Last Monday at 10:00 AM, Poetry and Literature Center staffer Matt Blakley and I went down to the second floor of the Jefferson Building with a cart of materials—wedges and stands, signs and cards, and a few precious objects. There we met with Leslie Girard, the LC staffer in charge of the Library’s new Agile Display Cases. These cases aren’t in fact agile—they weigh 700 pounds apiece!—but provide a way to showcase collections on a short term, smaller scale, and more specific topics than would usually be the case for traditional Library exhibitions.
Our specific topic was the Poet Laureate Final Lecture, to take place next Wednesday. Natasha Trethewey will finish the second term of her extraordinarily successful Laureateship with a lecture that will reflect upon the state of poetry based on her first term “Office Hours” at the Library and her second term project, the PBS NewsHour series “Where Poetry Lives.” She will also consider the legacy of previous Laureates such as Robert Penn Warren; the role of the poet as public intellectual; and poetry’s role in remembrance of and reckoning with our past—with particular focus on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement.
To help celebrate Natasha’s lecture, which acts as a preview of sorts for the Library’s Civil Rights Act exhibit, we decided to try our hand at a display. The Poetry and Literature Center is programs-based and not collections-based, unlike many other divisions at the Library; nevertheless, we had a couple of items to start with: a photo of Natasha from her first term final lecture and a signed broadside Virginia Quarterly Review made for that occasion. We added the Library’s general collections copy of Lucille Clifton’s book Blessing the Boats, flipped open to the poem “Jasper Texas 1998”—a poem Natasha will refer to during the lecture. She will also refer to the book Brother to Dragons by former Poet Laureate Robert Penn Warren—we got a first edition of the book for our display, from the Library’s Rare Book and Special Collections Division.
The last item we received for the display was arguably the most exciting: a copy of Natasha’s notes for the lecture, which she is still adding the finishing touches on. I’m eager to get the actual notes in our display next week, when she comes to give the lecture; in the meantime, if you are in the area please come to see the display. And don’t miss Natasha’s lecture on Wednesday, May 14th—it will take place in the historic Coolidge Auditorium at 7:00 PM, and afterwards we’ll follow tradition with a lovely reception. We hope you can join us to say good-bye to Natasha in her current role, and celebrate all she has done for the Library and for poetry.