“Not Death But Love”: A Poetry Video Homage to Elizabeth Barrett Browning

By Gerard Wozek

In anticipation of the Armstrong Browning Library & Museum’s Browning Day Celebration on April 16, we are excited to present a recently completed video poem titled, “Not Death But Love,” produced by myself, Gerard Wozek as writer, and directed by artist Mary Russell in collaboration with Rob Kurland. In this brief film collage, it is our intention to honor the buried personal history of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. By reimagining her meditative garden strolls, our poetry video seeks to reveal her abiding love with her husband Robert Browning, her deep affinity for nature, her later experiments with the occult, and her ability to transcend the boundaries of time.

My creative partner Mary Russell and I have had the idea for years to develop a tribute video that honors Elizabeth Barrett Browning, her life as a writer and what informed her creative process.  Our keen interest in the life of the poet really hit a peak when we were teaching in a study abroad program offered through our university that took us to Florence, Italy. There we discovered Barrett Browning’s attraction for long strolls in the Florentine Boboli Gardens and her life at Casa Guidi. We were so enchanted with what we discovered about the life of the poet in Italy, that we at once began to put together the idea of “restaging” and reimagining her walks alongside a narrative that would serve as an homage to the poet’s craft and genius.

Still frame from “Not Death But Love”

I developed a tribute poem that would take the reader and listener on a journey through various elements and time periods inhabited by Barrett Browning. I wanted the viewer to feel as though they were walking alongside the poet, in order to not only see what she might be encountering in the Boboli Gardens of Florence, but also to feel and connect with her internal creative vision:

We listen for Pan’s pipes. A leopard’s growl as it grazes the bark of an overgrown cypress. Your hushed voice moving through the lines of a sonnet.

Elizabeth! Your handwriting is the black-ink edge of a storm cloud curling into infinity.

Puffs of red dust that once clung to your petticoat, now stain our sandal straps as we make our way to the Egyptian obelisk.

Poetry video is a unique way of expressing this particular kind of tribute to a poet. Also known as videopoems, cine-poetry, or poetry films, poetry video unites spoken text (or sometimes text that is written on the screen or text that is simply interpreted by the visual artist) with imagery and music. Situated somewhere between installation art and music video, poetry video is an evolving genre. When a resonant image couples with the poet’s text, alchemy can occur between the two disciplines of poetry and film. The visual images often deepen the author’s meaning, provide startling contrast, or locate new alliances within the inherent metaphors of the poet’s text. Stills, animation, computer graphics, and filmed imagery, complimented often by a soundtrack and/or the poet’s voice, can broaden and enhance the experience of the listener/viewer.

Jamie Stoik as Elizabeth Barrett Browning in “Not Death But Love”

“Not Death But Love,” which was completed earlier last year, will screen this summer at the 2021 International Poetry Video Festival in Athens, Greece. We were so thrilled that Jennifer Borderud, Director of the Armstrong Browning Library at Baylor University, offered us an opportunity to share our newly completed work with the community at Baylor, and most especially with those individuals who will celebrate the University’s annual Browning Day held virtually on April 16, 2021.

The video is available below. You can also contact me at Gerard.Wozek@gmail.com for more information about the video.

The Armstrong Browning Library & Museum’s annual Browning Day Celebration will be held virtually this year on April 16. For more information, visit baylor.edu/library/browningday.

19th Century Valentines

"Wilt Thou Be Mine?" Victorian Valentine Collection, Armstrong Browning Library

“Wilt Thou Be Mine?” Victorian Valentine Collection, Armstrong Browning Library

Much of today’s Valentine’s Day expectations were created by the Victorians. While sending and receiving Valentines had been fairly commonplace before the 19thcCentury, it was the Industrial Revolution’s advances in paper making and printing which greatly reduced the cost of the traditional, small, and elaborate Valentines. Machine made paper and new printing processes and techniques allowing for combined colors (chromolithography), metallic inks, and die-cutting worked together to decrease the price of Valentines. Victorian Valentines could be purchased ready-made or senders could create original assemblages of materials available from a stationer’s shop. These items included paper lace, mirrors, bows, ribbons, seeds, sachets, gold and silver foil appliques, silk flowers, die-cut mottos or designs, and other items. Additionally, postal pricing reform recommended by Rowland Hill in 1837 and fully adopted in Britain in 1840 with the introduction of the Uniform Penny Post incentivized mass production of Valentines.

