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UI Librarian Makes Acquisition Trip to Scandinavia

A special guest post by Timothy Shipe.

South Habour, Helsinki
South Habour, Helsinki
On August 15 at 6:00 P.M., just as the 2014 contingent of writers was gathering for Chris Merrill’s annual backyard picnic, my long-delayed flight to Frankfurt took off from the chaotic aftermath of a thirty-minute shutdown at O’Hare. My destination was Scandinavia, where I would spend the next twenty-four days on behalf of the University Libraries, and where my chief mission was to collect the works of the twenty-nine authors from four countries who have participated in the IWP over the past forty-five years. I considered it a good sign that I acquired my first book on the connecting flight to Helsinki, donated by my seat-mate, who had just published a memoir of her Karelian grandparents and their life in the part of Finland that was annexed by the Soviet Union after World War II.

A fortunate coincidence led me to arrive in Helsinki in time to attend the biennial European Avant-garde and Modernism Conference, where I presented a paper on Iowa’s International Dada Archive and met many scholars of Dada and surrealism with whom I have collaborated over the years. Before and after the three-day event I scoured every antiquarian book store in the city. Since Finland is a bilingual country with two rather distinct literary scenes, I had to look in different places for the works of authors writing in Finnish and in Swedish. Our 2013 IWP poet Teemu Manninen was incredibly helpful, steering me to bookshops I would otherwise have missed. Finland has sent more writers to Iowa than the other three countries combined, so my week was quite fruitful, as was clear when I hauled my luggage with over 100 books onto the overnight ferry to Stockholm.

Stockholm - Moderna Museet
Stockholm - Moderna Museet
Six days in Stockholm yielded another impressive bounty of books, including a complete run of the major poetry journal Lyrikvännen, which has counted IWP alumni Gunnar Harding and Rolf Åggestam among its editors. A peculiarity of the Scandinavian publishing scene is that Finland-Swedish authors tend to issue their books in simultaneous editions with publishers in Finland and Sweden, so I was able to locate some works I had been unable to find in Helsinki. To my great relief, Stockholm was home to a branch of Mailboxes Etc., so I was able to ship my Finnish and Swedish purchases back to Iowa and avoid filling a compartment with books on my remaining train rides.

Mathilde W. Clark (IWP '06) in Copenhagen.
Mathilde W. Clark (IWP '06) in Copenhagen.
A three-day stay in Oslo was sufficient to amass a fairly complete collection of the works of Norway’s three IWP alumni; my hotel was conveniently located across the street from the Litteraturhuset (House of Literature). My final stop was Copenhagen, where I met with one of our two Danish alumni, Mathilde Walther Clark, who kindly provided almost all of her published work, including the most treasured find of my trip, the Iowan Dictionary which she compiled with Mexican writer Jose Eugenio Sanchez. Published by the “Super Royal Academy of Iowan Language,” the work chronicles the experiences of the IWP Class of 2006 in a series of tongue-in-cheek definitions. (For example: “natasa: Indeterminate noun. A funny but noisy concept that could be a long short story in itself.”)

An extra checked suitcase was adequate to bring back the works of two Danish writers. Some excellent antiquarian contacts established in all four countries should enable me to further develop the Scandinavian component of the Libraries’ IWP collection, which stands as an impressive testimony to the formidable literary output of nearly fifty years’ worth of participants in the International Writing Program.

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