and boghouses to clean
That well can labour in the murk
And clear away the soil — not seen

Our drains that to Cocytus run
Are choak’d — from whence such stench arise
That must affect us ev’ry one
Our healths endanger — and our eyes

Of women slaves we want a few
As nurses for our Devilkins
To keep them sweet — and wipe their queu[‘s]
So nothing fret their tender skins

The sex besure you don’t mistake
For I remember once before
As some for He’s you She’s did take
Which set our realm in an uproar

My good compatr’ots I advise
You hunt like those on Guinea coast
Use artifice — yourselves disguise
See who can lure — and trap the most

Here Satan — ended his harangue
Their wings they flap — and ape their jaws
With teeth they make a horrid clang
In gen’ral token of applause

A sudden rumbling now exist
Some change to Vultures — Apes — and Hogs
All Proteus like to what they list
Others to Serpents — Newts — and Frogs

Some Keener Devils than the rest
Direct — transform’d themselves to Gold
Well knowing it of snares the best
As nat’ons for it have been sold

The pond’rous gates now open fly
And all rush out their sev’ral roads
In full pursuit of slaves they hie
And swarms they bring to their abodes

The golden lumps had such success
More than the others double caught
Of all descript’ons more or less
Their baits they had so artful fraught

In thought among these tribes you see
Cozening Knaves — and Thieves — beside
The worst of wretches that can be
Envy — Avarice — Mischief — Pride

What horror must these beings feel
Down in the Sink — of mis’ry thrown
Condemn’d — shut out from all appeal
By evil — being downward prone

They like their masters lov’d to prowl
And aim’d to trick and bubble all
So now in Slavery let them growl
Themselves they'[v]e bubbled into thral

Be on your guard for to escape
These Semi Devils — here are out
For some assume a Cherub shape
And are perpet’al on the scout

Post contributed by Will Hansen, Assistant Curator of Collections.