"A loving heart is a priceless treasure" Victorian Valentine Collection, Armstrong Browning Library

“A loving heart is a priceless treasure” Victorian Valentine Collection, Armstrong Browning Library

The growth of Valentine’s Day’s commercialization is clearly demonstrated in the increased sending of Valentines as tracked by the British Post Office. Its records indicate that up to 60,000 Valentines were sent in England in 1836. After the introduction of the Uniform Penny Post, 400,000 Valentines were posted throughout England in 1841. The numbers continued to climb, with 542,000 Valentines mailed within London in 1865 and nearly double that amount were sent into London from the surrounding countryside. These numbers led to Victorian postmen receiving a special allowance for refreshments to help them keep up their energy in the 2-3 days leading up to February 14th.

"Valentine's Day; 'Oh! Here's The Postman!'", The Illustrated London News, February 10th, 1872. From the British Library's Collections, Copyright British Newspaper Archive.

“Valentine’s Day; ‘Oh! Here’s The Postman!'”, The Illustrated London News, February 10th, 1872. From the British Library’s Collections, Copyright British Newspaper Archive.

If you are lamenting Valentine’s Day as a commercial racket, blame the Victorians. If you are looking forward to sharing tokens of affection with friends and loved ones, thank the Victorians. Either way here are some Victorian Valentines that you can download and print to share with those in your life expecting or deserving a Valentine’s Day expression of love:

The following links to PDFs contain scans of Victorian Valentines from the Armstrong Browning Library’s Victorian Valentines Collection. Each PDF contains one or two valentines laid out with cut and crop marks to make printing, cutting, folding, and sharing your cards fun and easy!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A Christmas Card from Robert Browning

 

The Armstrong Browning Library has in its collections a Christmas card send by Robert Browning to Emily Marion Harris, a poet and writer of romance novels, who corresponded with Robert Browning during the last decade of his life. The inscription reads: “To Miss E. M. Harris, With more love and respect than need accompany so poor a gift. Robert Browning.” The Christmas card is not what you would expect a traditional card to look like. The scene is a landscape painting on an easel, with a palette bearing the solitary word “Remembrance.” The greeting on the card reads: “With best wishes for a Happy Christmas.” The logo on the back of the card indicates that it was published by J. F. Schipper & Co., Art Publishers, London and that the item, No. 860, has a copyright. There is no date printed on the card ; and, unfortunately, Browning did not include a date on his greeting, but it is likely that it was sent sometime between 1884 and 1888.

The J. F. Schipper Publishing Company was dissolved or struck off the register of Joint Stock Companies in 1906. According to the London Gazette, May 9, 1890, the company folded on the 6th day of May, 1890. Periodical articles mentioning the company date from 1882. The company was formerly Herman Rothe Publishers which operated from 1874 until early 1881. Mr. Rothe died in 1881 at the age of 36. The card therefore dates sometime between 1881 and 1889. Another source describes the set of Christmas cards for 1885, saying “one of the most notable series consists of Reproductions of eight of Turner’s Masterpieces.”

Does anyone recognize the painting on the easel as a J. M. W. Turner reproduction? Or where we might get a copy of the sample book of Christmas cards published by J. F. Schipper & Company? Do you have any other information that might help us to date the Christmas card?

Melinda Creech

Merry Christmas from everyone at the

Armstrong Browning Library

We wish you great joy during this beautiful season

and every happiness

throughout the New Year.