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Joseph Brodsky and Me: A Farewell from Intern Liam Phillips

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The following is a guest post by Liam Phillips, who recently completed a summer internship in the Literary Initiatives Office.

Liam Phillips, 2022 Summer Intern in the Literary Initiatives Office

I applied to be a Library of Congress intern during my spring semester in college, after I received an email that advertised internships for the humanities. Something about recordings of poetry, the National Book Festival, writing. That was enough for me to brush up on the cover letter format and send in my application. About a month later, I got an email informing me that I was asked for an interview in the coming week, and not long after I was on an Amtrak to DC.

“Where do you work?” was easy enough to answer. To most, I can simply say I worked at the Library of Congress. To fellow DC interns, I worked at the library. After a pause of internal oohs and ahhs, I often got the much-awaited, “Well, what do you do?” Political science nerds would ask, “Do you do research with the CRS [Congressional Research Service]?” My mom would ask, “Did you stack any books today?” No and no. I worked in literary programming.

During my summer internship at the library, I worked on a variety of projects. I reviewed author biographies and session descriptions for the 2022 National Book Festival website, coordinated the 2022 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry submission process, and worked on transferring and making resource guides for former Consultants in Poetry and Poets Laureate. My favorite moments at the Library were adventitious digressions of wonder—listening to hours of former laureate Charles Simic read his poetry at the Library, deciphering Joseph Brodsky’s handwritten Russian letters in the Manuscripts Division, or stumbling upon a lecture Brodsky gave to begin his laureateship in 1991, the last of which led me to reflect on the role the library plays in presenting literary events.

In the lecture, Brodsky gave a concise and pointed response to poetry in the U.S, stating, “I take this job in the spirit of a public servant, not in any other, so it is the audience for poetry in this country which is my concern, and it is in this public servant spirit that I find the existing creation of 1% [of the U.S. population that reads poetry] appalling and scandalous, not to say tragic…” (10:14). He argued that “everybody is a potential reader of poetry… This is, after all, a country of mass production, and I don’t see why what has been done for cars can’t be done for books of poetry, which take you quite a bit further” (12:50).

Brodsky developed the first truly national laureate project, to place anthologies of American poetry to hotels, hospitals, and homeless shelters. Brodsky’s critique, project, and hope revealed to me who the Literary Initiatives office serves. While many great divisions of the library work with literature as study, preservation, or legislation, the Literary Initiatives office works to promote literature to a national audience by way of free events, the National Book Festival, and resource guides–featuring poets and writers, and in celebration of reading.

I was honored to work with the Literary Initiatives office and to see my work as public service. I rediscovered my passion for being a reader—and appreciated the office’s work on behalf of readers like me across the country. I want to thank Deziree, Rob, Sasha, Anya, and Clay, along with all the other Library staff and interns across different divisions, to make my first internship a warm, rigorous, and rewarding experience.