The following is a guest post by Laura Lannan, a Poetry and Literature Center Intern for Summer/Fall 2015.
I honestly can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t have poetry—my first books were poetry collections, my first loves were poets, and the first things I ever wrote were poems. My parents were avid poetry lovers, and I took every creative writing class offered by my High School in LaGrange Park, Illinois (even though there were only two).
Despite all that, when I came to Georgetown University three years ago I had no idea what I wanted to do. I always wanted to be an English major, but I had convinced myself that it was not a practical enough choice. My first semester, to fulfill a requirement I took an English class called Science Fiction and Fantasy because the syllabus said we would be reading The Hobbit and I was a huge Lord of the Rings nerd. That class completely changed my mind. I decided after turning in my final paper that I didn’t really care if my desired path wasn’t practical enough, and declared my major the next year.
The spring before my Junior year, all my friends began applying to summer internships in New York and China and all these wonderful places while I stayed inside on the couch writing poems. I knew I didn’t want to go home, but I also didn’t want to join the crowd of D.C. students interning for their congressmen, which is where the Library of Congress came in. I had known about the Poetry and Literature Center before, but only because of the Poet Laureate, so I went to the Library’s website to look them up. I found a link to their application and sent an awkward e-mail with my resume attached. It was the first time I had ever applied for a job that didn’t involve flipping burgers or cooking mac ‘n cheese for toddlers, and I did not expect to be hired, but a couple months later I was living in Brookland, taking the red line to Capitol Hill everyday to work in the Library of Congress.
The first day I came up to the office and met all my coworkers, the head of the center told me that the Poet Laureate was going to be there that day, but it was very important that I didn’t tell anybody who he was. It was pretty scary to be entrusted to a huge secret on my first day at the first internship I ever had, but with that promise I got to meet the Poet Laureate a week before anyone even knew who he was. I got to spend a lot more time with him too—eating Sweetgreen salads in the office and discussing the nicknames he made up for every member of the office (myself included).
But the bulk of my work as an intern has been writing bios. During my time at the Poetry and Literature Center, I must have written over 200 bios of poets, fiction writers, and essayists for Poetry 180 and for the newly launched Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature. I researched and wrote about people I had never even heard about, and about people who I knew nothing about other than that their names were on the books we studied in Literary History. I had studied the works of the authors I was researching, but I never got to learn anything about who they really were until I wrote their bios, and most of them required more cross-checking and research than I had ever done—even for the 20+ page papers assigned to me at Georgetown. For some, I did enough research to make me want to buy their books, which is what brought me to the works of Jamaica Kincaid and Charles Harper Webb (now one of my favorite poets). I felt like I was connecting with writers that had never been real to me before I got to work up close to them. Even my favorite authors didn’t seem like real people outside of the names on their books until I got to spend time reading about them and about their lives.
I often still feel like I have no idea what I’m doing, and I still have no concrete path planned out for the rest of my life, but after working at the Poetry and Literature Center, a future in literature is somehow a lot less scary than it used to be.