A Poet's-Eye View of What Contemporary Librarians Can Do

By Hillman, Brenda | American Libraries, September 1997 | Go to article overview

A Poet's-Eye View of What Contemporary Librarians Can Do


Hillman, Brenda, American Libraries


I've heard that poetry sales are up 40% since the establishment of National Poetry Month last year. My work as an educator also tells me that poetry is on the rise, so I feel a great kinship with librarians who are trying to get poetry into the minds of more people. A public library branch is the perfect place to do so, and in thinking about how it's done, I came up with four images, along with four tips to go with those images.

1. The first image is of a suburban library in Tucson, where I grew up. It was on the east side of town, and I spent a lot of time there in the early '60s. It was a noisy, friendly, colorful place, with a low murmur of research reports being done communally in one large room. I was there recently and it's still the same.

In the '60s I went there to do homework with my boyfriend, who turned out to be not worth the vast amount of trouble - but at the time it was a rather magical experience. One of the things I remember most vividly was seeing the display case with recommended books opened to a page of text. I first saw Sylvia Plath's Ariel there, a book that more or less determined my relationship to poetry for six or seven years after that.

Those display eases had a lot of cool stuff in them, and they had a really strong power for getting words into young bodies, just because of the way they physically isolated the importance of texts, as valuable specimens. So the tip is: Get poetry displayed with as much variety as you can.

2. Another image that comes to mind is of the ominous, tomblike local library where I like to write poetry now. I have written large chunks of my last three books there. It's a secret library so I won't tell you where it is, but I like to crawl into one of the study carrels and spread out all my stuff and write near the musty volumes. The smell of old book glue is a sort of spiritual cocaine for me; it makes me high, and I like the look of the angry, repressed readers who sit reading their esoteric stuff in the small spaces.

So the ancillary tip here is: Provide places for reflection and study and escape where the poet and the reader of poetry can be infused with all varieties of knowledge. There's nothing wrong with the occasional old-fashioned tomblike effect for getting the soul activated.

3. Recently I had what is perhaps the opposite experience in a library, and it provides the third image here. …

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