I’ve been a BAAS member for a long time now, but hadn’t thought about applying for an award before, thinking I was probably too long past PhD completion to be eligible for one (I got my PhD in 2006). I experienced a debilitating illness over 2018/19 and while I’d rather not have, obviously, one upshot was the treatment was so effective that when I recovered I had a new sense of vigour I’d not experienced before. So when one of the BAAS newsletters landed in my inbox, and mentioned the Founders’ Research Travel Award, I thought Why not at least look into it? I had a research visit I needed to make and was pleasantly surprised to see that the award was open to any researcher, regardless of career stage. So then I thought: why not at least apply?
These particular awards provide financial assistance to scholars in the UK with short-term research visits, either to conduct research or to give conference papers within the field of American Studies, be it American history, politics, art, culture or, in my case, American literature. My experience of research award applications prior to BAAS was generally geared towards the mammoth task of completing AHRC and Leverhulme applications, so it was a relief that the BAAS award application process was far more streamlined: it didn’t seem to be asking for any more detail than was necessary. What it did ask for, I found, gave me the opportunity to double-down and focus on precisely what I would do on the trip and how much it would likely cost – interestingly, this really helped when I was subsequently applying to my home department for support for the balance of the trip, as well as created an ‘itinerary’ of work to do when in the US (so much so, I took a copy on my actual trip). Working out who would be best-placed to be my external referee was a little stressful, mainly because I always feel so anxious asking for these. In the end I bit the bullet and approached a North American professor who had reviewed my first book and whom, subsequently, I had asked to chair an MLA panel I organised. I’ll never know what factor determined my success, but I’m glad I asked someone very familiar with my written work as well as had heard me speak about it – it seemed right given what I was proposing to do, and great that he said yes!
I used the award to finish research for a book I’m editing, Mary Barnard’s Complete Poems, a fully-annotated work under advance contract with a US publisher. Complete Poems offers the first comprehensive volume of Barnard’s poetry, following on from my Mary Barnard, American Imagist (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2013), the first critical book on Barnard (1909-2001), an associate of Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams and Marianne Moore. I spent 12 days in Vancouver, Washington, working with Barnard’s literary executor (Elizabeth J. Bell) and her assistant and her research assistant (Margaret Halpin). I had planned for a little longer, to include a stopover at the Barnard archive at the Yale Beinecke Library, but this had to be rethought owing to Covid restrictions. So 18 months after I was originally supposed to go, I finally made the trip in April 2022. I reviewed the literary executor’s collection to resolve numerous queries pertaining to the poems – composition dates, manuscripts-of-origin, drafts, amendments, unpublished materials and so on – as well as tapped into Betty’s unique and precious knowledge as literary executor and long-term friend of Barnard’s.
As a practising poet myself (my collection The Thoughts came out earlier this year), perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects for me was examining Barnard’s collection of her contributor copies – a real treasure trove of (mostly) modernist periodicals. To consult via libraries would have taken so much longer, with some pieces so rare I’m not sure how else I’d have tracked them down. So to end, here’s what I’ve been calling my ‘signature’ photograph of the trip – it’s a picture of myself (in facemask) with Maggie. We’re reviewing one of these contributor copies, a hitherto impossible-to-locate journal which contained so many typos that the print was rife with ink-amendments made by Barnard. I’m sure she was as shocked as we were – but that explains the magnifying glass as we were checking the mess and what Barnard’s clear intentions had been for the poems.
Interested readers will see the results of such labours when the edition comes out. I’ll be sure to keep BAAS posted and extend a warm wave of thanks and gratitude to the Association for enabling me to complete what I hope will be an important – and long overdue – contribution to the story of American modernist poetry.
For more information on Mary Barnard, including how to contact her literary executor, see:
For more information on Sarah Barnsley’s work, see:
Barnsley, Sarah. Mary Barnard, American Imagist (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2013) https://sunypress.edu/Books/M/Mary-Barnard-American-Imagist
Barnsley, Sarah. The Thoughts (Sheffield: Smith|Doorstop, 2022) https://poetrybusiness.co.uk/product/the-thoughts/