Collection ID: LMC 2607
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Collection context


Solt, Mary Ellen
The Solt mss. II, 1912-2021, consists of the papers of concrete poet and scholar Mary Ellen Solt, 1920–2007.
62 Boxes (Boxes 1-59, OV1-3)
Collection is primarily in English, though materials in some other languages, including Polish and Portuguese, are represented.
Preferred citation:

[Item], Solt mss. II, Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.


Biographical / Historical:

Mary Ellen Solt, 1920–2007, poet and scholar, was known for helping disseminate the art of concrete poetry, which focuses on the word as a material object occupying space so that the verbal and the visual are inextricably intertwined.

Mary Ellen (née Bottom) Solt was born on July 8, 1920, in Gilmore City, Iowa, to Arthur and Edith Bottom; her father was a Methodist minister from Yorkshire, England. Solt earned a bachelor's degree in English literature and music from Iowa State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Iowa) in 1941 and a master's in the field from the University of Iowa in 1948. She married Leo F. Solt in 1946, and together they moved to New York City, where Leo pursued his PhD at Columbia and Mary Ellen taught high school English at the Bentley School and began taking poetry classes at Columbia University and at the Poetry Center at the Young Men's and Young Women's Hebrew Association. Leo and Mary Ellen then moved to Amherst, Massachusetts, where their two daughters were born, Susan in 1953 and Catherine in 1955. The family moved to Bloomington in 1955 when Leo was offered a position in the Indiana University History Department. Solt continued studying poetry at the summer program of the School of Letters at Indiana University; in 1958, she wrote a critical essay on the poetry of William Carlos Williams, which she sent to him at her professor's suggestion, sparking a lifelong interest in and friendship with Williams.

Solt developed an interest in concrete poetry in the early 1960s. Solt's first concrete poem, "White Rose," was published in Ian Hamilton Finlay's Poor. Old. Tired. Horse. in 1963, and an anthology of her flower poems entitled Flowers in Concrete was published in 1969. Solt edited Concrete Poetry: A World View (Indiana University Press, 1968), considered one of the major anthologies of the form.

Solt taught in the comparative literature department at Indiana University, Bloomington, from 1970 to 1991. In the 1970s, she was director of the Polish Studies Center at Indiana University and taught American poetry at the University of Warsaw during the 1976-77 academic year. Besides teaching poetry and comparative literature at Indiana University, she also published critical studies, notably of the poet William Carlos Williams.

Scope and Content:

The Solt mss. II, 1912-2021, consists of the papers of poet and scholar Mary Ellen Solt, 1920–2007. The collection is particularly rich in drafts of her poetry, in exhibition catalogs of the international concrete poetry movement, and in correspondence with such major poets as William Carlos Williams, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Cid Corman, and Louis Zukosvky, all of whom were her close friends.

The series "Works by Mary Ellen Solt" contains drafts of her poetry; drafts of her critical writings, which focus especially on meter in the work of William Carlos Williams and on the global concrete poetry movement; materials relating to readings, lectures, and exhibitions in which Solt participated; and her teaching files.

The series "Correspondence and Research Files" consists of correspondence, poems and translations of poems, exhibition catalogs, event flyers, chapbooks, and scholarly articles and offprints from Mary Ellen Solt's circle of poets and scholars, including many of the poets featured in Concrete Poetry: A World View, arranged by poet or correspondent. Major correspondents include Ian Hamilton Finlay, Louis Zukofsky, Eugen Gomringer, Augusto and Haroldo de Campos, Cid Corman, Clayton Eshleman, and Thomas Sebeok. Due to the extent of the materials, Solt's research on William Carlos Williams is its own series, which includes Solt's correspondence with Bill and Floss Williams; issues of The William Carlos Williams Review from 1975 to 1993; and notes from Mary Ellen Solt's archival research at Yale and SUNY Buffalo. Solt's research files are continued in the series "Publications," which includes exhibition catalogs, periodicals, and monographs that could not be identified with a singular individual poet or scholar.

The "Personal" series contains materials from Solt's childhood and early life, including a sizeable amount of her coursework from high school, Iowa State Teachers College, and the State University of Iowa; materials relating to her husband Leo's family, childhood, and academic career; and materials relating to her children, Susan and Cathy.

Finally, the "Audio-Visual" series consists largely of reel-to-reel and cassette tapes containing poetry readings of Solt's work, poetry readings by others, and some musical performances by her students.

Acquisition information:
Gift: 2008
Processing information:

Processed by Kyra Triebold. Completed in 2022.


This collection is arranged into the following series: I. Works by Mary Ellen Solt, II. Correspondence and Research, III. William Carlos Williams, IV. Publications, V. Personal, and VI. Audio-Visual.

Series I contains readings, lectures, exhibitions, and publications that Mary Ellen Solt herself participated in. Series II-IV contain materials relating to readings, lectures, exhibitions, and publications that others participated in, arranged alphabetically by individual where possible.

Physical location:
ALF (Auxiliary Library Facility)



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[Item], Solt mss. II, Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.

Indiana University Bloomington
1200 East Seventh Street
Bloomington, Indiana 47405-5500, USA
Indiana University Bloomington
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