The following is a guest post by Roberta Shaffer, associate librarian for Library Services at the Library of Congress.
Each day in my adult life I am reminded, if not rejuvenated, by childhood rituals that I continue to practice—one of which is my “required daily allowance” of poetry. The need for poetry in my everyday life is something I “inherited” from my mother, who cited lines of poetry to my sister and me at every turn (during bath time, on the way to school, when we were home sick in bed…you get the idea).
When my mother died two years ago, I literally inherited her books. Many were poetry textbooks. Like so many of her generation, my mother saved all of her college textbooks. And like so many of my generation—boomers—I sold my books back to the bookstore (save for a very few from law school) just as soon as the course was over!
In my mother’s books, I found marginalia written in her lovely and recognizable handwriting. Often, by reading her notes and accompanying texts together, I gained new insights into my mother and of course myself! I enjoyed the poems she commented upon, but really relished this way to stay connected to my beloved mom!
I soon began to take her poetry books to bed with me at night. It became a daily ritual. No matter how late, how tired or how over-read with work-related materials I am, this daily allowance of poetry—even if just a few lines—replenishes me and takes away the stresses of the day so I can more easily ease my way into a sound sleep.
Poetry also helps in other ways. When my mother died, two close colleagues at the Library of Congress sent me poems rather than a card—without knowing of my mother’s connection to poetry. I don’t think he will mind if I mention that one of these colleagues is our Chief Financial Officer, who in many other positive ways debunks the stereotype of a bean counter. The other colleague has recently lost her own mother…I now plan to send her a few lines from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. After many years away from his immortal lines, I sought Whitman out during the “Arab Spring” last year and continue to find inspiration in him. What a contrast to the morning newspapers filled with civil wars waging all over the world. Also, my copy of Leaves is my mother’s—nothing extraordinary about it, except that it was hers!