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RDA—Recommended Daily Allowance for Poetry in Everyday Life

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The following is a guest post by Roberta Shaffer, associate librarian for Library Services at the Library of Congress.

College graduation photo of my mother (Gladys Garbeau "GG" Dellerson), June 1944, with her copy of Leaves of Grass.

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).

My sister Ava (3 months), having her first poetry reading from our mother.

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!

This illustration by Lewis C. Daniel was my mother's favorite in this edition. She also loved the lines starting with "All seems beautiful to me..." and ending with " eat and sleep with the earth."

Comments (8)

  1. Thank you for breaking through the noise by sharing your quiet and soothing routine with us.

    Dee Daly

  2. A touching story and a good idea. Thanks for writing for this article. I likel the column very much.

  3. Interesting post and thanks for sharing..

  4. Wonderful and I’m so glad you wrote this article.
    I always feel a tad guilty as I write in the margins of my books but now, maybe my son may someday appreciate my thoughts…maybe.
    It’s nice to know that someone else sleeps with books – it’s wonderful to know something familiar is there.
    Thanks for your words.

  5. mmmmmmm.

  6. A wonderful article. I have read the “Leaves of Grass” and Whitman was certainly a master of the English Language. I had to have my computer Dictionary alert when reading it as so many words I had never seen before. Thanks for sharing.

  7. poetry is something that would take away all your stress and enable u to start ur operation with more caliber…

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