Every January the Boston College Libraries hosts educational sessions for its library staff. The sessions cover a variety of topics that keep us abreast of the latest procedures in the library world in general and focus on what our own libraries have to offer. My colleague, Irish Studies Librarian Kathleen Williams, and I decided that we would like to present a session about the Traffic Street Press Irish Poetry collection, a group of books from the John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections. The presentation was so well received that we were asked to curate an exhibit of these beautifully designed books. Our exhibit, Precious Poems in Precious Packaging: Irish Poems Printed and Bound by the Traffic Street Press, will be on display March 1st – April 30th, 2012 in the Thomas P. O’Neill Library at Boston College.
The Traffic Street Press Irish Poetry series, a collaborative project with Dr. Thomas Dillon Redshaw of the Center for Irish Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, includes selections of poetry by well-known Irish poets. The books, launched each St. Patrick’s Day between the years 2000 and 2008 at the O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library Special Collections Open House, were printed by The Traffic Street Press. The advertising profile of the project gives this description: “these books are designed and hand-produced by Paulette Myers-Rich, with the involvement of each poet, and are illustrated with art and materials that correspond with the poetry, joining image and text in a book form that complements both. All books are letterpress printed and hand bound in limited editions and signed by the poets”. Paulette Myers-Rich was the winner of the 2009 Book Artist Award, an annual award granted by the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. A fine press book artist since 1992, Myers-Rich works extensively with black and white photography; artists’ books are her favored format as they allow the combination of image and text in conventional and non-traditional book forms. Of her work, Myers-Rich says, “Contemporary book arts has given rise to a variety of structures that both embrace tradition and break with it, offering myriad forms and interesting challenges. Yet, regardless of the approach to artists’ books, for me, the practice of craft is important. The book must be a compelling and satisfying object or environment that activates content, a work that satisfies the hands, the eyes and the mind.” She teaches at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and gives workshops at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts.
In the Irish poetry series, Ms. Myers-Rich incorporated materials made by other Minnesota book artists. Stephen Pittelkow is a bookbinder who wanted to have personalized papers for his book projects and began making marbled paper. He experiments with a variety of paints and papers and his works are collected by museums. Pittelkow travels to teach and also does workshops at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. An example of his marbled paper covering a Traffic Street book was shown in our presentation.
Ms. Myers-Rich frequently uses Cave Paper in her bindings. Bridget O’Malley, co-owner of Cave Papers states, “As a paper maker, I am fascinated with sheets which go beyond the expected look of paper. I am drawn to surfaces which are quite un-paper-like and instead evoke rusted metal, stone, leather, and vellum. These unusual surfaces beg to be combined with under-printing, overprinting and incorporated into finished artwork.” The Cave Papers used for the Traffic Street book covers are made from flax grown in Belgium. Bridget was an apprentice to Timothy Barrett, a well-known papermaker, at the University of Iowa Center for the Book. O’Malley also makes creative book-bindings – her book One Bridge, One River, One Year can be seen in the Guild of Book Worker’s Marking Time exhibition online.
For the Precious Poems in Precious Packages exhibit, Kathleen and I chose five of the Traffic Street titles to show: Six Years by Thomas McCarthy, Emigrant Suite by Eavan Boland, The 5th Province by Greg Delanty, Winter Birds by Moya Canon, and Dialann/Diary by Cathal O’Searcaigh.
The tall, slim, accordion-style binding encasing the works by Thomas McCarthy was a fitting choice: it underscores the musical metaphors he uses and reminds us of the accordion so often used in traditional Irish music. In the exhibit case beside Six Years we have exhibited examples from the John J. Burns Library’s Brereton Broadsides, so visitors can see that the layout of the poems as printed in the Traffic Street volume echoes traditional design of Irish broadsides.
Emigrant Suite by Eavan Boland is covered with rich walnut brown color Cave paper. The color comes from hulls of walnuts cooked to extract the dye and is lightfast for a natural dye. The paper, repeatedly coated with the dye to produce an intense shade of brown, is a perfect choice for Emigrant Suite, reflecting the tension and anxiety of the recipients as they await the letters referred to in Boland’s poem. A scanned letter from the Prendergast family was used as an illustration in this Traffic Street imprint. The Prendergast letters (19th century correspondence from Ireland to Boston) are owned by the Burns Library; the poet Eavan Boland was able to study them when she came to lecture at Boston College.
In The 5th Province by Greg Delanty also deals with the emigrant experience. The poem exhibited is “We Will Not Play the Harp Backwards Now, No.”This poem is filled with Celtic folklore references – many to folk tales involving harps. To engage our audience’s listening experience, Elizabeth Sweeney, Director of the Irish Music Center at Boston College, selected harp music played by renowned harpist Mary O’Hara—a link is shown on a QRC in the exhibit case. The deep blue paper covering The 5th Province is an example of Cave Paper colored with a synthetic dye called Indigo. Papermaker O’Malley had rolled the paper and only dipped parts in the dye vat producing varying shades—lighter areas and un-dyed areas.
The Traffic Street book, Winter Birds by Moya Canon, has Stephen Pittlekow’s marble paper on its cover. The paper works very well as a choice for the title poem as the poet refers to the black-breasted geese, a type of sea bird. Pittelkow’s blue and black paper with a stepped, diagonal pattern evokes the waves; Myers-Rich successfully joined image and text in her book design. The poem, “Winter Birds,” starts with a quote fromGiraldus Cambrensis, author of Topographia Hibernae (Topography of Ireland). To complement this allusion a version of Topographia printed in Ireland by Dolmen Press is shown in the exhibit. Paulette Myers-Rich has expressed admiration for books produced by Dolmen Press, so may be pleased to learn that their works are exhibited side by side in our Precious Poems in Precious Packaging exhibit.
Dialann/ Diary by Cathal O’Searcaigh, a dual-language book is the last Traffic Street book in the exhibit. Each poem was printed in Irish as written by poet Cathal O’Searcaigh and has an English translation by Denise Blake on the adjacent page. The poem, “Attic” was chosen because it was this poem that led my colleague Kathy Williams to this beautiful series. She gets together at lunchtimes to practice translating Irish with other Boston College librarians and had searched for an Irish language poem by Cathal O’Searcaigh. The edition of his Dialinn/Diary owned by the Burns Library happened to be one from the Traffic Street Press Irish Poetry series. Kathy showed me the book covered with two Cave Papers, indigo and deep brown—a simple, yet elegant design choice reflecting the two languages in the text. I admired the paper, the pure printing style, and the careful execution of the toned Irish thread used to sew the text-block and agreed that Kathy had come across some special books that merited more attention. We quickly decided to collaborate on a presentation and then co-curated the exhibit.
The five books discussed above and the complementary items from the John J. Burns Library’s special collections items will be on view at the Thomas P. O’Neill Library through April 30, 2012. The Traffic Street Press volumes and other special collection items that you learned about in this article will be accessible in the John J. Burns Library after the closing of Precious Poems in Precious Packaging exhibit by contacting the Burns Library Reading Room at 617-552-4861 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For directions to the John J. Burns and O’Neill Libraries, click here and take a look at this page for library hours.
- Barbara Adams Hebard, Conservator, John J. Burns Library