Electric Poetry—About the Edmund Skellings Collection

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By Rebecca Weber

Did you know that Evans Library is home to some special collections?  Evans Library Archive Manager Diane Newman answers our questions about one such collection, that of Florida’s Poet Laureate Edmund Skellings.  She highlights her experience meeting and working with Dr. Skellings and discusses the digital archives that comprise his collection.

Q:  What is the Skellings Collection?

A: The Edmund Skellings Collection is a digital presentation of the unique contributions of Florida’s poet laureate, Edmund Skellings.  Special Collection librarian Laura Monti once said by the time Skellings was forty years of age, he had lived five lives.  He had served with honor in the 82nd Airborne Division, earned a Ph.D from the University of Iowa, started the Alaska Writers Workshop, invented the Alaska Flying Poets, and toured the college circuit as the First Electric Poet. What Monti did not know, but surely could have predicted, was how much more Skellings would accomplish during his next forty years.

Q: Why is the collection a good fit for Florida Tech?

A: It is fitting that Dr.  Edmund Skellings would donate his complete archives to Florida Tech.  He is a perfect match to this university because he is the epitome of high tech with the human touch.  He spent his life making poetry current by using technology.  In homage to Gutenberg, the publication of his first book, Duels and Duets, was printed on a George Washington press.  It won the prestigious Chicago Midwest Book Award for design.  Little square tabs attached to silk pull cords hanging on the book signaled a forecast for poetry.  A tug on a tab revealed a slit in the book covers which housed vinyl recordings of Skellings reciting his poems.

This vignette serves as a starting point into Skellings’ attempts to transmit through electronic expansion the sounds of language that flooded his mind.  His literary friend, West Coast writer James B. Hall, said Skellings had an engineer’s vision.  Skellings was always on the look-out for whatever new invention would allow him to display poetry in full sound with color and motion.

Q: What can you tell us about the Digital Archive?

A: The Edmund Skellings Collection is the place to see all aspects of this lifelong endeavor. The home page displays a showcase of the archive itself.  Skellings retained the electronic rights to his poetry, and the home page provides a quick click to his written, spoken, and animated poetry.  A leisurely tour of the archives takes the visitor through Skellings’ unusual academic achievements and disappointments, literary letters, video productions, readings and lectures, patent, award honors, and the multiple worlds he occupied.

Q: How did you come to work with Edmund Skellings and the Skellings Collection?

A: I was introduced to Edmund Skellings in 1972, while he was teaching Shakespeare at a branch campus in South Beach.  At the time, I was a young teacher, a literary major, and had never seen anyone deliver a Shakespearean play like Skellings.  He was the real deal.  I have been his assistant ever since.  Florida Tech poet and professor Marcia Denius once asked me how long I had worked with Dr. Skellings.  When I told her almost 40 years, she replied, “You don’t have a job.  You have a calling.”

Diane Newman welcomes your comments and questions. You may contact her by email at newmand@fit.edu

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