Thursday, April 19, 2018

Poetry, Place, Text and Context



What makes a person a New Hampshire poet? 

We will survey different aspects of this question in this blog and through a small display at the Conway Public Library. The display can be seen in the lower level of the library near the entrance to the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room. 

The exhibit shows a small sampling of the treasures shelved under the Dewey Decimal (DD) number classification 811 (American Poetry in English). You can unearth poet biographies in the DD 920 section.

A less obvious place to explore for NH poetry is DD 917.42 (NH description and travel) for guidebooks such as Thomas Starr King's The White Hills.

An outreach program on NH poetry is available for free as an outreach program from the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room for school and community groups. Contact the Henney History Room Curator for scheduling.

Does a NH poet have to live in NH? Pictured above, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's place in history  is claimed by Cambridge Massachusetts and Portland Maine through historic house museums where he lived. His person and poetry are literally "carved in stone" throughout North America. They are illustrated through sculpture along the Paul Revere trail in Boston, to Minnesota, Louisiana, Nova Scotia and all the way to the poet's corner in Westminster Abbey.

However, few people know that he staked one of his earliest claims to the poetry of place in New Hampshire on a subject not far from here. We can map it out back as early as Thomas Jefferys 1755 map of New England which can be explored in detail at this link


As your examine the map starting along the carefully detailed coastline of a seafaring culture and then head inland through the crowded names of towns usually located along rivers, you may notice that named places become more sparse as you head north and inland. Towards the northwest this map reveals vast open spaces, still unsettled country during the period. Conway is not even shown on the map, it was not even chartered until 1765 (ten years after the map was published) and it took many more years before it became populated and developed. In spite of that, Longfellow found inspiration in the nearby landscape and one of our local legends served as the basis for one of his earliest published poems. 


If you look closely at the section of the map above, with one exception, there are no place names surrounding Kusumpe Pond in Sandwich NH. That exception is shown in the picture below to the north of the pond. It is in fact  "Jackoyroays Hill" which is a phonetic spelling for Chocorua.


Seventy years after the map was published, the United States had won its independence, and an eighteen year old Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had his poem Jeckoyva pubished in the United States Literary Gazette.  In this version of the story, Chocorua's death was an accident blamed on bad weather.




His first published poem had already appeared in the November 17, 1820 Portland Gazette and focused on "The Battle of Lovell's Pond." The pond and Lovell's fort on Lake Ossipee are also shown on the 1755 map.

Part of the context of this poem is the famous Chocorua Legend which has been pinned/placed in the landscape using/through a NH State highway marker. There is no mention of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow here.


A few miles southwest of this marker in the village of Tamworth can be found a relatively new landmark, the Tamworth Distillery where the recently unveiled Chocorua whiskey was made.


Printed on the bottle's label is a long poem about the Chocorua legend from 1838 by Richard Andros. If you drink the whiskey and turn the bottle around...


... and peer through as if through the looking glass, you will discover an image printed on the back of the label. 


The print is from 1830 and is from a painting by Thomas Cole based on sketches he did when he hiked to the top of Mount Chocorua in 1827 and 1828 now in the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts. Other sketches used in his composition were based on classical Greek and Roman sculptures and costumed figures wearing Native American style clothing in life drawing classes. 




In 1859 Thomas Starr King published a guide book entitled "The White Hills, Legends, Landscape and Poetry."


In many ways it is the epitome of the integration of art, history and nature as a way to exploring the region by combining prints of scenic vistas with the correct selection of poetry to enhance one's experience. Starr King tells the reader when and where to go, where to stand, what direction to look and what to think about the view.

In 1899 a father and son teamed up to write the lyrics and music for an opera version of the Chocorua legend in which the main character was stabbed to death in a fight/duel. The author also covered such important historical events as the attack of the frogs of Windham and the story of the fountain of youth. 




We will cover more of this poetic topic in future blogs. For more on all things Chocorua the library will be hosting a program at the Freedom Historical Society on Wednesday, May 16 at 7pm. Hope to see you there. 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Meandering Around the Library

There is an ancient code hidden in plain sight and carved in wood at the Conway Public Library.


You can see it in the picture above, but it may not be immediately obvious. It is in fact known as a Greek Key. The Greek Key was one of the most important symbols in Ancient Greece, representing  infinity or the eternal flow of things. Many temples and objects were decorated with this motif, and it is considered that there is a connection with the Cretan labyrinth – indeed - a labyrinth can be drawn using a Greek key.

It also symbolizes the bonds of friendship, of love and devotion and that’s the reason it’s often given as marriage gift. It can symbolize as well the four cardinal points, the 4 seasons, waves – especially in the round version of it, or snakes, among other things.

In this blog we continue our cellar to shingles series about the building of the library and celebrate its recent listing on the National Register of Historic Places. We hope that you will use these blogs as a guide to exploring and enjoying all the little mysteries designed into the building's construction and decoration.

In a previous blog we explored the classical motifs carved in stone on the Conway Public Library’s exterior. Those motifs were echoed in copper on the library’s roof and clock tower (more on this in a future blog) and the library’s interior woodwork. For now we will focus on the Greek Key motif. There are a wide number of minor variations but in general it can be seen as a rectangular repeating design that flows without beginning or end.



Don't see the Greek Key yet? Let's meander around and search for some clues. If you go into the "red" founders room seen in the first picture above you will find a set of framed photos detailing contributions made in the library's construction. One of the photos and captions record that Ephraim C. Smith of Boston was the "Maker of the reading room mantle-piece, tables, delivery counter, seats, and switchboard closet." The switchboard closet seen below is now obsolete and empty, ...


...but if you look below it you can see a good example of the Greek Key motif.


A closer look at the motif shows that instead of being carved out of a single piece of wood, it was in fact sawn out with a jigsaw and then applied with small nails.


The Greek Key is also known as the meander motif which took its name from the River Meander in ancient Greece (present day Turkey). The Meander was characterized by a very convoluted path and is also the source of the verb meander.

We have our own version of a meandering river in the nearby Saco. The picture below is a detail of the map on the wall seen in the first picture above.


So to learn more about the hidden codes and secrets at the Conway Public Library visit us at the Henney History Room.


Thursday, April 5, 2018

Reading Rocks



This month we will celebrate National Library Week, New Hampshire Poetry Month and New Hampshire Archaeology Month. In this and future blogs I will try to connect these disparate themes and tie them to the unique collection of the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room. Like many classical buildings, the ancient library in Ephesus Turkey was made of finely carved stone and covered with inscriptions. It was both a rock reading place and a place to read rocks.





An epigraph written on the Library of Pantaenus informed patrons of the hours of operation and warned them not to steal scrolls (for more info see this link). We have similar signs and procedures at our library.



In a previous blog we examined the carved stone facade of our own Conway Public Library and what you can read on those rocks.  


The architectural vocabulary of both libraries are based on the aesthetic and intellectual language of strength, balance and stability. You can actually "read" this in the design.

This summer we will kick off our 2018 summer reading program theme of “Libraries Rock” or in this case “Reading Rocks!” As part of this we are developing curio cabinet displays and public programs that will cover these themes in poetry, archaeology and history. As part of that we will be exploring our collection of historic geology books and archives. In another previous blog we examined our copy of New Hampshire’s first statewide geology study.




We are going to borrow items from the Conway Historical Society that show early Native American uses of rocks to make tools and tools used many, many years later at Conway's Redstone Quarry to shape rocks. We will also look at many other ways that rocks were used to make mortar for brick laying, putty for windows and how rocks were used to make the glass for windows.




 These are just a few of the ways we will be "reading" rocks this month.