Tag Archives: Poetry

My friend and critic

After graduating from State Street High School as its valedictorian in 1936, Bowling Green, Kentucky native Lillie Mae (Bland) Carter earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Tennessee State University, married, had four children, and pursued a career as a first grade and remedial reading teacher in the Toledo, Ohio public school system.  A civic activist and champion of African American history and literature, Carter encouraged her students to express themselves through writing. 

Carter herself was an author, editor and poet.  Her books included Black Thoughts (1971), a volume of poetry, and Doing It Our Way (1975), an anthology of multi-generational poetry and prose.  But like most writers, Carter encountered obstacles to getting her work published.  This struggle helped her form a bond with one of the most prolific purveyors of the black experience to the world, the poet, author, playwright and icon of the “Harlem Renaissance,” Langston Hughes.

“The only way I know to achieve publication,” Hughes wrote Carter in 1947, “is to continually submit one’s work to magazines, and if it comes back (as it usually does) send it to others.”  “Do not mind rejection slips,” he counseled.  “I have hundreds of them.” 

Over the next twenty years, Carter corresponded with Hughes, who critiqued her poems and offered advice on where to submit them for publication.  He shared her frustration over editors who were reluctant to accept “race-problem” poetry or fiction, but recommended that she simply keep searching for others who weren’t so squeamish.  Delighted with her poem, “Whispering Leaves,” he asked permission to send copies to the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of African American culture at Yale University, and to New York’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.  Hughes found poems she shared with him in 1963 to be “strong and dramatic and, I think, would make most effective program pieces to read aloud to audiences.  I suggest you try them out the next time you have occasion to speak in public – or maybe you should create an occasion to do so.”

Lillie Mae Carter

Carter dedicated Black Thoughts “In memory of my critic and friend, Langston Hughes.”  It included the gentle “My Prayer,” which Hughes had praised (May I live from day to day / In an honest, sincere way; / That someone through me may see / What joys come from serving Thee), and a tribute to a former custodian at Toledo’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School (Keeper of the building, goodbye! / Rest well in new buildings on high).  But also found in its pages were the mournful “Half-Still” (Half slave, half free / Half a citizen still / That’s me) and the bitter “America” (America is not red, white and blue / America is lily white – all the way through.)

Lillie Mae (Bland) Carter’s papers are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Special Collections Library.  Click here for a finding aid.  For more collections, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.

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The Department of Special Collections recently added a first edition of a book composed of a beautifully illustrated poem by Madison Julius Cawein.

Madison-J-CaweinThe poem, “Let Us Do The Best We Can,” is one of the works produced by this prolific Kentucky poet. He was popular in his lifetime (b. March 23, 1865, d. December 8, 1914), but he is not a familiar name to many Kentuckians.  He was known as the “Keats of Kentucky,” and acclaimed as the great nature poet of his time.  He loved and praised the beauty of  the flora and fauna of his native Kentucky and showcased a deep love and appreciation of the same. Cawein said of his poetry that “the dreams which any true poet presents to the world may not be of that imperishable stuff that makes for immortality, but they help humanity for the time being, and that is sufficient, is all he hoped for them; dreams of a beauty that has never died, and that will never utterly perish from the earth, as long as the aesthetic sense is a part of the spiritual nature of man” (Rothert, O.A., 1921, The Story of a Poet.) 

From “Let Us Do The Best We Can”:

Let us do the best we can, I say

and have done with the failures of yesterday:

Let us do our work, whatever it is

Let us do our work, or hit or miss

and the world will take from our hearts its tone

and echo the song that’s in our own,

for happienss lies in the work we do,

whatever it be, or old or new:

And whatever the work, whatever the way,

Let us do the best that we can, I say!35827

See this book and other poetry written by Cawein at the Special Collections library. Search the collection by using KenCatTopSCHOLAR and the One Search online catalog.

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The Testimony of the Spirits

In Commencement Programtheir  Junior year the Class of 1922 put on “The Second Annual Anti-Homesick Treatment,” the fourth portion of which was a “grand opera” that tells the story of a new student caught between the Spirit of Homesickness and the Spirit of the Institution.  In order to defeat Homesickness the Institution calls forth the Spirits of Friendship, Hard Work, Loyalty, Knocking, Class and Beauty.  For the incoming freshman we give you the Testimony of the Spirits:

Hard Worked Students:

We study hard both by night and day
And that’s the way we always play
But since no labor we ever shirk
We must just here get at our work

Spirit of Homesickness

Right here methinks I’ll take my stand
Some new student may happen by
I’ll grab the poor thing by the hand
And teach her how to say good bye
I’ll try to get her good and blue
And get her ready to skidoo
My mission is where’er I roam
To get ’em blue and send ’em home

New Student

My home I love so dearly
Is far away from me
I begin to feel so queerly
What can the matter be
What can the matter be
I feel so gloomilee
And I fear some frightful illness
Has seized a hold of me

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The Vista

The Vista

You may know the Talisman and may have heard about the Towers, but did you know that the first Western Kentucky State Normal School yearbook was The Vista? Published in 1915, it was a one off. There would not be another yearbook until the Talisman debuted in 1924. The Vista has the expected campus views, faculty and student photographs. It also includes class wills, poems and songs as well as snap shots of student life. Take a look at campus life 95 years ago. The Vista and other school yearbooks were digitized during the WKU Centennial and are available online.


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In Greek mythology, the Anemoi were the wind gods. Zephyrus was the west wind and bringer of light spring and early summer breezes.

1969 Cover

1969 Cover

At WKU, Zephyrus is the fine arts magazine published annually by the English department. It features art, poetry and short stories created and written by students. University Archives holds the full run of this magazine which first appeared in 1969. We are in the process of digitizing every issue for publication on TopScholar.  Originals are available for researchers in University Archives UA68/6/1.


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Beulah Collins Ellis Autograph Books

Edgar Cayce Autograph
Beulah Collins Ellis attended the Southern Normal School and kept two autograph books.  The first book has a padded cover of brown cloth and is in fragile condition. The majority of the autographs date to 1902 and 1903. Mrs. Ellis’ daughter Lena wrote in the book in 1922. Of special note is an inscription by Edgar Cayce:

“To thine own self be true and it must follow as the night the day. That you will be true to others. Your friend, Edgar Cayce, BG, September 17, 1902”

The Kentucky Library & Museum also holds papers regarding Edgar Cayce and his activities in Bowling Green.

The second autograph album dates from 1904-1907 and is autographed by natives of Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Hampshire and Tennessee.

Both books have been scanned and are available on TopScholar.  These and other records are available for researchers in the Kentucky Library & Museum.

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Anna Murl Fisher Scrapbook

Homecoming Poster

Homecoming Poster

Anna Fisher of McHenry, Kentucky attended WKU and graduated in the Class of 1932. This scrapbook includes unique items not found elsewhere in the University Archives collections including a homecoming poster for WKU vs University of Louisville football game and game program for WKU vs Cumberland College, 1928.

Anna Fisher went on to teach at Bunker Hill in Equality, Kentucky. A scrapbook she kept during those years “Memories of Bunker Hill School, 1929-1930” is also available in the Kentucky Library Call # SBK166.  Ask to see it in the Harrison-Baird Reading Room of the Kentucky Building.

Check out this and similar student/alumni collections in TopScholar.


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