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Literary Treasures: Poetry and the Stars

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I’m excited to announce the launch of a new From the Catbird Seat series, “Literary Treasures.” The monthly series will champion the Library’s literary programming by highlighting audio and video recordings drawn from the Library’s extensive online collections, including the recently released Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature. The series, by showcasing the works and thoughts of some of the greatest poets and writers from the past 75 years, will help further Library’s mission to “further the progress of knowledge and creativity for the benefit of the American people.”

In light of New Horizons’ recent flyby of Pluto, I thought I’d warm the dwarf planet‘s big icy heart by selecting the May 2012 webcast “Poetry and the Stars” for the first installment of this new series. In it, poet and scholar Elizabeth Arnold wonderfully connects (you guessed it) poetry and the stars. She begins by saying:

Thoughts of the universe haunt us, thoughts of how small and helpless we are in relation to it. To ignore this is an instinct of survival but it’s the poet’s job to remind us who we are and where we are, to exhilarate us by revealing what we fear and to bring it all alive.

Arnold goes on to call upon the work of her own poems, as well as a few by Bishop, Oppen, and Keats that stand as a reminder to slow down and take notice of the world around us–and beyond!

When asked about her experience giving the lecture in such a place as the U.S. Naval Observatory, Arnold explained:

Half the audience was made up of scientists, so it was a bit intimidating at first, making me fear the question and answer session that was to follow the reading. But I was pleasantly surprised by these people’s keen interest in the poems, not to mention their patience with a poet writing about their subject of expertise. They seemed to enjoy looking at the heavens from another angle, appreciated where I and the other poets I discussed carried them. They were wonderfully alert, and I could sense that as I read. It was a delightful experience.

But it is what she explained happened after the event that got me. She said: “[After,] I visited the atomic clocks and on my way back to my car, saw a deer! It seems all dimensions of reality were represented that day.”

Which poets or poems do you turn to to help, as Arnold puts it, “remind us who we are and where we are”?

Want to watch August’s featured webcast? Check it out below.