Gazing into Reedy’s Mirror with Ted Mathys

Public libraries are places where strange and idiosyncratic projects can be undertaken. The projects go on every day here at Central Library -- epic screenplays, syntheses of Marvel Comics and ancient mythology, wild theories on the nature of space-time, you name it -- and it has been one of my greatest pleasures as a library professional to help guide these projects on their way.

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The library as a creative space; a space to play around in; a lab in which to re-animate, appropriate, and mix up the materials of the past. To give old words life in a new context.

I hope this is what the good people of Coffee House Press, from the good state of Minnesota, had in mind when they devised their In the Stacks residencies, part of their larger Books in Action initiative. They were also looking for a way to give their writers shelter and inspiration, I imagine. It seems to have gone well so far, with participants staking out institutions as diverse as the American Swedish Institute, Poets House in New York, and the LGBT Quatrefoil Library on Lake Street in Minneapolis.

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With this program, Coffee House Press aims to create a body of work that will inspire a broader public to engage with their local libraries in a new and meaningful way, and to encourage artists and the general public to think about libraries as creative spaces.

Enter Ted Mathys

He was here before we became friends, I think. Bent in concentration at one of our reading room tables, or making a request for a poetry volume from the stacks. I remember being a little intimidated, the sleek dome, the serious glasses.

If we were going to have a poet in residence at this library, it made sense to have Ted, as he was already part of the daily life of the building, an admirer of it and a curious explorer of all it held. And his three books -- Null Set, The Spoils, and Forge -- were all published by Coffee House, so it came together pretty logically.

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Mr. Reedy and His Mirror

I'm going to quote Ted's description of Reedy and how The Mirror made him a cultural authority not just in St. Louis but around the Midwest around the turn of the last century:

"From 1891 to 1920 the so called 'Literary Boss of the Midwest,' William Marion Reedy, ran a literature, politics, and social gossip magazine out of St. Louis called The Mirror that at the time rivaled Harriet Monroe's Poetry in Chicago and had a larger national distribution than either Atlantic Monthly or The Nation. He first published Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology anonymously in the magazine, as well as people like Carl Sandberg, Sara Teasdale, Pound, Theodore Dreiser, etc. and was a prominent literary critic. He was overweight, eccentric, and powerful in the community. The Special Collections has both Reedy's personal library as well as the full run of Reedy's Mirror magazine from the period, and the issues have these gorgeous covers and have not really ever been explored. I hope to produce a long poem or creative essay or hybrid out of exploring the Reedy collection."

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I just finished a wonderful novel called The Mirror Thief by Martin Seay (forthcoming in May from Melville House). It brought together the stories of three Venices: the modern-day Venice reconstructed in Las Vegas, Venice Beach CA in the 1950s, and Venice Italy of the late 16th century, when mirror technology was only starting to come into its own. The three strands of the novel are all connected by a mysterious volume of alchemistic poetry called The Mirror Thief.

So this idea of The Mirror is interesting to me right now: what Ted will find in it, what it will reflect back of St. Louis when it was published, and the St. Louis of today. I think Ted is going to put together some truly fascinating creative work based on this archive, which is held in Special Collections here at Central Library. This blog will also be publishing Ted's blog updates about his residency.

He may be somewhere upstairs, even as I write this. Going through the old volumes, making notes. Undertaking some poetic thievery.

Ted Mathys will be doing a public presentation on Wednesday, April 20th at 7 pm, in the beautiful Carnegie Room at Central Library. He will also be sitting in with the STL Scribblers group for our April meeting on Monday, April 4 at 7 pm. If you have any questions about these events, don't hesitate to contact Eric Lundgren at elundgren@slpl.org.

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