The archive provides a very extensive record of Mendelssohn's work as a poet and artist from 1977 to her death in 2009 and significant earlier material also survives. In its variety of paper formats and often haphazardly mixed poetry, prose and artwork content, it reflects the continuity of her creative output and her life-long need to commit thoughts and ideas immediately to paper. Over 770 notebooks and drawing books of various sizes span this 32 year period. Most of the volumes contain both draft poems and a variety of artwork ranging from pencil or pen sketches and doodles to pastel and crayon works. Autobiographical writing, notes on academic topics, letters and other writing are also found in many of the notebooks. A number date from her years as an undergraduate at the University of Cambridge; some of the earlier ones were used during her art studies between 1977 and 1983.
The other major group of material documenting her creative life consists of thousands of loose sheets of draft poems (mostly unpublished) and drawings, with accompanying notes in places. This vast body of papers also covers the period 1977-2009, though most of the material can only be roughly dated as Mendelssohn rarely put dates on her work. Included here are drafts, proofs, mock-ups etc of several of her published poetry volumes, dating from 1981 to 2009, including 'Crystal Love: D.N.A.' (1982), 'Viola tricolor' (1993) and 'Implacable Art' (2000). In addition, there is material relating to contributions to journals and anthologies edited by others: for example, 'Parataxis' (journal) and 'Out of Everywhere' (1996). A separate small group of letters and papers appertains to her poetry readings.
A partial record of Mendelssohn's period spent in Holloway Prison, 1972-1976, is provided by a series of 20 notebooks and drawing books dating from February 1973 to July 1976, with other loose sketches. The archive does not contain any contemporary documentation of Mendelssohn's association with the 'Angry Brigade' but there are numerous scattered references to this group's outlook and ideas in her personal writings and letters. These continue well into her later years. A ring-binder recently added to the archive contains hundreds of copies of press reports covering the Angry Brigade's activities, the trial of the 'Stoke Newington Eight', and Mendelssohn's early release from prison.
A substantial body of personal and family material includes much loose (i.e. not in notebooks) autobiographical writing. The largest component of this is a collection of typescript memoir pieces consisting of juxtaposed prose and poetry or prose-poetry, some with strong fictional elements. There is a substantial quantity of Mendelssohn's family correspondence, chiefly with her eldest daughter, Poppy, and her parents, and a number of photographs of Mendelssohn and family members. Some items from her childhood also survive: secondary school exercise books and adjudicators' forms from her participation in elocution and drama competitions at music festivals.
The general correspondence is small in proportion to the size of the archive, but significant nevertheless. The larger part of it dates to her years lived in Cambridge. Correspondents include poets Tom Raworth, Rod Mengham and Peter Riley; academics David Kelley, Romana Huk and John Kerrigan; and several other poets, artists, writers and editors. Many of these individuals were her friends and the letters often contain details of her feelings and personal circumstances. Most of the letters are Mendelssohn's drafts and copies: incoming correspondence is not extensive.
In addition to those notebooks which include study notes, there is further academic material in the form of essays from Mendelssohn's Cambridge undergraduate years and from her earlier art course at Sheffield Polytechnic. A large quantity of general and mostly undated academic notes reflects her wide-range of reading and interests.
A small number of Mendelssohn's draft prose works dating from the mid-1980s (mostly short stories) and some manuscript music material complete the collection held by the Keep. Further artworks, which are either on canvases or in frames, are held by the University's Art Store, located in the library. Although these have been included in the catalogue, they are not available to researchers except by special permission. Most of these are paintings, some of them large; the remainder are drawings in pastel, pen, crayon or pencil.
The papers are in Mendelssohn's hand unless otherwise stated.
The archive is organised in nine sections;-Family, Personal and Biographical-Holloway Prison-Correspondence-Notebooks and Drawing-books-Poetry, Artwork and Notes-College, University and Other Academic Writing-Prose-Music-Artwork