This is a book of poems by E. E. Cummings, published in 1925, just after the heyday of artistic cubism. Upon first glance, the reader can see that Cummings experimented with different ways of laying out his poems on the page. One of the important aspects of cubist art was appealing to different senses, such as the use of textured elements to appeal to the sense of touch through sight. Similarly, cubist literature, such as these poems, use the spacing on the page to influence the sense of sound–the spacing between words affects how one hears the poem in one’s head. Cummings was by no means the only writer to utilize these techniques during the cubist era–both Apollinaire and Gertrude Stein were well known for creating visual poetry, often in even more outrageous ways than included in this compilation.
There are several examples of creatively spaced poetry in this book, including Songs I and XI and Portraits VIII, which are all pictured below. However, possibly the most intriguing use of space is in Sonnet VII. Sonnet VII is a Petrarchan (or Italian) Sonnet, following the structure of an octet (abbaabba) followed by a sestet (cddeec) and written in iambic pentameter. Sonnets are one of the most rigid forms of poetry, and are usually identifiable first by their shape. However, Sonnet VII does not look like a “regular” sonnet: it has breaks mid-octet, mid-sestet, and even mid-line. For readers who are familiar with the rhythm of reading a sonnet, it almost feels awkward to read the poem with the added spacing. Since this poem is already a very sensory poem, appealing to both smell and sight, this additional play on the sound of the poem provides the perfect example of how cubism influenced the senses of literature.
Both during and after the visit to Special Collections, I found myself repeatedly drawn to the elaborate, complex, and geometrical manuscripts of George Crumb’s Makrokosmos I & II. These pieces, written for amplified piano, are, in their own right, gorgeous pieces of musical art, though they present a massive visual challenge to any prospective performer. For this post, I selected two pieces of the manuscript: part one of Makrokosmos, Volume I, and The Magic Circle of Infinity.
I chose to include this portion of Makrokosmos in order to best show Crumb’s stunning manuscript independent of his concrete works. Despite being a fairly regular physical size, the sheer size of the grand stavesand notation is staggering; the manuscript often features single parts involving three staves in which two overlap to voice the bass and the independent third staff voices the right hand. In terms of technicality, the piece certainly does not pull any punches—septuplet 64th notes, trills, and dectuplet moving lines glare from the page, as if to say “I dare you.”
I also chose to include the circular manuscript, The Magic Circle of Infinity, because it epitomizes the remarkable work of Crumb (as well as corresponds to my astrological sign). As a composer, Crumb very much wanted to challenge typical conventions of linear part writing, giving the musician something new to focus on, something to alter their viewpoint. Since sheet music is infrequently seen by audience members or listeners, Makrokosmos is almost entirely directed towards the performer, as it is up to them to decipher the ornate and mind-bending manuscript.
During my visit to special collections, I was interested in the photography journal, Camera Work. This journal was one of the first to introduce
photography as a form rather a useful tool. I found this book because photography is my favorite form of art and the only one I successfully participate in. Camera Work was published in 1903 by Alfred Stieglitz.
The journal displays black and white prints of pictures that encapture nature, people, and buildings. It is evident that each print was developed in a different way, so while some appear more clear and detailed, others appear more vague and almost appear as a sketch or a painting. Another aspect of the journal that contributes to the design, is the font of the articles. Each letter that starts an article is larger than the rest and very articulate and detailed. Additionally, even the ads featured in the magazine are well designed and contribute to the detailed aesthetic of the full journal.
Finally, being able to inspect Camera Work in person versus online was very impactful to my viewing of the work. I was able to feel the rough-edged thick
pages, and see the prints of the photography in the same quality as those who viewed it in 1903. These details are important because they reinforce the period that the work comes from, which is important when viewing the photographs, and reading the content. Although many of the photographs pictured may seem ordinary to the current day viewer, they were the first photographs that were taken that were meant to be visually appealing.
The object that I found to be the most interesting in Special Collections was the Fantasia book by Deems Taylor from 1940. As one of the earliest Walt Disney films, Fantasia is still revered by many to be an outstanding example of early 2D animation cinema, and as one of the first movies to combine classical music with artistic animation, it still remains significant in media arts culture. Although Fantasia flopped at the time and caused Walt Disney Studios to lose a lot of money, Fantasia is now a Disney classic and stands out through its unique usage of animated characters to tell stories of the music that it was inspired by. The book itself is quite big, hardcover with fabric binding in black and white print. Interestingly enough, however, colored renderings of Fantasia concept art have been pasted in over the black and white lithography that give a new dimension to the illustrations of the book and draw the reader into the story. Musical scores of the corresponding scenes flow through the book so that one can visually understand the way the music and the artwork work together to create a modern cinematic experience for the time. If I had not seen the object in person, I would not have known that the colored images were pasted in nor have been able to feel how thick the pages were. I found this book particularly interesting to look at because, as an aspiring Disney artist, I draw a lot of inspiration from the Golden Age of Disney and the original conceptual artwork that focuses more on animation as an art form and not a money pit. Understanding the work put into making this book and seeing the original concept art is a great experience and I feel a greater appreciation for Fantasia after viewing the book in person.