Published November 7, 2016
The only thing that surpasses James Maynard’s passion for teaching is his love of poetry.
So in 1999, it came as no surprise that the former high school teacher swapped his chalkboard for a seat in the classroom, returning to school and eventually pursuing a doctorate in the UB Poetics Program.
Now, after 15 years of working with and around poets in Buffalo, Maynard has finally earned his dream job, becoming the seventh curator of UB’s Poetry Collection, home to one of the world’s largest collections of 20th- and 21st-century poetry in English.
He was promoted to the position after the retirement of the collection’s previous curator, Michael Basinski, who had served in the role since 2004.
“As all of us who have worked closely with Jim know he is an outstanding scholar, a magnanimous colleague and a superb advocate for the Poetry Collection and the University Libraries,” says H. Austin Booth, vice provost for the UB Libraries.
Among Maynard’s goals as curator are to expand access to materials through additional digital collections and to build out new collections, such as the recently implemented collection of visual poetry by female artists.
“And with any luck, I’ll be fortunate to be part of the Poetry Collection’s 100th anniversary in 2037,” he says.
Before assuming his role as curator, Maynard held various positions at the university, including assistant to the Robert Duncan Archive and adjunct instructor in the Department of English. After being appointed assistant curator of the Poetry Collection in 2009, he received tenure as associate curator in 2012 and was promoted to full librarian in 2015.
Maynard came to UB in 2001 to earn his doctorate after deciding his true passion lay in the scholarly criticism of poetry, rather than in creative writing.
In fact, he admits he hasn’t written a word of poetry since his master’s thesis.
“I felt like a spy there; a secret critic among the poets” he says, referring to his time at Temple University, where he earned a master’s degree in English and creative writing.
“What became apparent to me is that I enjoyed studying poetry from the point of view of the people who make it. I’m interested in their ideas about poetry, and its function and form. That influenced me to come to the UB Poetics Program; I enjoyed their perspective of language as makers.”
The main focus of Maynard’s research is the works of American poet Robert Duncan.
His first encounter with Duncan’s writing came as a doctoral student at UB at the recommendation of a professor who suggested the poet as someone he might enjoy. Maynard travelled to the Poetry Collection, which houses Duncan’s papers, to learn more about him and never left.
“I fell in love with Duncan and the nature of archival study at the same time,” he says. “His work, in his essays and in his poems, constantly projects a world that I would want to live in.”
Maynard has published widely on and edited a number of collections relating to Duncan, including the books, “Ground Work: Before the War/In the Dark,” “(Re:)Working the Ground: Essays on the Late Writings of Robert Duncan” and “Such Conjunctions: Robert Duncan, Jess, and Alberto de Lacerda.”
His edition of “Robert Duncan: Collected Essays and Other Prose” received the Poetry Foundation’s 2014 Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism.
His next project is the upcoming book “Architect of Excess: Robert Duncan and the American Pragmatist Sublime,” an exploration of the different stages of Duncan’s writing career and how the poet was influenced by process philosophy and American pragmatism. The book will be published in fall 2017 by the University of New Mexico Press.
Over his nearly 20-year career, Maynard has written or contributed to 13 books, authored more than 15 other publications and has presented his work nationally and internationally.
In addition to helping increase the Poetry Collection’s endowments, he has been awarded nearly $400,000 in grants from organizations that include the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Council on Libraries and Information Resources, and the Digital Humanities Initiative at Buffalo.
Maynard still finds time to teach at the university, although these days he provides mentoring and one-on-one instruction to doctoral students, rather than leading classes in lecture halls.
“Before I worked here as a graduate student, I didn’t even know that such a career was possible,” he says.
“Once I found out what this place is and what it does — as a research and teaching collection — I didn’t want to be anywhere else.”