Summit in the Attic

Kristen Dupard performing at the 2012 Poetry Out Loud Finals in Washington, D.C. (Photo by James Kegley, courtesy of the National Endowment for the Arts)

Every once in awhile, my job offers me an opportunity to do something magical. For instance, last May I received an e-mail from Ken Bolinsky, the Mississippi state coordinator for the Poetry Out Loud Program—2012 winner Kristen Dupard had won the national poetry recitation contest by reciting, among other poems, Philip Levine’s “What Work Is.” Ken wrote to see if I could pass along a video of Kristen reciting the poem to Phil, but I decided to do one better. I  called Ken, and Kristen’s mother, and I finally got Kristen on the phone. While she was a national champion with great poise, she was also a teenager, and I called her in the morning right after she had graduated from high school. I might be middle-aged, but I still remember what it was like to sleep in at the start of summer vacation! And I had clearly gotten Kristen up.

I explained to Kristen that I was from the Library of Congress and that I was calling her on conference call, and I even hung up on her by mistake once! She was patient but understandably annoyed as I told her I had a special guest on the line. But when Phil Levine, our 18th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, introduced himself, Kristen immediately turned into a giddy teenager at a loss for words! The two of them had a wonderful conversation—one that reminded me how powerful it can be to discover that the poets one admires can be as lovely and as generous as their poems.

Luckily, the conversation between Phil and Kristen didn’t end with that May call. Fast forward to September, when both came to the capital as participants in our National Book Festival. I was delighted to have them meet face-to-face on the eve of the fest, thanks to the help of Ken and both the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation. If you click here you can see Kristen read “What Work Is,” and her follow-up conversation with Phil, up in the Center’s Poetry Room in the Jefferson Building. Someone from the NEA dubbed it “The Summit in the Attic,” which I think is terrifically fun! But unlike the other summits that take place in Washington, which can involve tense political negotiations, this one was about two people connecting through their love for poetry.

Kirsten Dupard and Phil Levine in the Poetry and Literature Center's Poetry Room.

It couldn’t have been a better experience. And it set the tone for the festival to come, which was full of moments when I and so many others celebrated and experienced great writing.


  1. Bárbara Herrnsdorf
    October 12, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    This is magical, wonderful and beautiful. Thanks for sharing this with us!

  2. Mary Jean Irion
    October 13, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    At 90, I can no longer attend those great occasions where poets gather to celebrate their own mass, sending out into the wherevers the shared praise of language that lifts/comforts/corrects/laughs at/ weeps with/honors life offered up with exultation from the soul of art. But I remember and relive those occasions whenever the mail hands me news of another great occasion just over or about to convene. What I can do, still, for a little while, is share with my poetry students at Willow Valley Retirement Communities a whiff of that same strange fragrance that comes with the right words, rising, whenever we hear them. We too raise our masses out of old age and invest our thanks in the solid ground of words that enable the here and now of tomorrow.

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