Friday, February 6, 2015


Michael Harper dedicates Every Shut Eye Ain’t Asleep, an anthology of poetry by African Americans since 1945, to Sterling Brown—“poet, folksayist, scholar-teacher, pioneering wordsmith in a dynamic American lexicon, especially the laconic meditations and metaphysics extant in folkspeech as the underbelly of the nation’ s lexicon.” Sterling Brown’s first book of poetry, Southern Road, 1932, was introduced by Sterling’s mentor, James Weldon Johnson with whom he quarreled about “dialect being limited to pathos and humor.” Joanne Gabbin, in her book on Sterling refers to Richard Wright’s term, “The Forms of Things Unknown,” the anonymous folk utterances, spirituals, blues, work songs and folklore created and passed on by African Americans in our country. I know from my own experiences in villages where my people come from that the contours of the secret, hidden world can be glimpsed in folk expressions.

One September evening in 1981, Sterling came to share his thoughts and poems with my undergraduate students at American University.  If there is a pillar holding up this world, I think of Sterling. I’d give a lot to hear his wisdom on our Congress in these days!

Sterling: “My approach is largely portraiture of people. I’m more concerned with revealing qualities of their life than revealing qualities of my own life.  I wrote one poem that is autobiographic or semi-autobiographic: “After Winter.” [Sterling’s father, Sterling Nelson Brown, born in 1858 before Emancipation,  worked as a molder in a brickyard, saved enough to buy a small farm for his parents and to go to Fisk. He later graduated from Oberlin Theological Seminary. Sterling Senior was friends with Frederick Douglass,  W.E.B. Du Bois and taught at Howard University for some 30 years. He was a man of great moral courage, and stunning accomplishment in his own right. Sterling’s mother, Grace Adelaide Brown, taught in the D.C. schools for over 50 years ] Sterling  was educated at Dunbar High School, Williams College and did graduate work at Harvard. He taught at Virginia Theological Seminary and College and then for close to 60 years at Howard University. Here he encountered Kelly Miller, father of poet and dramatist May Miller, and Alain Locke, W.E.B. Du Bois. He attributed to his mother his love for poetry. “She read Longfellow, Roberts Burns, and she read Dunbar,” he writes.
Sterling Brown captures another side to his father.  In summers during his boyhood, his family lived on  a farm in Howard County at Whiskey Bottom Road.

“I was greatly influenced not only by Housman and Frost, Edward Arlington Robinson. In college I learned about Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Milton. I wanted my poetry to be simple, sensuous,  what you could see, hear taste, touch, poetry that conveyed feeling. But one day on the Boston Commons I read Untermeyer’s Modern American Poets, found Sandburg, To get to the language of the people, away from an artificial literary language, what Whitman wanted to do when he heard America singing.  Robinson went to a small town off the coast of Maine, from the ordinary, getting something extraordinary, Sandburg in Chicago, Frost in the farmers of New England.  Handling of my own people, felt it had been stereotyped, actuality hadn’t been shown, I did know there was a field to be cultivated.  Virginia Seminarian College was poor in money but rich in humanities.”

Sterling said “I learned the arts and sciences at Williams and Harvard but I learned the humanities in Lynchburg at Virginia Seminary. Students were older than I,  but coal miners in the summer, worked the farms and in hotels. They showed me certain qualities of life. I was sent there by Carter G. Woodson,  (his high school teacher, father of Black History Month,) and my father. My father told me to learn something about my people, learn something about myself.”

In opposition to James Weldon Johnson, on the limitations of folk speech, Sterling told us: “Folk speech is not limited: it is capable of tragedy, irony. The spirituals were not only pathos…’ Go down Moses, way down in Egypt land, let my people go,’ or ‘I don’t know what my mother wants to stay here for.  This old world aint been no friend to her.’ I found it in the blues. I found the pithy, epigrammatic, the ironic quality as Zora Neale Hurston said, ‘Hitting a straight lid with a crooked stick.’ I found the blues rich in this. ‘Got a handful of Gimme and a mouthful of Much Obliged.’. Whole lot packed into that. Found it in the folk tales, found a great deal. Found a language here. Made use of the folk expressions. Students at Virginia Seminary brought me a wandering guitar player, had coal dust on his lungs, but too weak for recording, Big Boy Davis taught me a great deal.

