Hello! My name is Fran Horner and I am a postgraduate student at the University of Manchester studying the MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies. I am currently doing a placement at the John Rylands Library, which involves working with the archive of British Benedictine monk and poet dom sylvester houédard (dsh – he always referred to himself in lower case!). I am going to be regularly updating the John Rylands Library blog with my experiences and interesting discoveries!

dsh portrait
Photograph of dom sylvester houédard. By kind permission of Prinknash Abbey Trustees.

My placement will consist of researching dsh’s importance in the fields of literature and art. He was one of Britain’s pioneers of concrete poetry: a type of experimental visual poetry which had its origins in Brazil, then Europe and was concerned with rebelling against conventional forms of poetry by focussing on the architectural form of letters. dsh’s most celebrated poem is Frog-pond-plop, 1965, and he is famous for his experimental use of his Olivetti typewriter to create ‘typestracts’.

dsh, Frog-pond-plop, 1965. By kind permission of Prinknash Abbey Trustees.

The John Rylands Library holds dsh’s book collection, which is vast, but I will be concentrating on his collection of little poetry and art magazines from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. 

Before I could properly get stuck in with the items in the archive, I was preoccupied with creating a suitable method of cataloguing – something I have never done before! Thanks to Janette Martin (Archivist and Curator) and Julie Ramwell (Rare Books Librarian), I successfully created a spreadsheet with various categories of information that were to be recorded. It has been interesting learning about what categories of information are essential for the catalogue, for example: publisher, year published, volume and editor are all extremely important; whether I liked or disliked the poems… not so important. I have also discovered things about the appropriate type of language and structure I must use within the catalogue: the language must be succinct and consistent to ensure its reliability and usefulness as a finding aid. In the future, researchers may be using my catalogue!

Luckily for me, some wonderful library fairies had already alphabetised the collection of little magazines, saving me a big job, so I began cataloguing the ‘A’s. I must now get back to cataloguing in the Reading Room, where I am sat in five jumpers, but I’m eager to learn more about dsh and his wonderful world of concrete poetry.

sylvester houedart
Two typestracts by dsh published in Approches, 1966, no. 1, p.86. By kind permission of Prinknash Abbey Trustees.

Here are two typestracts by dsh that I found in French literary magazine Approches from 1966. Check back to this blog in the next couple of weeks where I will explore the conception and style of dsh’s typestracts in more detail.

Loose insert giving the title of the typestracts above.  By kind permission of Prinknash Abbey Trustees.