After nearly three years as a resident of Amman, Jordan, there are certain stateside conveniences that call to me—access to fresh tomatillos and blueberries, for instance, green grass in public parks. Still, one of the things I miss most as an ex-pat living in the Middle East is access to public libraries. Maps, manuscripts, documents and periodicals. What a privilege it is to wander the stacks, to access with ease all that’s in circulation. Yet, so many of our U.S. libraries are in crisis, a fact made evident by shrinking hours of operation and increasingly limited holdings. With restricted budgets leaving little room for new acquisitions, access to poetry in its many forms seems more and more difficult to find, particularly for library patrons who live in rural communities.
The editors of Tavern Books, the Portland-based nonprofit literary arts organization and publisher specializing in poetry translation and collections long out-of-print, recognize this fact and have responded by establishing Poetry State. The program, which serves institutions in major cities, as well as rural and tribal communities, strives to supplement the offerings of Oregon libraries. Poetry State also provides books to alternative-lending programs including those housed in shelters, drug and alcohol treatment centers, and jails. Although many of the materials that Poetry State offers are donated by publishers and individual poets, the press also accepts monetary contributions via its web site. According to Tavern’s Managing Editor, Natalie Garyet, Oregon’s libraries have a particular desire for bilingual editions and children’s poetry.
While Tavern Books addresses public access to poetry at the state level, Poets House offers Poetry in the Branches, a multi-faceted program geared to help librarians connect readers with contemporary verse nationwide. Poetry in the Branches provides weekend-long training sessions with special attention to library programming, as well as a sourcebook that features a step-by-step guide for implementing poetry programs on a shoe-string budget. In fact, from Brooklyn to Minneapolis, Bethlehem (CT) to Burbank (IL), there are plenty of libraries that celebrate poetry in innovative ways—and, at little expense. “Poetry Walls,” community workshops like “Writing with Rhythm!”, air time on local radio hours, and puppet shows in verse—these are but a few of the models highlighted online via the Academy of American Poets. The Academy also provides a list of low-cost suggestions for educators and librarians committed to sharing the art of poetry with audiences of all interests and ages. Happy reading!
*Throughout Poetry Month 32 Poems will use this space to praise presses, journals, and readings series that bring poetry to us in a special way. Our hope is that we can point new fans in their direction and publicly thank editors and curators for their work. Check in with us again tomorrow for another poet’s recommendation.
A former Stegner Fellow at Stanford, Shara Lessley is the author of Two-Headed Nightingale (New Issues 2012). Her awards include an Artist Fellowship from the State of North Carolina, the Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellowship from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, Colgate University’s O’Connor Fellowship, The Gilman School’s Tickner Fellowship, and a “Discovery” / The Nation prize. Shara’s poems have appeared are forthcoming in Ploughshares, Crazyhorse, Southern Review, Missouri Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and New England Review, among others. She can be reached at www.sharalessley.com.