“In my class I was teaching Emerson, Thoreau, transcendentalism.  Over in the corner one of the students was fast asleep snoring.  I didn’t want anybody snoring in my class and I rebuked him. That Saturday, friends took me out to Coolwell, Virginia. Opening in the woods, wonderful house, squared logs, foothills of the Blue Ridge.  This was the home of my sleeping student.  He was farming a hundred-acre farm, working Friday afternoon until Monday morning and then he’d come to my class on transcendentalism. From then on he could sleep in my class, but he didn’t want to anymore. I’d go out and cut wood with him.

“All the neighbors would come to talk to the Professor Brown, ask me questions that I couldn’t answer!  Got to talk one night about Brother Moore, a trifling man , his horses got out, his cows got lost. Folks kept saying, He means good.  Sister Biffie took her pipe out of her mouth one night and said: ‘He may mean good, but he do so doggone poor.’ That I used ever since in my talk on Sentimentality. Wanted to give credit to the Blues; Handy was the first. Ma Rainey, I heard in Nashville Tenn. She was no beauty until she opened her mouth. Bessie Smith was a better singer but Ma Rainey was more for the audience. I got a chance to talk to her.”

Sterling always ended his readings with “Strong Man” Sterling Brown influenced three generations of writers and thinkers and his influence continues and will beyond this day.

Sixteen Poems of Sterling Brown is available as a recording at Smithsonian Folkways.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

SPLENDID WAKE 3, Friday, March 20th 6:30 p.m.

For Immediate Release
For program information contact Joanna Howard
For wiki and venue information, contact Jennifer King 

A Splendid Wake 3
3rd Annual Public Program 
Celebrating Poetry in the Nation’s Capital from 1900 to the Present
Friday, March 20th, 2015 from 6:30-8:30 P.M. at George Washington University Gelman Library, Suite 702, 2130 H Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. (near Foggy Bottom Metro stop). Free and Open to the Public!

Join us for our 3rd incarnation of A Splendid Wake as we continue our work of documenting poets and poetry movements in the Nation’s Capital from 1900 to the present. Our focus this vernal equinox is on Georgia Douglas Johnson and the “Saturday Nighters,” poet May Miller, the Federal Poets, Poetry Workshops born during “Poetry and the National Conscience” conferences, and the Modern Urban Griots.

Our stars this time around will include:  Regie Cabico, Host; Kim Roberts and Michon Boston on Georgia Douglas Johnson and the Saturday Nighters; Miller Newman on May Miller; Judith McCombs on the Federal Poets with Donald Illich and Dorrit Carroll; Linda Pastan and Rod Jellema on poetry workshops with Siv Cedering, Primus St. John, Roland Flint, and others; Toni Asanti Lightfoot on Modern Urban Griots with Brandon D. Johnson, Holly Bass and Twain Dooley; and Sunil Freeman, in the important role of Timekeeper!

Co-editor of Flicker and Spark: A Contemporary Queer Anthology of Spoken Word and Poetry and Poetry Nation: The North American Anthology of Fusion Poetry, Regie Cabico, our host, has received awards in National Slam competitions and for his work as slam coach for individual and team competitors in the U.S. and Canada. He is co-director of La-Ti-Do, a weekly spoken word and cabaret series in D.C.

Georgia Douglas Johnson—poet, playwright, and composer--brought together Kelly Miller and his daughter May Miller, Alain Locke, Carter G. Woodson, Angelina Weld Grimke, Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Zora Neale Hurston and many others at weekly salons at her home on S Street in D.C. Her life and works will be presented by Kim Roberts, a true D.C. force for poetry and the author of four collections of poetry, the editor of Beltway Poetry Quarterly, the anthology Full Moon on K Street, and by Michon Boston, a writer/producer and author of “Iola’s Letter,” a play based on the events that transformed Ida B. Wells from a journalist to a staunch anti-lynching activist. Boston’s plays have been produced at the Source Theatre, the National Black Theater Festival in North Carolina, and the Kennedy Center.

