Library Week and National Poetry Month both occur in what T.S. Eliot termed “the cruelest month” ! For April 2022, here’s a list of poets that were librarians. Or should it be librarians that were poets? I leave that for you, dear reader, to decide…..
1. Poet.. novelist…historian…archivist.. and LIBRARIAN, Arna Bontemps was a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance. His themes concern dignity and the value of endurance, with poems that use traditional forms and the oral traditions of African-Americans to express rage at injustice.
2. Jorge Luis Borges, considered one of Argentina’s greatest writer, was a polymath who wrote poetry as well as essays and novels. Borges often worked in libraries including nine years at the Miguel Cane branch, which became the inspiration for his “The Library of Babel”.
3. Nonsense has its place in poetry. And no writer played more with language, creating nonsense with mathematical precision, than Lewis Carroll. And, yes, along with being a well known author and mathematician, Lewis Carroll was also the Assistant Librarian at Christ Church Library.
4. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is best known as Germany’s foremost Romantic poet and dramatist.
But Goethe’s careers and interests were varied and included botany, philosophy, law, politics, science, government administration… and yes, librarianship ! Goethe was very much involved in the cataloguing of Weimar’s cultural collections.
5. Library scholar Kavevangua Kahengua was born in Botswana and currently works as a Special Collections Senior Librarian at the University of Namibia. Described as “a leading Namibian poet” by contemporary reviewers, you can view Kahengua reading his poem “The Walk” here and students reciting “Old Man Walking” at this site…
6. LLAGNY‘s own Ellen Kaufman , recently retired from a law librarianship career, has long been a poet. Twice a MacDowell fellow, Ellen received the Morton Marr Poetry Prize prize and her works have been published in The New Yorker, The Adirondack Review, and other literary magazines. Double-Parked with Tosca is her latest volume of poetry.
7. Philip Larkin worked in libraries his entire life and was often referred to as “England’s Other Poet Laureate”. Larkin is noted for using the traditional tools of poetry to capture modern experiences.
8. Writing poetry since she was a child, Audre Lorde was a true daughter of New York City. Earning her M.L.S from Columbia, Lorde was a NYC Board of Education librarian in the 1960s and NYC’s Poet Laureate in the early 1990s. Critic Joan Martin stated that all of Lorde’s writing “rings with passion, sincerity, perception, and depth of feeling.”
9. Turning away from a law career, Archibald MacLeish declared poetry as his vocation and moved his family to Paris. Eventually combining a career of poet with one of public service, MacLeish served our nation as Librarian of Congress, Office of War Information administrator and chaired the US delegation that lead to the founding conference of UNESCO.
10. Marianne Moore is probably the most famous poet to have worked for The New York Public Library and her range of interests and poetic persona is often reflected in her work ; baseball, marriage, and the nature of poetry itself are all described with her unique brand of observational humor.
11. And I’ll conclude with the most ancient of Poet-Librarians…. the semi-legendary figure of Lao Tzu, often thought of as a contemporary of Confucius, the Imperial Library’s archivist and regarded as a founder of Taoism and certainly its best poet.
I’m sure that there are many more poet librarians than reflected in my short list. Something about the nature of our detailed work – categorizing, searching for the exact answer, and spending so much time with the written word – naturally lends itself to the writing of poems.
The NY Law Institute ….Just in Case… Just in Time….