July 28, 2014

Blog: Sackner Archive: Guest Post by Miriam Katzeff from Primary Information

Primary Information, an organization formed in New York in 2006, devoted to printing artist books, artist writings, out-of-print publications and editions, visited Miami this year as PAMM Researchers-in Residence.

Occasioned by PAMM's exhibition, A Human Document: Selections from the Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry, and our recent re-publication of Something Else Press' An Anthology of Concrete Poetry, PAMM invited Primary Information to present programming related to concrete poetry and to explore the Sackner Archive.

Entrance of Ruth and Marvin Sackner's home

Based in Miami, the Sackner Archive is known internationally as the largest collection of concrete poetry in the world. Unlike in most institutional archives, visitors to the Sackners' archive are welcomed into their home. We benefited from the Sackners’ insight into the multifarious contents of their vast collection and from their own accounts of many of the artists included in their archive.

Typewriter art at the Sackner's home

PAMM Curator Rene Morales' exhibition whittles down the enormous collection into a cohesive presentation and timeline of different movements that employ text in visual ways. But visiting the collection is a dizzying experience. While planning our trip, we were excited to see many legendary publications firsthand, and to look into specific works. Once there, we quickly became entranced by other publications and artists that were new discoveries for us.

Bookshelf at the Sackner's home

The Sackner Archive is not only a collection of original works, but also of poets’ own archives and of publications about concrete poetry. Having republished Emmett Williams' anthology, one area of interest for me was the Sackners' collection of other anthologies of concrete poetry. Concrete poetry was an international movement, whose name was coined in the 1950s and was most popular in the 1960s. Our publication was originally published in 1967, when concrete poetry was ongoing as a movement, and presents a selection of poets from many different countries. The Sackner Archive contains several regionally specific anthologies. Comparing all of these anthologies was a great opportunity to see works by concrete poets who have been forgotten.

Czech concrete poetry anthology at the Sackner's home

One reason concrete poetry could flourish across national boundaries was that the work tended to be easily transmissible through printing, but in these anthologies, sacrifices of format sometimes had to be made. In our anthology, the work of brothers Haroldo and Augusto De Campos, Brazilian founders of concrete poetry, is prominent, but Something Else Press’ original publication was in black and white, even though their work uses color heavily.

De Campos

One of my favorite publications to look through is Futura, published by artist and publisher Hansjorg Mayer. Futura had 26 issues; each centered on a single artist, and with the exception of one issue, was always in a single poster format.

Futura Futura 26 Futura 2Futura 9 Futura 19 Futura 22Futura 23 Futura 25 Futura fold

One poet who was unfamiliar to me before our visit, is Norman Henry Pritchard who published two books of poetry in 1960 and 1971. During this time, Pritchard was a member of the Umbra, a group of black poets and also a magazine in New York. Pritchard’s books are great examples of Concrete poetry but he was not included in many of the anthologies I saw.

Book by Norman Henry Pritchard Inside of book by Norman Henry Pritchard

One concrete poet that the Sackners collect heavily is Dom Sylvester Houédard , who was also a contributor to our concrete poetry anthology. Houedard was prolific and quite popular but what was most surprising about the Sackner collection were Houedard’s drawings. The drawings have only been exhibited once in recent history but I was able to view them in depth.

DSH drawing

Beyond its historical importance, the archive is also hugely inspiring for book designers. One of my favorite books to see from spread to spread was 15 konstellationen by Robert S Gessner and Eugen Gomringer.

Book by Eugen Gomringer

As PAMM Researchers-in-Residence, Primary Information launched their new edition of An Anthology during a panel discussion with the Sackners that also explored Marvin Sackner’s forthcoming book, The Art of Typewriting, both exploring the processes of republishing, printing, and working with primary documents. Additionally, they organized a vocal performance with PAMM that featured Stine Janvin Motland (Oslo/Berlin) and C. Spencer Yeh (Brooklyn), to draw parallels between experiments with the non-lyrical voice in the context of a history of concrete poetry that has privileged the graphic elements of words as much, or in cases more so than their linguistic meanings. Lastly they participated in a day of presentations which included the performance poetry of Michael Basinksi (Buffalo), a conversation with artist Tom Phillips (London), and a talk by Max Schumann, director of Printed Matter (New York). Their research of the Archive included the use of social media to introduce a new audience to some of their favorite materials in the collection through Instagram and their encounters with the archive continue to seed plans for new publishing projects.