Poetic Forms and Content

"Drawings in a Nutshell"

Johanna Poehlmann's "Drawings in a Nutshell"

"Drawings in a Nutshell"

The little burlap bag that encases "Drawings in a Nutshell"

Mother Goose Rhymes

Amanda Quashie and Jennifer Southard look through Donna Thomas's Mother Goose Rhymes (1986).

We've been paying attention to the relationship between form and content all semester long, so we were pleased to see books that offered overt commentary on that very phenomenon. Among the many holdings of this nature in Hofstra's Special Collections library, we especially enjoyed the whimsical "Drawings in a Nutshell," by Johanna Poehlmann and Donna Thomas's Mother Goose Rhymes

Poehlmann's tiny book, contained in a walnut, contains tiny pictures of nuts--what else?

Though the book seems like a novel twist on the book form, it participates in a rather long tradition of works "in a nutshell." It resembles, for instance, a nutshell case containing photographic views of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (held in St. Louis in 1904), owned by Columbia University's Rare Book and Manuscript Libraries. 

Thomas's book is shaped like a goose, much to our delight. The library's copy is one of ten copies illustrated with original water-colored paintings. The paper is handmade and the book is bound in a brown and orange leather case with brass clasp. These books each carry on the spirit of the "geometric" forms we saw described in George Puttenham's Arte of English Poesie (1589).

Lt. Shrapnel. <a title="Catalog Reference" href="http://libweb.hofstra.edu/record=b2560822~S1" target="_blank">Catalog Record</a> Lt. Shrapnel. <a title="Catalog Reference" href="http://libweb.hofstra.edu/record=b2560822~S1" target="_blank">Catalog Record</a>

The poem "Lieutenant Shrapnel" (2001) by Josh Brouwer also embodies its content in its form. It is encased in army fatigues and a wooden box invoking a coffin. Its pages bear the poem itself as well as materials such as nails and other metal forms that literally embed the shrapnel of the poem's title into its text.

"The Future of al-Mutanabbi Street" (<a title="Catalog Entry" href="https://libweb.hofstra.edu/search/Y?SEARCH=Al-Mutanabbi&amp;searchscope=1&amp;b=uwss" target="_blank">Catalog Record</a> in Hofstra Special Collections)

The Future of al-Mutanabbi Street

Special Collections also owns some books that participate in a Broadside series called "Al-mutanabi Street Starts Here," books commissioned as part of an homage to a street in Baghdad that had hosted a variety of book stores before it was car-bombed in 2007. A San Francisco bookseller invited letterpress printers to contribute hand-made books to series to commemorate the open literary and intellectual culture. Artists like Martha Hayden made works that incorporated parts of the street life directly into their pages. Hofstra's collection includes three books by the Belgian artist Christine Kermaire along these lines,  "Memory of al-Mutanabbi Street," Future of al-Mutanabbi Street," and "Resilience of al-Mutanabbi Street."

 For more information on this book, take a look at this video, which features the head of Special Collections, Geri Solomon.


Hofstra Special Collections
Poetic Forms and Content