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An Interview with Dr. James Maynard

Monday, December 4th, 2017
UB Librarian James Maynard in Special Collections

James Maynard is Curator of the Poetry Collection of the University Libraries, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York. His research interests include twentieth-century Anglophone poetry and poetics, pragmatism and process philosophy, the history of little magazines and small presses, literary archives, and the writings of Robert Duncan. He has published widely on and edited or coedited a number of collections relating to the poet Robert Duncan, including Ground Work: Before the War/In the Dark (New Directions, 2006), (Re:)Working the Ground: Essays on the Late Writings of Robert Duncan (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), and Such Conjunctions: Robert Duncan, Jess, and Alberto de Lacerda (BlazeVox Books, 2014). His edition of Robert Duncan: Collected Essays and Other Prose (University of California Press, 2014) received the Poetry Foundation’s 2014 Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism. A critical study Robert Duncan and the Pragmatist Sublime is forthcoming next spring from the University of New Mexico Press and he is currently editing a volume of Duncan’s uncollected prose.​

What is your educational background and work history at UB?

After receiving a BA in English from Ursinus College outside of Philadelphia I taught high school English for a few years before completing an MA in English at Temple University. Both degrees involved different areas of poetry and poetics that made the Poetics Program in the UB English department a natural choice for my PhD (2007). As for my history in the Poetry Collection, I have enjoyed a happy apprenticeship working with two of its former curators. Having worked on a number of editorial projects related to the poet Robert Duncan with former curator Robert Bertholf, who was also a member of my dissertation committee, I became his graduate assistant in 2004. After he retired in 2007, I began working in a larger capacity with the entire collection with former curator Michael Basinski, and subsequently served as assistant to the curator, visiting assistant curator, assistant curator, associate curator, and now curator.


How have you enjoyed the first year of your new promotion to curator?

I was appointed as the Poetry Collection’s seventh curator last September, and it has been an exciting first year. Over the past twelve months we have added significantly to our holdings, brought in new manuscript collections, developed new digital collections, added new members to our annual fund, increased our current endowments, secured new endowed funds for the future, hosted exhibitions and events in our reading room, organized a public James Joyce exhibition in collaboration with the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library and state Assemblymen Michael P. Kearns, received a grant to begin a new summer research program for undergraduate and graduate students in Western New York, and, as I type this, we are in the process of hiring an assistant curator and adding a new poetry cataloger to keep up with our ever-increasing acquisitions. But then again, every year I have spent in the collection has been exciting!


Are there any particular changes or areas of focus you hope to develop for the Poetry Collection in the coming years?

I fortunately became curator at a particularly auspicious time in the Poetry Collection’s history, thanks to my immediate predecessor Michael Basinski and all that he was able to accomplish during a distinguished 32-year career in the University Libraries, and I look forward to continuing the collection’s growth. For me, that means expanding acquisitions and collections, educational activities, access to digital collections, community partnerships, fundraising and endowments, and staffing. In keeping with the UB Libraries’ mission to provide outstanding resources, experts, services and spaces to enrich the research, learning, teaching and creative activities of UB faculty, students and staff as well as those of the local and global community members we serve, my primary responsibility is to build the best collection possible and to advocate for it vigorously. As curator I try to do everything that I possibly can to raise the profile, enhance the visibility, and increase the use of the Poetry Collection regionally, nationally, and internationally. Looking ahead, I am excited by some of the possibilities that are lining up. In the fall of 2018, for instance, we have plans to organize a large exhibition of our Victor E. Reichert Robert Frost Collection in conjunction with the national Robert Frost symposium, and for 2022, the 100th anniversary of James Joyce’s Ulysses, I am hoping to build upon some exciting international partnerships. Also, later this year Further Other Book Works will be publishing The Collages of Helen Adam featuring a large selection of visual work from our Adam Collection. Over the next decade the greatest challenge—but also the greatest opportunity—facing the collection will be an eventual relocation and expansion project along with all of the UB Libraries Special Collections, and that is a process that we have just begun exploring. And looking even further ahead, 2037 will usher in the Poetry Collection’s 100th anniversary, which should be an enormous yearlong celebration. With any luck, I’ll be there uncorking the champagne!


What do you consider to be the Poetry Collection’s major strengths (in terms of its holdings)?

I could talk endlessly about our collections and individual holdings, which include first and other bibliographically significant editions of poetry, little literary magazines, manuscripts, criticism, anthologies, reference books, broadsides, photographs, zines, artwork, mail art, objects, audio recordings, ephemera and more. But one of our greatest strengths—and I believe this has been the case since Charles Abbott founded the Poetry Collection in the mid-1930s—is the people who care for them. I am tremendously fortunate to work every day with poetry archivist Marie Elia and poetry cataloger Edric Mesmer, as both are extremely talented and dedicated professionals who bring a great deal of subject knowledge and technical expertise to what they do. Additionally, there is a long list of faculty and staff in the University Libraries in the areas of special collections, administration, human resources, technical services, graphic design, digital collections, technology, communications and preservation as well as the student assistants, development officers and many others to whom I am constantly indebted for helping us do all that we do.


What perhaps-overlooked features of the Poetry Collection would you want to highlight for the UB Libraries Today audience?

I am always humbled by the magnitude of our mission and our ongoing responsibility to nothing less than poetry itself. As the library of record for 20th– and 21st-century Anglophone poetry, it is our goal to try and collect everything that is happening around the world at any given historical moment under the name of English poetry, which as a form is always heterogeneous, always plural. Clearly such totality is, and has been, and always will be an impossible horizon to reach, and yet I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the challenge was exhilarating. Indeed, I often like to say that one measure of our success is that we fail a little less every year. Given such large parameters, our accomplishments over the past 80 years would not have been possible without a significant network of friends, poets, publishers, editors, critics, donors, sympathizers, ambassadors, patrons, and supporters of all kinds, and I am endlessly grateful for everything they do to continue assisting us in our mission.