May Miller was a Washington poet, playwright and educator whose literary career began in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. Her father, Kelly Miller, was a nationally known author and philosopher, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a professor of sociology at Howard University. He was the first African American to attend Johns Hopkins University where he studied astronomy. W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington visited their home. May spoke of having to give up her room for Paul Laurence Dunbar. An award May Miller received for a play was presented at a dinner attended by Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, James Weldon Johnson and Jean Toomer. She served as chair of the Literature Panel of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Her niece, Miller Newman, will provide a picture of May Miller’s life. Miller Newman is a senior faculty member in the Department of English Composition and Reading at Montgomery College. She is a poet, essayist and aspiring novelist with a doctorate in Higher Education Administration.

The Federal Poets Workshop, founded in 1944, is the D.C. Metro area’s longest running workshop for poets. Members meet monthly at Tenley Public Library to critique poems and produce a biannual journal. Craig Reynolds, Frank Goodwyn, and Nancy Allinson have served as presidents. Don Illich is the current president. At least five workshops and two readings series have emerged from Federal Poets. Judith McCombs, Vice-President of Federal Poets since 2005, is a poet and literary scholar. Her poetry has appeared in many publications. The Habit of Fire: Poems Selected & New appeared in 2005. She directs the Kensington Row Bookshop Poetry Readings, edits for Word Works DC, and is on the Splendid Wake board. Don Illich, current head of Federal Poets, has published poems in The Iowa Review, Nimrod, and  Rattle. His poetry has been nominated four times for the Pushcart Prize. His chapbook, Rocket Children, appeared in 2012.  Doritt Carroll received her undergraduate and law degrees from Georgetown University. In Caves and GLTTL STP were published by Brickhouse Books and her poems have appeared in Poet Lore, Plainsongs and Journal of Formal Poetry.

Rod Jellema ran a series of conferences at the University of Maryland beginning in 1968, “Poetry and the National Conscience,” and sent letters out inviting folks to join a fortnightly writer’s workshop already in progress. Those who joined the existing group--Siv Cedering, Eddie Gold, Primus St. John and Bill Holland-- were Linda Pastan, Ann Darr, Roland Flint, Gary Sange, and Myra Sklarew. Other who joined occasionally were Elisavietta Ritchie, John Pauker, Henry Taylor.  “Notable sit-ins or drop-ins were Gene McCarthy, Bill Stafford, and Stanley Kunitz,” says Rod Jellema, who adds, “Ann Darr estimated that the members of the workshop published more than sixty books.”  Linda Pastan and Rod Jellema will reminisce about this workshop. Jellema, professor emeriti, University of Maryland founded the Creative Writing Program, and is the author of five collections of poems, the most recent, Incarnality: The Collected Poems. He is currently working on a history of early New Orleans jazz, Really Hot: A New Hearing for Old New Orleans Jazz.  Linda Pastan has published thirteen volumes of poetry, most recently Traveling Light. Two collections have been finalists for the National Book Award. A new collection, Insomnia, is due out from Norton in Fall 2015. In  2003, she received the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize for lifetime achievement.

The way Toni Asanti Lightfoot tells it, The Modern Urban Griots got their start on a cold February night in 1994 at a place called “It’s Your Mug Cafe” at 2601 P Street, N.W. in Georgetown. She says that this series “had a broad impact. It influenced the establishment of numerous poetry events on U Street, N.W.  as well as Blackman’s Freestyle Union hip-hop workshops and created a commitment to community and education.” Those who participated included Brandon D. Johnson, Holly Bass, Twain Dooley, and Lori Tsang, among others. Beloved hecklers were The Brock Crew, Kenny Carroll, Brian Gilmore and Joel Dias Porter (DJ Renegade). The group performed at the Whitney Museum in NY, the Nuyorican, and smaller venues around the city. In recent times the group reunited at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage. Toni Asanti Lightfoot, is a poet, educator, activist, and has an MS in Traditional Oriental Medicine. Her work has been anthologized and can be seen on YouTube. She is editor of Dream of a Word: A Tia Chucha Press Anthology.   Holly Bass, a Cave Canem fellow, writer and performer, studied modern dance and creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and earned a Master’s degree in Journalism from Columbia University. In 2011, The Root and 2012 Best Performance Artist in Washington City Paper named her one of the Top 30 Black Performance Poets internationally. Brandon D. Johnson, founding member of Modern Urban Griots and The Black Rooster Collective, received a BA from Wabash College and a JD from Antioch School of Law. He is a Cave Canem Graduate Fellow, the author of Love’s Skin, Man Burns Ant, the Strangers Between, and has work published in numerous anthologies. Twain Dooley, born in D.C., served on active duty during Desert Storm, and after a 2-year stay in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (as a civilian), returned to Washington and began to perform for a variety of audiences. Author of several books, he has opened for Amiri Baraka and Jimmy “JJ” Walker, won top honors on the DC/Baltimore Slam Team, and is currently working on the story of his life, “None of This Makes Sense.”

