The new foyer display in Special Collections explores the ‘concrete poetry’ movement of the 1950s and 1960s through the papers of Edwin Morgan (1920-2010). His correspondents included Dom Silvester Houédard (1924-1992), Benedictine priest, theologian and noted concrete poet, who was more commonly known under the acronym ‘dsh’. Here we continue our series of blogs highlighting gems from MS Morgan D – Correspondence: Named individuals.
Born Peter Houédard on the island of Guernsey in 1924, he began a degree in modern history at Oxford University in 1942, but interrupted his studies to do military service, working as an intelligence officer in Asia. After graduating in 1949 Houédard joined the Benedictine community at Prinknash Abbey. He was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1959, and became literary editor of the Jerusalem Bible in 1961.
Yet dsh was perhaps best-known as an outstanding exponent of concrete poetry. From the early 1960s he became a leading practitioner, using a technique he began developing in the 1940s. He invented the ‘typestract’, a form of poem that took up the pattern making possibilities of his portable olivetti lettera 22 typewriter. His poems were frequently exhibited both at home and abroad, and among his best-known works is the poem Frog-Pond-Plop, his English rendition of a zen haiku by Matsuo Basho. Although considered avant-garde, dsh felt he was also continuing long-standing poetic traditions of the Benedictine order.
James McGonigal noted in his autobiography of Edwin Morgan, Beyond the Last Dragon,
His letters and poems are typographically adventurous. EM invented the word ‘typestracts’ [a combination of “typewriter” and “abstract”] for the concrete poems where ‘dsh’ achieved new linear and almost tactile effects on typewritten sheets. [p.136-7]
MS Morgan DH/13 contains correspondence between dsh and EM, interspersed with typescript concrete poems, typestracts, and two very delicate transparity poems. There are also press cuttings about dsh, including photocopies of obituaries, and correspondence between EM and the University of Manchester concerning the dsh Archive and a planned exhibition, c1994. This is one of many files that places EM in the thick of the concrete poetry movement.
Much like Ian Hamilton Finlay, dsh referred to Morgan as ‘Yeddi’, and in return Edwin addressed dsh as ‘Dom Sylverstarre’. dsh’s letters are playful and engaging, often written in the form of verse they also include many personal insights into the lives of contemporary poets.
The small collection of typestracts are all dated and carry dsh’s moniker, however sometimes it is hard to separate letter from artwork.
The display on Concrete Poetry, which includes works by Edwin Morgan, dsh, and Ian Hamilton Finlay, amongst others, can be viewed until the middle of July in the foyer of Special Collections, Glasgow University Library level 12.
Please note that if you are interested in accessing the Papers of Edwin Morgan (MS Morgan) an appointment is required, you can contact Special Collections at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
James McGonigal Beyond the Last Dragon: A Life of Edwin Morgan (Sandstone Press Ltd, 2010)
Categories: Special Collections