The last couple of weeks have been busy at the Poetry and Literature Center. First, we kicked off our spring season with a our Bobbitt Prize reading, featuring Gerald Stern. Then a week later our Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, Natasha Trethewey, gave a reading and talk in conjunction with the Library’s “Civil War in America” exhibit.
The big news, though, is the Laureate’s move to Washington and the start of her historic residency here at the Center. Other Laureates have spent much time at the Library during their appointment, especially those who have used the position to launch poetry projects with national impact. However, Natasha’s use of the office harkens back to the days of the Consultants—the title for the Laureate position before the name was changed by an act of Congress.
The last Consultant in Poetry at the Library, Gwendolyn Brooks, was also the last person in the position to really be in the office (past Consultants were known to respond personally to inquiries of all kinds and regularly receive visitors). In fact, from time to time a longstanding Library employee will tell me about Brooks and her great commitment to the DC community, especially schoolchildren.
I have every hope that Natasha’s residency will be just as meaningful to poetry lovers of all ages in the District. Already the fact of her residency, and the “Office Hours” she plans to hold, has become a feature in local and national media coverage of her, and her recent noontime reading brought out a record crowd.
Of course, for the Poetry and Literature Center Natasha’s residency has an obvious practical implication: we now have a new person in the office! Natasha has taken over the Poetry Room, and instead of the standard-issue government desk that Consultants once had (from old pictures, it looks like the desk took up half the room!) she is using the lovely desk given to the Center by benefactor Gertrude Whittall.
The most surprising change Natasha’s presence has brought to the office, though, involves a reproduction of Thomas Jefferson’s music stand at Monticello. When I arrived at the Center almost two years ago, this stand stood against the east wall of the room, but in the first days of her residency Natasha moved it to the front window. What was once a piece of decorative furniture is now a reading stand for the Laureate to use as she looks out at the nation’s Capitol and its capital city. It serves as a metaphor for the dynamism Natasha brings to the office, as well as the way she re-envisions the historic and connects it to her own past. It is also an especially interesting connection to one of the Library’s great figures—a figure Natasha has written about.
I look forward to the new and unexpected ways Natasha’s residency changes the Poetry and Literature Center and helps us, and the Library, promote poetry and literature—and I promise to keep you updated!