Tuesday, April 21, 2020

National Library Week Verse—National Poetry Month 2020

National Library Week Verse—National Poetry Month 2020

April 21, 2020
What happens when National Poetry Month and National Library Week collide?  Poetry about libraries, librarians, and readers, of course.  Most libraries are physically closed during the Coronavirus lock down but are doing valiant service finding ways to continue to serve their users many of whom are going bonkers and craving books like a crack head in withdrawal.  
Here is a sample of the verse libraries inspire.

Walt Whitman.
You knew that good old Walt Whitman who often felt the sting of censorship and the condemnation of the gate keepers to approved American culture would have something to say.

Shut Not Your Doors to Me Proud Libraries

Shut not your doors to me, proud libraries,
For that which was lacking among you all, yet needed most, I bring;
A book I have made for your dear sake, O soldiers,
And for you, O soul of man, and you, love of comrades;
The words of my book nothing, the life of it everything;
A book separate, not link’d with the rest, nor felt by the intellect;
But you will feel every word, O Libertad! arm’d Libertad!
It shall pass by the intellect to swim the sea, the air,
With joy with you, O soul of man.

Walt Whitman

Nikki Geovanni.
Nikki Geovanni is one of the most celebrated poets her generation who has popped up regularly in Poetry Month entries here. She has been associated with the Female Beats, and both Women’s Liberation and Black empowerment.
My First Memory (of Librarians)
This is my first memory:
A big room with heavy wooden tables that sat on a creaky
       wood floor
A line of green shades—bankers’ lights—down the center
Heavy oak chairs that were too low or maybe I was simply
       too short
              For me to sit in and read
So my first book was always big

In the foyer up four steps a semi-circle desk presided
To the left side the card catalogue
On the right newspapers draped over what looked like
       a quilt rack
Magazines face out from the wall

The welcoming smile of my librarian
The anticipation in my heart
All those books—another world—just waiting
At my fingertips.

—Nikki Geovanni

Alberto Rios.

Alberto Rios was the first Arizona Poet Laureate of and the author of many poetry collections, including A Small Story about the Sky in 2015. In 1981, he received the Walt Whitman Award for his collection Whispering to Fool the Wind and he served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2014 to 2020.

Don’t Go Into the Library

The library is dangerous—
Don’t go in. If you do

You know what will happen.
It’s like a pet store or a bakery—

Every single time you’ll come out of there
Holding something in your arms.

Those novels with their big eyes.
And those no-nonsense, all muscle

Greyhounds and Dobermans,
All non-fiction and business,

Cuddly when they’re young,
But then the first page is turned.

The doughnut scent of it all, knowledge
The aroma of coffee being made

In all those books, something for everyone,
The deli offerings of civilization itself.

The library is the book of books,
Its concrete and wood and glass covers

Keeping within them the very big,
Very long story of everything.

The library is dangerous, full
Of answers. If you go inside,

You may not come out
The same person who went in.

Alberto Rios

Mark Strand.

Mark Strand was awarded the Academy of American Poets Fellowship in 1979 and the Wallace Stevens Award in 2004. He served on Academy of American Poets Board of Chancellors from 1995 to 2000.

Eating Poetry

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.

The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.

Their eyeballs roll,
their blond legs burn like brush.
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.

She does not understand.
When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
she screams.

I am a new man.
I snarl at her and bark.
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.

Mark Strand

The Janitor as Poet from a 2004 newspaper clipping.

Finally one from the Old Man when he was not so old back in 2006 when post 9/11  hysteria and the Gulf War coughed up the so-called Patriot Act, the most dangerous assault on American civil liberties since the Alien and Sedition Acts.  Everyone was afraid to raise a peep in protest.  When the American Library Association learned that their members could be served secret warrants for the usage records of their users and could be fined and imprisoned as national security threats themselves if they said anything about the warrant or search, they defiantly declared that they would not cooperate or violate their users’ privacy.  The Feds ranted and raved, issued dire threats, and launched a secret disinformation plan to smear librarians as traitors.  The librarians did not blink.  They refused to comply with secret warrants.  As far as I know, none were ever successfully prosecuted.  Although it was likely that the NSA or other spook organization got what they wanted by hacking library computer records, the stand of the Librarians was truly heroic.  I was so impressed, I committed poetry.

Librarians at the Breach

Who would have thought it?

That prim spinster,
    severe hair in a bun pincushion
    for a slanting pencil,
    erect index finger epoxied 
    to permanently pursed lips
    sssshing to the recalcitrant
    in a thousand cartoons.

That iron gray matron
    of the Cheyenne Carnegie Public Library
    hovering date stamp in hand
    taunting my nightmares
    demanding my two cents a day
    for the Teddy Roosevelt biography
    days AWOL under a corner of the davenport.

That pale, tweedy nebbish of the stacks,
     guardian of arcane tomes,
     leather books with marbled edges
     unmolested for decades
     but ever ready for his urgent call.

That smiling story lady
     perched on her high stool
     rapt, worshipful and fidgety
     acolytes at her feet
     sing-songing the words
     of dreams upon the pages.

Who would have thought it?

That these unlikely heroes 
     would be called to unsheathe
     Excalibur from stone
     and set upon a Quest of Virtue,
     would need to set once more
     Liberty’s Red Cap upon the pole
     and storm again the Bastille,
     would resurrect the half-forgotten promises
     of Jefferson, Madison, Adams et. al.
     against aspiring despots.    

Who would have thought it, indeed?

Patrick Murfin

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