Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Poetry Shouts? National Poetry Month?

It’s National Poetry Month, and while I’ve never bothered to investigate why April is tagged with this distinction, I’ve always suspected at least somewhat of a T.S. Eliot connection. Not that the man himself said “and let April be National Poetry Month,” but that it comes from the oft-quoted first lines of The Waste Land:

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

Of course, we have a display up for NPM in our library, filled with book covers from recent poetry books, some nice spring photos, and a cart of poetry. We had a slim handful of newer titles on our nice cherry display cart, so I ransacked through the American and British poetry and nabbed a stack of things with attractive covers: Fred Chappell, Nicki Giovanni, Robert Penn Warren, William Blake, Diane Gilliam Fisher, and a bunch more. Nice graphics. Good poetry. Watch the books fly out of the library.

Pushing poetry on the masses – ah, one of the joys of librarianship. Another librarian strolled by the other day, and feeling poetically frisky, I followed her while quoting Eliot: "April IS the cruelest month," I said, stepping around the reference desk and picking up my pace behind her. “Breeding lilacs out of the dead land…” I was getting her attention now, and as she smiled I went on “Mixing memory and desire…” as she quickly moved out of vocal range.

I wanted to toss off the next line down the hall, but I felt like I couldn’t yell because I was in a library! But somehow the idea of bellowing poetry across the library seemed like a REAL celebration of National Poetry Month. Make it a poetry shout, somewhat like a Slam, but less subtle. (Note: all irony is intentional.)

That’s the ticket. Shouting poetry out loud in the library. Blustery verse abounds at every opportunity. Sonnets pile up in the corners. Couplets coupling in the corner. Alliteration in every info lit session. Every reference interview would feature a few choice lines, of the librarian’s choice, at an inflated decibel level. Here’s an example:

Patron: “Do you have any books on the banana trade in Central America?” ( a recent real reference request, by the way).

Librarian, after searching the catalog with the patron: “Yes, we have several books on the United Fruit Company,” and then, sans sotto voice, wind filling your lungs, with a bit of Pythonesque bluster and volume:
A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,
As old medallions to the thumb
Followed by the requisite: "Is this what you need? Please come back if we can help you with anything else. Perhaps a few lines from Bob Dylan next time?"

And for those wondering, the lines bellowed at the lucky patron are the first few lines from Ars Poetica by Archibald Macleish. Who just happened to be Librarian of Congress. It all comes around in the end!

Happy National Poetry Month!

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