Splendid Wake-up Blog:

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Federal Poets Workshop: Beachhead and Bridge for DC-Metro Area Poets

Founded in 1944, The Federal Poets are DC Metro-area’s longest-running workshop for poets—and the only one consistently open to newcomers. We meet afternoons on the third Saturday of the month, at the Metro-accessible Tenley Public Library, to exchange critiques aimed at enhancing a poem’s chances for publication. (Note: we have no current connection with the Federal Government, nor with state poetry societies.) You can read your one-page poem, with copies, at three meetings for group critique: and then be voted in for membership. (Or not, as happened once or twice.) 

Members pay annual dues ($25) that support our biannual
journal, Federal Poet, edited by Pam Blehert. Federal Poets has its own website and Facebook Page.

I have been a member since 1985, vice president since about 2005. I remember how much the Federal Poets’ welcome meant when I came to the area, uprooted from my long-term Michigan writers’ workshop and college teaching. I’ve stayed with Federal Poets to give back, to enjoy long-term and newer poet friends—and because the critiques and audience I get are good for my poems.

Craig Reynolds, a black gay activist poet, superb m.c. and organizer, was our president and editor till 1988; Craig arranged for us to read at Ford Theatre and Old Post Office Pavilion—the latter with Rod Jellema and Myra Sklarew as honorary guests (tribute Federal Poet Spring 1995). Frank Goodwyn, a novelist, memoirist, retired U. MD Spanish professor—and a cowboy poet—became president in 1989; followed by Nancy Allinson in 1992 as president, editor, and readings organizer; followed by Don Illich as president and readings organizer since September 2012.

About one-third of our diverse members are involved in other poetry venues: as GWU’s Jenny McKean Moore Scholars; Word Works DC editors and volunteers; Writer’s Center workshop leaders and participants (Miles David Moore and I have Words Works books, and have taught for the Center), etc. At least five workshops and two reading series come out of Federal Poets. Bob Haynes founded a workshop and Lip Service little magazine c. 1986. Ingeborg Carsten-Miller, a bilingual German poet, founded the Fairland Library Literary Salon in 2001. Jean Lehman had an Alexandria workshop and readings. Ninie Syrakin’s D.C. House of Poetry may predate her Federal Poet membership. Ann Rayburn and Pamela Passerata created new, smaller workshops. Miles David Moore hosts Arlington’s Iota Poetry Series 1994-; I arrange the Kensington Row Bookshop Poetry Series 2003-.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Small Presses I Have Known and Loved (a personal account) The Bunny and the Crocodile Press & The Washington Writers’ Publishing House

The Bunny and the Crocodile Press was started in 1976, by Grace Cavalieri and daughter Cindy Flynn; and then that same year I joined our friend John McNally in establishing the Washington Writers’ Publishing House.

The name
"Bunny & Crocodile" came from a New Yorker cartoon David Bristol sent me with a huge crocodile mouth and two bunnies inside the open jaws, hugging, unaware of any danger. This surely was poetry in the world. People always attributed the Press’s name to Ken and me but truly it was just an imprint we thought perfect.

The small press movement is time-honored in America. In the 1960’s and 70’s, the movement gained momentum, taking on the mission of publishing good poets who the big houses ignored. Big publishers were owned by ATT and Westinghouse, corporate American. But small presses did not have a bottom line, or even a line, and all kinds of books were produced – sometimes even mimeographs were published in poets’ basement.  

