Do Not Touch The Lion

I hope everyone enjoyed the JFK museum visit as much as I did! We will not be holding class April 17th due to Patriot’s Day, but keep an eye on your inbox for details from Alex about our April 24th visit to Harvard’s Houghton Library!

The first thing that strikes you when you enter the JFK Presidential Museum and Library is the architecture. The massive glass windows take excellent advantage of the ocean view, giving the whole building an open feeling, despite the secure nature of the building.

Our visit to the JFK library was guided by Dr. Justice, a superhero name if I’ve ever heard one. She led us up to the mural room, where we dropped off our stuff in order to begin the tour.

We were then brought down to a main research room, where academics can examine the works archived in both the JFK Presidential archive, and the Hemingway archive. Luckily, the resident researcher of the day was out on lunch, so we were able to stay a while and listen to some of the amazing things that Dr. Justice has been able to facilitate, including an amazing little story about using the referential prowess of the Library’s archivists to hunt down an old toy that is certainly out of production.

It should be noted that the Library’s resources are generally open to us, as students at UMB. If you’re interested in using the archives, all you have to do is check out the website! The archivist made it seem like a great deal of the materials are digitized, but Dr. Justice was very clear the the Library takes Copyright seriously, so make sure you adhere to Fair Use laws!

After the main research room, we proceeded to Hemingway room! This room featured a great deal of Hemingway’s novels, many of which are translations of his work into other languages. Dr. Justice explained that Hemingway’s works have a way of coming back in force during harsh times around the world. I’ve always thought that there is a timeless quality to Hemingway’s stoic bleakness, and I suspect that this quality helps to fuel the global popularity of Hemingway’s writing. The Hemingway room also featured a great deal of artifacts, as well as a wall of original Hemingway papers, collected from his notebooks, correspondences, and writing drafts.

Prominent, in the center of the room, is a giant lion pelt.  Apparently Simba (as referred to by Dr. Justice) was the victim of one of Hemingway’s various safaris. We were told not to touch the lion, and I assumed Dr. Justice was just asking for our courtesy to not touch the valuable artifact. Later, we learned that both Simba and Eddie (his gazelle compatriot) are in fact covered in Arsenic, and this warning was for our own good!

Upon our arrival back in the Mural room, Dr. Justice told us an amazing story about how she was able to draw a connection between Hills Like White Elephants and Hemingway’s transition from his first to his second marriage, using primary documents. At first, she was troubled by the content of the story. Upon an initial reading, the story seems like an aggressive, privileged man forcing his lover to have an abortion. Dr. Justice was able to find solace in the realization that Hemingway wrote himself as the girl, allowing the abortion to function as a powerful metaphor for his failed marriage and potential new love.

We finished up our visit by doing an activity in the Mural room. Dr. Justice printed off a few packets of source document photocopies, allowing us to view Hemingway’s creative process as he turned his raw teenage angst into a timeless and memorable short story. We were asked to find differences in the various drafts, and Dr. Justice guided us through these differences, giving us context. As a book nerd, the experience was sublime. It is truly a gift to be able to see the creative process of a recognized genius like Hemingway.

Illumination of The Red Wheelbarrow

obtuse

Small sketch of a red wheelbarrow

I selected “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams. I selected this poem simply because it has always been one of my favorites, and it’s always the first thing that comes into my mind when I think of an archetypical poem. The language of the poem is in the imagist style, and the short text of the poem calls up two distinct images, the wheelbarrow, and the chickens. This interacts well with an illumination exercise because most illuminations recall one image from the narrative and display it for the benefit of the reader. A text about Jesus would probably feature an image of Jesus.

The choices I had when illuminating this poem were few. There is little room for interpretation in the poem I chose. It seems as though the drawing on the page should reflect the content of the text. In the case of “The Red Wheelbarrow” this limits the range of drawings. I could’ve added context, by having a worker push the wheelbarrow, or added chickens for a more complete representation of the text, but in the end, a simple drawing of a wheelbarrow won out because I feel it fits more with the text.

A simple drawing fits a simple poem. As well, simply representing the wheelbarrow on the page adds to the meaning of the original poem. This functions differently in my poem than it would in most other poems, because “The Red Wheelbarrow” is a poem about the images in poems. This isn’t why I selected this poem, but once I realized we would be drawing pictures to accompany our poems, it dawned that I had chosen the perfect poem. What better poem to draw on, than one directly about images? There are a few ways for the picture to interact with the text. The first is that the image reproduces your mind’s eye when you read the poem. The image that you naturally create in your head is already on the page, increasing your immersion in the poem. Another possibility is that someone without a literary background reads the poem, and they just see a short poem about farm stuff, and they don’t see the genius behind William’s imagism. Maybe, if they saw pictures next to the poem, it would get them thinking about how the poem creates an image in your head, and they would be just a little bit closer to understanding the postmodern theory behind the poem.

This exercise has increased the complexity of my understanding when it comes to how text and images correspond with one another. Each piece of writing would present its own unique challenges. How would you illuminate the nature landscapes of Frost? Or take, for instance, a poet like E.E. Cummings. Illuminating one of his poems would be a nightmarish task, because of how he manipulates the text in his poems to create images out of the text. Illumination can help make a poem clearer, but it can also complicate the existing content of a piece of writing.