UNM archives yield trove of romantic treasures

It’s been nearly 50 years since a poem was distributed in freshman English classes at the University of New Mexico, touching off a furor that commanded headlines for weeks, rocked the university to its core and shocked people throughout the state – although most of them likely never read a word of it.

Luis Jiménez’s sculpture “Fiesta Dancers” is among University of New Mexico public art pieces touted in the “Love in the Archives” exhibit Thursday at UNM’s Zimmerman Library. (SOURCE: UNM)

“Love-Lust Poem,” written by San Francisco beat poet Lenore Kandel, was considered obscene by many for its use of offensive words and description of “perverted acts.” It resulted in ongoing newspaper stories in March and April of 1969, the suspensions of two UNM teaching assistants, the resignation of the chairman of the English Department, student protests and threats from the state Legislature to cut funding for the university and launch an investigation of the school.

The state revenue commission reported that numerous 1969 state tax returns came with letters protesting “the situation in our universities.”

On Thursday, Valentine’s Day, Kandel’s poem will be part of the “Love in the Archives” display from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Center for Southwest Research (CSWR) at UNM’s Zimmerman Library.

The exhibit, featuring items from the UNM archives, will also include vintage wedding photos from New Mexico, love letters, dance cards, romantic music and digital representations of UNM public art – such as Luis Jiménez’s sculpture “Fiesta Dancers” – which fit the theme.

The story of Brazilian bandit lovers from the 1930s, such as this colorful couple, will be told in the Outlaw Love portion of the “Love in the Archives” display on Valentine’s Day.

“One day, when we were yakking about our collections, we realized we all had centuries of materials about love, lust, passion and courtship,” said Heather Foster, a CSWR graduate fellow. “Sharing this passion for and in the archives is what we want to do with the community on Valentine’s Day.”

Portia Vescio, UNM’s archivist, said the exhibit is an open house aimed at giving the public an idea of the variety of items available for research at CSWR and also online.

A committee of 12, including Vescio, Foster and other archivists, curators, librarians, conservation techs and digital specialists, assembled the items that will be displayed.

“We all work on different collections and types of materials, and we are only showing a few items from each collection,” Vescio said. “The focus is on romantic love, but we have a wide definition of it. We will have LGBT materials on display. We have a little section called Outlaw Love, from our Latin American collection, which tells the love story of a Brazilian bandit couple.”

bright spotThe bandit couple is Lampiáo (Virgulino Ferreira da Silva) and Maria Bonita, active in northeast Brazil in the 1920s and 1930s. According to Wendy Pedersen, CSWR library service coordinator, Lampiáo holds a place in Brazilian folklore that is somewhere between Pancho Villa, Billy the Kid and Robin Hood. Bonita was Lampiáo’s lover and like other bandit women in Brazil she carried weapons and knew how to use them.

The couple, Pedersen notes, was romanticized in Brazil as Bonnie and Clyde were in America. And they ended up the same way, killed in an ambush, along with nine other bandits, in 1938.

The gentler side of love will get its due as well.

From the archive’s composers collection, there will be exhibits of songs and sheet music that feature “love” in the title or are romantic in nature.

There will also be a collection of dance cards, on which, in days gone by, a woman would record the names of men with whom she intended to dance during successive dances at a formal ball.

“We have dance cards from two specific eras, one from 1914 to 1917 and one from the 1930s,” Vescio said. “The cards from the 1930s are slightly more fancy. They are made of leather, or have metal covers and some have pencils attached to them.”

Vescio said there will be a craft station where visitors can make their own Valentine cards, a 3-D printer that can produce small hearts and other love charms, a selfie station where couples can photograph themselves in a reproduction of an elaborate frame from a past and more romantic era and also chances to win prizes such as passes to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum or tickets to a Popejoy Hall show.

The New Mexico Women’s Chorus will perform love songs at 1:30 p.m.

As for Kandel’s “Love-Lust Poem,” it’s still the stuff of controversy five decades on. Vescio said the poem will be covered in the exhibit.

“People can read it if they want,” she said. “But it will come with a warning that it is very graphic.”

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