The Bunny/Crocodile depended on an established poet finding his/her own grant to sustain publication. Most of our poets were in academia and at that time, their colleges supported and subsidized publications.  Of course my household had to provide more funding than anticipated because of incidentals that we—an illusioned entity— could not foresee. When it came to finances, “The Bunny” was always outside chewing grass and “The Crocodile” sleeping in the sun.  Also we did not have the strength to do bookkeeping so the authors received 100% of their books and sales money. What did we have? We had the great good pleasure of making a book, making something that did not exist before— call it collaboration with God, but there was something wonderful about packaging a poet’s words and sending them out into the world like a letter of love.

The reason our press was not a vanity press (i.e. writers pay to be printed) is because of one word:  selection. We received many manuscripts, and we chose carefully among those poets who were excellent, who had tried traditional houses first, were deserving in the community and— and, well, sometimes were our friends.

My daughter Cindy was with me from the beginning of production with “The Bunny.” She was in college (studying with Michael Glaser) when we began, and Cindy was an accomplished artist who designed the books and created the covers. We found a printer in southern Maryland who made books that were reasonably priced with good textbook paper. The largest portion of our publishing lives was helped along by George Klear’s Printing Press, Leonardtown Maryland. After he died, his son Kerry worked for us. George was an angel in the rough, and was amazed at the idea that anyone would print poetry instead of VFW news or fishing calendars. He always gave a great price and once, when covers for the WPFW anthology were injured, George reprinted 500 books free – without us even asking (“that’s what giving is,“ my husband always said).

From 1976 to 2014 we did books sporadically, one or two a year. We had other interests, and publishing was on the margin of our lives. During the last 10 active years of publishing we accepted novels and finally we decided to close the press in 2013. Thirty six years of work with no revenue was a drain. The energy we received from shining light on other writers called for more batteries than we had left.

The most sweeping success of any of our books was The WPFW Anthology where the Bunny and Crocodile published the first 300 poets to appear on my radio series “The Poet and the Poem from WPFW-FM.” Some poets had never been in print. Others were Poets Laureate, some had never been on radio before, and everyone gave us the beauty of a poem. We were able - I cannot believe the 100s of grants I’d written - we were able to distribute the anthology to every library and every public school in the District of Columbia.

These were the books George Klear replaced because someone in his shop moved the covers before he varnish was dry. So I still have a box of extras in my closet, and I am saving them for the most special of all occasions, although I cannot imagine what day that will be. I hope I am in it, at any rate.
In 1986, Robert Sargent, my constant friend and companion and Bunny Board member had just retired his career from the Pentagon, and he put his clerical skills to work by helping me file for an IRS tax free status, incorporated in the District of Columbia. Now we could do more work. An entity can be incorporated in every state so when I moved to West Virginia in 1988, I added Forest Woods Media as a moniker as we were doing more poetry distribution in media than in print.

At the time of the Bunny’s inception, I met John McNally. He was a wonderful energetic person, who worked with my husband in the Bureau of Naval Personnel in DC. Ken was his “superior officer,” Commander, and John was a Lieutenant so when Ken brought him home, John was naturally called Ken’s inferior officer. He’d seen horrible action in Vet Nam in a river boat with dead bodies falling on him. But he never spoke of it. He was sweet and handsome and on his way to Law School and he loved poetry and was an excellent poet.

It was John’s idea to start a publishing House that was not quite as jejune as The Bunny and Crocodile and he had a grand vision. This was the time of cooperatives and collectives.  John thought we should start a collective because he knew a great graphics artist in DC who would design elegant small chapbooks. The idea was to start with three poets, then those published poets would become workers for the press, selecting three more, then we’d have six and it was an inverted pyramid which would become a small press empire.

The first three books were slender, about 26 pages: Deirdra Baldwin, (I think Terence Winch) and my own. Nice satiny covers and good paper. Not like paper in other books at the time. E Ethelbert Miller was among our next three, and John McNally’s idea flourished.

The Washington Writers’ Publishing House is still thriving today with hundreds of titles to its credit. John moved on to study law, I was President of the Washington Writers Publishing House the first two years, Robert Sargent for several years (poor Robert, I left cardboard boxes filled with unfiled papers for him to sort). Jean Nordhaus shouldered the press for many years after that. She’d been Poetry Coordinator for the Folger Shakespeare Library. We were poets publishing poets. Elisavietta Ritchie is the responsible one now in 2014 and there are bounties of books on shelves with the WWPH imprimatur.

