Democratic Vistas: Exploring the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library
March 15, 2008 - May 26, 2008
The Raymond Danowski Poetry Library is a 75,000-volume collection of rare and first editions of modern and contemporary poetry, in addition to literary journals, chapbooks, little magazines, one-off journals, limited edition broadsides, audio recordings, unique manuscripts, and visual art from the United States, Britain, Ireland, Australia, India, Canada, Scotland, and South Africa.
Assembled by collector Raymond Danowski over the course of twenty-five years, it is thought to have been the largest poetry library in private hands until its arrival at Emory University. Remarkable for its range and depth, the library represents Danowski’s desire to gather every book of poetry published in English—a desire the collection largely achieved.
Its presence at Emory makes poetry central to campus life and has established the university as one of the crucial centers of modern and contemporary poetry. Ranging from W.H. Auden to Louis Zukofsky, the collection begins with a first edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, arguably the first modern book of poetry, printed by its author and published on July 4, 1855.
Other highlights include one of eleven known copies of William Carlos Williams’s first book, Poems (1909), which was never reprinted; a first edition of T. S. Eliot’s Prufrock and Other Observations (1917), inscribed to his close friend Emily Hale; limited editions by Langston Hughes, with corrections in his own hand; Anne Sexton’s personal, heavily annotated copy of Sylvia Plath’s Ariel (1965); and a number of author collections—from Allen Ginsberg to Charles Bukowski to Ted Hughes to Gwendolyn Brooks—that represent virtually all their writing in published, and even unpublished, form.
What is more, the collection is still a living thing, constantly expanding and being brought into the present day with new acquisitions, the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library Reading Series, and exhibitions such as this one, which features more than two hundred items from the collection. Taking its name from a volume of Whitman’s essays, “Democratic Vistas” represents the first major exhibition of the Danowski Poetry Library and highlights the democratic qualities of the collection. Like the library itself, the exhibition focuses not on one particular school or kind of poetry, but rather provides a sense of the whole of poetry.
“Democratic Vistas” presents four areas of strength in the collection: First Books (and early editions); Author Collections; Isms (movements and communities); and Small Presses (and little magazines).
Curator, Raymond Danowski Poetry Library
Atticus Haygood Professor of Creative Writing and English