For this 4th of July post, I would like to begin by saluting former Poet Laureate Billy Collins. Since the beginning of June Billy has served as the summer host for Garrison Keillor’s daily radio feature The Writer’s Almanac. Billy’s project as Laureate, “Poetry 180,” was a huge success, and we still get calls and e-mails from teachers around the country letting us know they use it – and, of course, asking if it might be updated. I’m happy to report we’re working on it, and we hope to introduce some new poems into the mix for the next school year.
With fall will come the beginning of Natasha Trethewey’s second term as Laureate, and the launch of her project. Her first year was such a success – and her “Office Hours” here in the Library’s Poetry Room, when she met with members of the general public to discuss poetry, was a project unto itself! Natasha’s first term ended after her May 1 lecture, but she continued to hold make-up “Office Hours” to fit in appointments that had to be re-scheduled. Last week she had her final appointment, and it was a fitting one. Lonnie Bunch, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, came to the office, and he and Natasha chatted for a good hour. You can imagine how meaningful it was for us to see the two of them together and think of the work both have done, and will continue to do, to enrich our country.
After Mr. Bunch left, it was time for Caitlin and me to say good-bye to Natasha. Until that moment, I hadn’t thought about the impact the end of her first term would have on the office. Natasha’s great spirits and good humor, her passion for poetry and her ability to connect – to us and to everyone who came through our front door to meet her – has become an integral part of our day-to-day life. Thankfully, we have another year with our current Laureate, and Natasha smartly left a few books on her desk to signal she will be back. And, it seems, once you’re a Laureate you’re always a Laureate. I’m sure Natasha’s impact here will continue to resonate, and like Billy Collins she will always have a connection to the position. I’m also sure her forthcoming NewsHour features will, like Poetry 180 and other Laureate projects, continue to show Americans how important poetry is to their lives.