Robert Sargent, my buddy, helped me with poetry distribution for The Bunny books and WWPH books. I was somewhat of a poetry guerrilla in those days employing underground tactics to get poetry out into the world. I would run into a bookstore and place books on the shelves and dash out. Robert would be double parked and we would speed away like Bonnie and Clyde. We got no money from those sales but poetry books were sold and our distribution system worked just fine. Give everything and ask for nothing and you’ll have success. Those are the economics of the arts

An aside about Robert Sargent:
Robert drove me everywhere to do Bunny business and later WPFW business. Also, he took me to my poetry gigs during the day at various colleges. He died at age 94 and was my best friend for 40 years. The Bunny published five of his collections.  When I had 9am-5pm jobs in DC, at PBS and NEH, we met every single Wednesday for lunch. I would come outside my building to find him sitting on a bench in the sun reading a book. He always carried a yellow memo pad, from Pentagon Days, with an agenda of what we’d talk about. As we gossiped or shared poetry acceptances and rejections, telling our secrets, he would cross off the topic with pencil.

Born in Mississippi, Robert was courtly, a southern gentleman and had a deep drawl but he was a devil. He kept a fake journal for Chris his wife to read, and although he adored her, he wanted his other women kept to himself. He sometimes wrote innocent dalliances in his fake journal so she’d believe them true.  

Robert and I had our arguments and they were fierce. He is the only person who could rouse my fury. Politically, we were opposite, and this was a point of contention. But he was my poetry valet. And a loyal partner in poetry crime.

The Bunny and the Crocodile Press Booklist 
(aka Forest Woods Media) 1976- to 2013

Blue denotes poets who are no longer with us

British GI Warbrides  Among The Alien Corn by Joyce Varney Thompson
Do Unto Others by Robert.C.Varney
Looking For Don by Dai Sil Kim Gibson
Schaeffer Brown’s Detective Observations by Candace Katz
My Emerald Green Dress by Alistaire Ramirez-Marquez   (in English and Spanish)
Dandelion Greens by Jane Flanders (Post Humous) edited by Steven Flanders
Dream Catcher by Lynn Kernan 
Schaeffer Brown’s Detective Fundamentals by Candace Katz
Manifesto d’Amore’: Uncollected Poems (1940-2001)  by Jane Flanders (posthumous pub)
Orpheus in the Park by Rose Solari
Being A Father by Michael Glaser
Beached in the Hourglass by Ethan Fischer
Sudden Plenty by Jane Flanders (posthumous pub)      

99 Past 80 by Robert Sargent
The Tao of Mrs. Wei  by Hilary Tham
Epitaph  by Yoko Danna
Break by Ilona Popper
Toad and Other Poems by David Bristol
Fiddledeedee by Shelby Stephenson
Altered in the Telling by Robert Sargent
Rap Goes Deutsch, the Poet and the Poem Special, CD (Goethe International)
Weavings 2000, A Maryland Anthology for Young People edited by Michael Glaser
The Maryland Millennium Anthology edited by Michael Glaser
Baiting the Hook by Sonja James
Looking for Divine Transportation by Karren Alenier
Pinecrest Rest Haven book-on-tape by Grace Cavalieri
Gift of Jade by  Margaret Ward Morland
The Stealthy Days by Robert Sargent
WPFW 89.3 Anthology edited by Grace Cavalieri
The Other Side of the Hill, Capitol Hill Writers Group Anthology edited by Jean Nordhaus
Cycles of the Moonvine by Jean Emerson
House of Change by Stacy Tuthill
Voice As A Bridge, edited by William Gilcher
Tales Too, an Anthology edited by Jeanne Mozier
The Corner Ain’t No Place For Hiding by Jonettta rose Barras

