On Thursday, March 24, students working in the University’s Special Collections & Archives (SC&A) launched an exhibit in Olin Memorial Library highlighting the University’s poetic past and future, entitled The Poetry Room. The Poetry Room features exciting finds from the archives alongside the work of current student poets. Students breathed new life into the past, reading poems inspired by authors in the archive such as Sylvia Plath and Elizabeth Bishop.
Oliver Egger ’23, who curated the exhibit, had the idea to put together an exhibit featuring the SC&A in 2020. However, this instillation was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Egger, who is interested in both the poetry section of the Archives and the University’s› student publications, began working on the exhibit in earnest in December 2021 with Special Collections Cataloging Librarian Maggie M. Long.
“I was inspired by the poetry collection we have in the archive and how poetry was my introduction to SC&A,” Egger said. “The idea behind [the exhibit] was to show how the archive is not a stagnant entity but rather a site of inspiration, conversation, and art. I was inspired by the amazing poets I know at Wesleyan through The Lavender and my classes, as well as a desire to make this exhibit one that both reflects on the past of poetry at Wes and points to the future.”
The exhibit features works from the Archives in five display cases, each with its own unique focus. One case looks at the legacy of donors Frank Kirkwood Hallock ’82 MA ’85 and Caroline Clark Barney whose funds allowed the University to greatly expand the selection of poetry in the Archives during the 19th and 20th centuries. A different case focuses on impressive works from the poetry section, including a book of selected poetry by Langston Hughes that was edited and signed by Maya Angelou.
Another part of the exhibit explores the history of the Wesleyan University Press and features a guest book signed by T.S. Eliot and the National Book Award for Poetry that was awarded to James L. Dickey for “Buckdancer’s Choice” in 1966. The final section delves into the history of the Russell House Honors College readings and student publications at the University. Highlights from this section include the first issue of The Ankh from 1985, along with other notable student publications from the past.
Student poems written in response to the Archives are printed in magazines available on the first floor of Olin Library. This exploration of the University’s literary past and present is on display in Olin through Monday, April 25.
Ben Togut can be reached at email@example.com.