Mary Ellen Solt (192o–2o17) was an avant-garde poet born in Gilmore City, Iowa. She worked in the ‘concrete’ style and many of her poems are shaped as plants or flowers. Solt played a formative role in the development of the international concrete movement as a theorist, anthologist, and professor. However, her own poems have over the years fallen from view.There is no doubt that her legacy has been shaped by forces that are systemically misogynistic, and so this project, which seeks to bring her poems back into view, contributes to a wider feminist revision of modernism. But Solt also stands out as a special case: many of her poems exist in multiple versions, some hand-drawn by the poet herself, others typeset by a collaborator; almost all tucked away in small magazines or sprawling archives. To the would-be publisher, assembling Solt’s poems presents a rare technical and editorial challenge.
This project seeks to address these difficulties by performing Solt’s poems anew. Solt had an unusual and progressive conception of the role of the typesetter in her poetry: she understood her poems as compositions that could be performed in more than one way, much as the work of a musical composer can exist in different versions by different musicians (Solt herself trained as a pianist). Without forfeiting her claim to authorship, she understood her poems as flexible forms, like flowers, that can flourish under different conditions and in different hands.
This boxed portfolio contains twelve folders. Each folder contains a new performance of a poem by Mary Ellen Solt, and each poem is accompanied by a short commentary. The commentaries are not intended to offer definitive readings; rather, they are meant to open up lines of enquiry and appreciation, and to shed light on Solt’s working method. The poems and commentaries are accompanied by a booklet containing an introduction to Solt’s life and work, as well as a longer discussion of the ideas and processes behind this attempt to recover her poems.