ASU Acquires Holocaust Poetry, Artist’s Miniature Book Collection

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Forced to work in a shoe factory, Koplowicz entertained himself and those around him by telling stories.

His writings, mainly poems and plays, will survive the young writer, who died in Auschwitz with his mother at the age of 14. Family members saved Koplowicz’s job.

Ratcliffe expressed the need to preserve and contextualize such work. “We recognize the importance of telling the stories of the victims of the Holocaust,” she said. “We believe that keeping these stories in the collective consciousness helps us stay vigilant against inhumanity. Kelly Houle’s book of poems translated by a child victim is an important addition to this literature.

In a collaboration that was local, global and then local again, Houle – who lives in Mesa – designed, designed and illustrated this limited English edition of “A Dream” in collaboration with translators Sarah Lawson, who lives in London, and MaÅ‚gorzata Koraszewska, who lives in Poland. The book was printed in letterpress at Skyline Type Foundry in Prescott.

Houle was on the ASU Tempe campus on Tuesday, January 29, during an event commemorating the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Katherine Kryzs, curator of rare books and manuscripts for the ASU library welcomed the participants, and Alberto Ríos, professor of regents and director of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, presented Houle, whom he mentored while she was a student at ASU.

Houle spoke about the life of the young poet Abramek Koplowicz and the historical context in which he wrote. Danko Sipka, professor and head of the German, Romanian and Slavic language faculty at the School of Letters and International Cultures, read the book in the original Polish. Houle then read the English translation of the same poem. Houle’s books, as well as selections from the library’s Gerda Weissman and Kurt Klein Papers and Yizkor Books collections, were on display.

The other Houle artist books acquired by the library are all miniature editions: “Poème des Dons” by Jorge Luis Borges, 2008; “Illusions” by Ralph Waldo Emerson, 2008; “Portrait of Basho”, 2008; “A Miniature Book of Illuminated Scarabs”, second printing 2012; “The Artist of the Beautiful” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 2014; and “Love Is Enough” by William Morris, 2015.

ASU library purchased separately “Gracie Gallery”, A pop-up children’s book written and illustrated by Houle using an“ anamorphosis ”technique as described by Leonardo da Vinci. The book was published by Piggy Toes Press in 2008.

ASU Now asked Houle a few more questions about the impetus for her book art projects and what she hopes for the future of the collection.

Detail of the cover of “A Dream”. The book is bound in dark blue “Starry Night” Cave paper with mica chip inclusions. Photo courtesy of Kelly Houle

Question: How did you find out about Abramek Koplowicz’s poems and get interested in this project?

Reply: I first read the poems and the story behind them through my friend, biologist and author Jerry Coyne. Jerry has posted poems on his Why Evolution is True website. When I expressed interest in making a book, Jerry put me in touch with Małgorzata, who had done the Polish translations of his books. I remember being very moved by the story as it was presented there, and this is what I hope to share with this book.

Q: Do you have a personal connection to the person or the subject?

A: Yes and no. My grandfather was one of the first American soldiers to drive a tank through the Alps during WWII. As a member of the 43rd Cavalry, he saw the devastation of war with his own eyes. He saw things he never wanted to talk about when he got home. The experience changed him forever and he suffered from PTSD for the rest of his life. This story probably affected my interest in this work. I am not a Jew. I was raised without religion, so there was no brainwashed “us and them” feeling in our house. Science confirms what I instinctively feel when I see human suffering, namely that we are all cousins. When I look at pictures of children during the Holocaust, they look familiar to me. I see humanity in their faces. I see my cousins.

Q: Tell us about the engagement process with a text like this, on such a devastating subject. Did it ever seem too heavy or too difficult to complete?

A: Yes, the emotional weight of this project affected the process. There were days when I felt I had to force myself to think about it, to read the stories, to look through the photos. It would have been easy to look away, to let go, but there was always an even greater attraction to completing the job, which came from the thoughts of Lolek, Abramek’s half-brother. We have kept this in mind throughout this process. It is this dedication to Abramek and its history, and the immense responsibility to carry its words that have kept us going.

Q: You have been a science teacher, poet, and author of children’s books. How did you get interested in the art of the book?

A: I became interested in the book arts during my time in the MA program at ASU. As a math and science enthusiast, I enjoyed the physical mechanics of books. I have designed all of my previous books with some type of movable or pop-up mechanism. “A Dream” is my first published book which is nothing like it. This book is pure printing and binding. Bookmaking is a way to integrate any subject with visual elements: paper, illustrations, decorative cover pages. Bind materials into a physical artifact that can be appreciated both as a visual and tactile object. I think it is this synthesis of idea and artefact that holds my interest in the arts of the book.

Q: How do you expect your books to be used now that they will be accessible through ASU Library’s Signature Collections?

A: Many of these books are extremely rare and are simply not available for purchase. So I hope that having an almost complete collection in ASU’s Distinctive Collections will allow students and researchers to manipulate and experience the books as three-dimensional works of art in a way that the viewing photos on the Internet does not help.

The Lamberts Memorial Rare Book Fund was named in honor of former ASU English professor JJ Lamberts, a linguist who in pre-Internet times ran a ‘grammar helpline’ from his home in Tempe. Lamberts died in 1992. Individual donations to the fund are used to purchase rare books for special collections in the ASU library. For more information on how to donate to the fund, please visit the English donation page.

Top photo: Kelly Houle holds a copy of her 2008 “Portrait of Basho” Photo by Deanna Dent / ASU Now

Kristen LaRue Sandler

Senior Scoring and Communication Specialist, English Department

480-965-7611[email protected]


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