Tonight the Library of Congress presents the second virtual program in its series “Hear You, Hear Me,” featuring Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden with the two U.S. Poets Laureate she has appointed: Tracy K. Smith, who served in the position from 2017-2019, and current laureate Joy Harjo.
The series title is based on a passage from the canonical “Poem for English B” by Langston Hughes:
But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you.
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
In her opening remarks for the event, the librarian references these lines to move into the heart of the conversation: the power of poetry in times of crisis as well as its enduring power to promote social justice. The laureates also read poems of their own: Tracy reads “Unrest in Baton Rouge,” which was commissioned by Studio 360 as a response to a photo from the 2016 protest; and Joy reads excerpts from “Exile on Memory,” a multi-part poem the National Endowment for the Arts describes as “a meditation on historical trauma and [a weaving] together [of] memories of the past, present, and future.”
The librarian and the poets laureate also discuss “Dear Black America: A Letter from Tracy K. Smith,” published on July 2nd, as well as each laureate’s signature projects: Tracy’s “American Conversations: Celebrating Poems in Rural Communities,” and Joy’s “Living Nations, Living Words: A Map of First Peoples Poetry.” And there is much talk of generational power—the link we have to our ancestors and the responsibility we carry for our descendants.
I don’t want to give away any more about about the event—I hope you tune in on the Library’s Facebook page or YouTube site to watch tonight (and if you can’t, the event will be archived as a webcast on the Library’s website.) But I want to say I find it to be a beautiful, difficult, necessary conversation. It also captures a moment of powerful connection between the librarian and both laureates—there is such great respect and admiration and love among them. I urge you to watch and know you will be moved, emboldened, and inspired by the experience.
Megan Jenkins, a 2019-2020 academic year intern at the Poetry and Literature Center, reflects on her time at the Library of Congress.
Looking forward to the 2020 National Book Festival? In the meantime, you can watch past festival presentations by exploring our full National Book Festival video collection—which includes this video of Natasha Trethewey and Jenny Xie discussing “the poetry of place” and their new books, “Monument: Poems New and Selected” (Trethewey) and “Eye Level” (Xie), on the Poetry & Prose stage at the 2019 Festival.
This “Literary Treasures” post, written by intern Megan Jenkins, examines an audio recording from the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature featuring Lucille Clifton reading her poems at the Library of Congress on December 2, 1999.
In commemoration of Juneteenth, Manuscript Division curator Barbara Bair explores Ralph Ellison’s unfinished second novel. First published posthumously in 1999 as “Juneteenth,” and a decade later (in 2010) as “Three Days Before the Shooting…,” Ellison’s novel takes a deep dive into the complexities of race and violence and prices of transformation in America.
A word out to all poetry publishers: the Library of Congress is now accepting submissions for the 2020 Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize in Poetry.
Tonight we will air a new National Book Festival Presents program, “Ha Jin on the Legendary Li Bai,” at 7 PM EST on the Library’s Facebook page and YouTube site.
Looking forward to the 2020 National Book Festival? In the meantime, you can watch past festival presentations by exploring our full National Book Festival video collection—which includes this video of poet Kevin Young reading and discussing his poems on the Poetry & Prose stage at the 2015 festival.
The Library of Congress, through its Center for the Book, has affiliates in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Now, you can learn about your local Center for the Book’s public programs in one place: Our newly launched Calendar of Events tells you what your state or territory is doing as well as the activities of other Affiliate Centers. And, through the beauty of the internet, you can be a part of programs from just about any state, as the current pandemic has forced almost all programs to go online.
This “Teacher’s Corner” blog post by former Library of Congress Teacher in Residence Rebecca Newland explores ideas for engaging students with poetry at the end of the school year.