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Librarian to the rescue: an introduction to poetry

January 13, 2012

This week, at the Poets House, I shelved books as usual, checking for duplicates and setting aside incoming books to be labeled. A tall young man, who looked to be in his 20s or so, approached me with that tentative face that says I’m not sure I should bother someone who works here, does she work here?

“Can you recommend some poetry?” he asked. I felt about 10 feet tall. My day was made!

He didn’t give me much to go on, because he hadn’t really read poetry before. I wanted to ask him all sorts of nosy questions about what brought on this sudden interest. But I didn’t want to badger him into fleeing my enthusiasm. I started to fish for guidance. “What kind of music do you like? what kinds of poems do you want to read?”

“Nature,” he said. No problem, Robert Frost. On my way to that shelf, I found one of the full-time Poet’s House staff. I brought her up to speed, and asked her for any suggestions. I found a Robert Frost collection that wasn’t too gigantic and settled him in one of the comfy chairs.

then I went hurtling over to the anthologies, to find a few that might work as introductions. Of course, I grabbed poetry 180, edited by Billy Collins. It’s one of my favorites. It’s a good introduction to contemporary stuff. Nature, though? I have a little trouble coming up with nature poetry off the top of my head. What else should I have suggested?

he also asked for love poetry. Again, anthologies to the rescue. We have a section for love and erotica. I also recommended Pablo Neruda, because the Captain’s Verses are beautifully sexy.

It was just so exciting to have somebody I could help. Think of all the poems he hasn’t read yet, and the delight when he discovers them. It was also great fun to have somebody who is basically a blank slate for poetry, ready to listen to my opinions and be steered. I’m still kicking myself a little bit over the nature poetry aspect because I went immediately for Robert Frost. He’s part of the literary canon. Dead white guy. I love the poems of his that I know (his house is in the village though… see what I did there?) I missed an opportunity to turn this guy on to Derek Walcott, or somebody talking about a part of nature, that isn’t New England.

I should really make a list or several of go to poets. Have I mentioned how much I love this internship?

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