The following is a guest post made by Mason Henderson, a 2012-2013 intern at the Library of Congress Poetry and Literature Center.
As a student of poetry in the MFA program at the University of Maryland, I have to admit that the Poetry and Literature Center is consistently spoiling me with brilliant poetry. On any given day, my position as an intern at the Center has me working on any number of projects and errands. Sometimes the majority of my time is spent cataloging the hundreds of lectures on poetry and literature that have been digitally recorded at the Library of Congress, while on other occasions Ive been lucky enough to spend my entire day in the Librarys Reading Room, pouring over the volumes of poetry that Ive come to know and love. On really special days, Im fortunate enough to meet, listen, and talk to some of the very writers that have inspired me to pursue an education in the creative arts. Im never exactly sure what Ill be doing, but the fact that great poetry will somehow work its way into my day is almost a guarantee. The conversations and lectures that Ive attended as a part of my intern experience have become the highlight of my time here.
Last Friday was one of those special days. On February 22nd, the Poetry and Literature Center hosted a Literary Birthday Celebration for the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. The celebration featured poets Alicia Ostriker and Claudia Emerson discussing Millays work and its influence on their own poetry. Both poets related the connection they developed with Millays poetry at a very young age. From the sufferings of teenage love to aspirations of political advocacy, both poets found a home in Millays subjects and languagea space where their own poetry grew and began to take shape. Both Ostriker and Emerson read some of their favorite Millay pieces and, in the tradition of true poetic conversation, responded with some of their own work.
Sitting and listening to both poets speak so candidly about their experience with Millays work, I realized that — once again — inspiring poetry had somehow found its way into my relationship with the Library of Congress. At this point I guess I shouldnt be so surprised, but somehow, Fridays celebration did feel different and, well, surprising. As someone who often discovers great poems accidentally, often finding (ashamedly) that Ive managed to overlook some really great pieces of American verse, I was struck by Ostriker and Emersons willingness to admit that, until recently, Millays work has fallen out of circulation, even within the academic community. They described this progression of loss as a tragedy and, after listening to their commentary and Millays poems, I couldnt agree more.
The connection to expression that Millay provided for both poets is one that we all envy and hope to experience. While its a shame that I previously had little knowledge of Millays work, my experience on Friday reminded me that part of my job (probably the most important part) as an intern, student, and reader of poetry is to seek out poetry that has the capacity to educate, inspire, and enrich our everyday experiences. Sometimes its enough to read poetry on our own, but more often I think its necessary to be a part of the conversations with and connections to the larger world of poets and poems. If there is one thing that Ive come to appreciate as Ive worked with the Poetry and Literature Center, its the consistent reminder that theres still poetry out there waiting for me. Time and again, I find myself leaving the office with a fresh outlook and source of renewed artistic inspiration. As I was walked out of the Library on Friday, I realized that the time I spent at Edna St. Vincent Millays celebration was certainly no exception.