Large visual poetry collection moves into UI Special Collections

The UI Libraries Special Collections will house the Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual Poetry, a 75,000-item collection of artistic and experimental poetry.



Rylee Wilson, News Reporter

While poetry is often thought of as ink on paper, the work of concrete poets blurs the lines between written work and visual art.

The University of Iowa Libraries Special Collections is the new home of the Sackner Archive of Concrete and Visual poetry. The archive contains more than 75,000 works of visual poetry, which takes form in mosaics, ceramics, paintings, and other visual forms. the Sackner family donated the archive to the UI .

Tim Shipe, the curator of the International Dada Archive at the UI Libraries, said the presence of the Dada Archive, one of the world’s most comprehensive, and the university’s reputation as a center for literature made the UI a good choice to house the collection.

The ideals of Dadaism, an early 20th-century avavant-garde art movement, are closely aligned with the work of concrete poetry.

Founded by Ruth and Marvin Sackner in 1979, the archive were housed for many years in the couple’s private apartment in Miami Beach, Florida. When Hurricane Irma hit in 2017, the collection had to be moved to storage, prompting Marvin Sackner to search for a more permanent home for the collection.

“One of the things the Dadaists did was play with language in their poetry and prose — they really did precursors of concrete poetry,” Shipe said. “They would have poems consisting of words spread out on a page in various patterns, collage poems, sound poems, abstract poems; really, they’re seen as one of the major precursors of the concrete-poetry movement.”

Shipe defines concrete and visual poetry as work more concerned with the visual than the linguistics aspects of poetry.

“Poetry whose appearance on the page is very important — maybe more important than the linguistic contact or poetry that plays with words as words — rather than as parts of sentences,” he said.

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The works of the archive will be available for view in Special Collections beginning in January 2020, and they will also be displayed in exhibitions in the Main Library’s Gallery.

Special Collections head Margaret Gamm said she hopes to explore the breadth of the collection through the exhibit.

Shipe and Gamm said the works in the collection will be useful for many different research interests, from English and visual arts to the health sciences.

“This will be very useful for a wide variety of classes and researchers in a wide variety of fields, and we are excited to welcome everybody to the reading room to use the collection next year,” Gamm said.

Shipe emphasized that the pieces will be available as a resource for the UI community.

“It is going to be available — it’s not something that’s going to be behind museum cases,” he said. “You’ll be able to ask for these wonderful pieces, and take them out, and look at them in depth.”

In a press release, Sackner said he is pleased with the donation of his archives to the UI.

“My beloved wife, Ruth, and I had a dream that one day our efforts to build our collection into one that would reside in a world-class educational institution like the [UI] would come true,” he said in the release. “Our dream has finally become a reality. I am just sorry that Ruth is no longer with us to witness this monumental moment.”