April is National Poetry Month! Today we interview Rob Casper, who is the head of the Poetry and Literature Center of the Library of Congress. Rob blogs for the Center at From the Catbird Seat. We have previously cross-posted blog posts related to both the Center and the Law Library: The Capitol Building from the Catbird Seat – Pic of the Week and National Poetry Month and Bad King John.
Describe your background.
I grew up in Minnesota and Wisconsin, where I went to college. From then until now, I moved around quite a bit–with stints in Boston, Houston, Iowa City, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Seattle, and western Massachusetts. These days I divide my time between D.C. and Brooklyn, N.Y., where I have lived since 2001.
What is your academic/professional history?
I graduated with an MFA in poetry at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where I founded the literary magazine jubilat. Shortly thereafter, I became the membership director of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, which supports independent literary publishers. My final job before coming to the Library was as programs director for the Poetry Society of America, where I put on 50-60 literary programs around the country. I also served as the poetry chair for the Brooklyn Book Festival.
How would you describe your job to other people?
I run the office of the Poet Laureate, and oversee the office’s programming efforts: 35-40 public programs annually, featuring poets and writers–mostly at the Library, but also around the country. We also have a website, www.loc.gov/poetry, with a growing number of resources.
Why did you want to work in the Library of Congress?
Well, there’s the stature and the reach of the institution, and the Laureate position. Both allow me to champion literature in ways I could not elsewhere. And there are all the wonderful people I get to work with–a part of the job I appreciate more and more.
What is the most interesting fact you have learned about the Library of Congress?
I did not know that poet Archibald MacLeish was once the Librarian of Congress! It’s rare that poets are tapped to run federal institutions (the only other example I know of is Dana Gioia, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts).
What’s something most of your co-workers do not know about you?
I didn’t appreciate, or even like, poetry until college. My first semester, I even took the English Lit intro seminar with the least amount of poetry on the syllabus. It changed my life–my professor, Rafael Pérez-Torres, was an inspiration. Through his class I fell in love with the art; he has become one of my dearest friends. So: it’s always possible for the poetry-averse to change their minds.