The following is a guest post by Blane Dessy, executive director of the Library of Congress Federal Library & Information Network (FEDLINK).
I’ve been a librarian for a long time, and for much of my career I guess you could say I have been a paper pusher. Most of my days are spent sitting in meetings, speaking on the phone, reading reports, filling out forms and spreadsheets, and putting out brush fires. But one thing that keeps me going and gives me hope is poetry. I take solace in poetry; I experience life through poetry. I can even drop some lines at parties.
I’ll bet that most of us have some line or snippet of poetry that pops into our heads at times of stress, anger, joy, or bewilderment. That’s always been the case for me, and I’ve read poetry for as long as I can remember reading. Who among us hasn’t also written rhyming couplets at some point in our lives or maybe even tried to pull off a sonnet or some haiku?
As an undergraduate student, I studied English literature. I had the good fortune to study under Dr. Rosaly Roffman, who’s retired now — of all my English professors she had the most impact on me. She made classical literature come alive and made it contemporary, and it was obvious that she was in love with it. She would stand in front of us reading Homer or Virgil (in translation) and would seem almost transfixed by the experience. I was a kid, but I knew I was in the presence of a scholar and a poet for whom poetry was sublime. I can still recall her lectures and her conversations with me about literature and life.
I was also introduced to the Beat writers in college, and they remain my favorites to this day. I used to think that I should have been born earlier, and maybe then I could have met Ginsberg or Kerouac or Corso while they were creating this new type of literature . . . or hanging out at City Lights listening to new poetry being created by “angelheaded hipsters.”
That was all a long time ago, but poetry and literature and stayed with me. This past year I’ve had the great good fortune to create poetry programs involving Federal libraries, at the U. S. Naval Observatory and at Andrews Air Force Base. Doesn’t poetry belong everywhere? Doesn’t poetry need to influence everyone regardless of who or what we are? I know that poetry has influenced me, and I like to think that I can extend poetry’s reach a little further.