The Transmutation Notebooks by Anne Becker
So What! by Kenneth Carroll
The Cartographer by Robert Sargent
Flying the Zuni Mountains by Ann Darr
Tales from the Springs, an Anthology edited by Jeanne Mozier
Remember Me by Avideh Shashaani
Confessions of a Skewed Romantic by Ann Darr
Fish Galore by Robert Sargent
A Lover’s Eye by Michael Glaser
Paradise and Cash by David Bristol
The Thoughts of Giants by Shirley Scott
The Monk That Made His Momma Happy by David Bristol
Solid Gold by Devy Bendit
Selling Parsley by Devy Bendit 
Body Fluids by Grace Cavalieri  (1976)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Unlikely History of Poetry at Noon at the Library of Congress, (1994-2011)

            You might think that the Poetry at Noon (PAN) reading series that ran for nearly 18 years at the Library of Congress came about as a way to accomplish the following goals, in effect, to:
            Bring nationally known poets to read in Washington at noon.
            Introduce not as widely known poets to the public, including those from other parts of the nation and abroad.
            Provide a daytime event for those who could not come downtown in for evening readings at the Library.
            Allow excellent poets who hadn’t had the luck or opportunity to publish a book, to have a chance to read at the Library of Congress.
            Provide access to poetry for daytime workers in metro DC.
            Entice people who wouldn’t ordinarily go to a poetry reading to attend PAN because its theme intrigued them.
            Offer a brief lunchtime respite from fast-breaking events in Washington, D.C.
            Allow the Library setting to provide a serene place in which art and scholarship could combine to enhance human understanding.
            Contribute to literary art and creativity in the nation’s capital.
            Give tourists and visitors a preview of what the Poetry and Literature Center has to offer the nation.
            Give poetry a presence in the midst of daily politics.
Well, not exactly.  All that would come later.  Here is what actually happened. 

After getting a graduate degree in creative writing/poetry at the University of Virginia and becoming a writer-editor at the Library of Congress, I noticed one day in 1993 that there were a few empty rooms at lunchtime in the Madison Building.  As a lark, I began imagining a poetry reading for the public filling one of those rooms to overflowing and adding a little literary libation to what was otherwise an ordinary workday for most people.  Could that really happen? 
            Also, at about that time to meet other poets, I was taking a free Jenny McKean Moore Community Workshop at night.  The workshop, taught by visiting writer Linda McCarriston, was at George Washington University.  Nineteen ninety-three was coming to an end very soon, and Valentine’s Day 1994 might offer a perfect time to have a reading of love poems.  Who wouldn’t want to hear some love poems, and who had better love poems to read than Linda McCarriston and a few other poets I knew or had heard of.
            I checked this pie-in-the-sky idea with the Poetry Office and the head of Scholarly Programs under whose egis the Poetry Office resided. So, before you could say Thomas Sterns Eliot, I was distributing flyers for a noontime reading featuring McCarriston, Nan Fry and Martin Galvin.  The turnout was astonishing because the audience was virtually ready made and included: the Jenny Moore workshoppers, Nan Fry’s fellow poets, colleagues and students from the Corcoran, and Martin Galvin’s broad coterie of people who knew and loved him from his English classes at Walt Whitman High School and his published poetry.  An additional few people who had seen the flyer or read about the event in the newspaper and were curious and were present.  Good.  The reading was a success. Now I could move on to other things—except that people kept asking when the next reading would be.  The last thing I wanted to do was add a reading series to all the other things I had to do, but the questions kept coming and I decided, oh, what the heck, another reading or two before summer might be fun.  How about one for the Vernal Equinox?   
            Judith McCombs, Miles Moore and James Hopkins agreed to read poems about “Renewal” on March 21, 1994 in celebration of the equinox and the coming of spring.
            The next idea for a reading came from curator David Kresh in the Main Reading Room,  
because people often asked him how to find things they could read at weddings.  In the poetry world, that type of poem is called an epithalamium.  However, for general clarity, “Readings for Weddings” became the theme of the next noontime event.  Guest poets Geraldine Connolly and Sydney March read their selections on June 1, 1994. 
            (One of the guidelines for PAN from the very beginning was that guest poets should read not just their own poems, but also poems by others, living or dead, classic to contemporary, on the specified theme.)
            After these first three readings, I gave in to the idea of a series and so found myself designing it along the lines of the ideas listed at the beginning of this article.  Soon, I issued guidelines and a call for manuscripts to find poets who wished to read on the specified and varied themes for the coming year, i.e., fall and spring of different years. 
            In 1994-95, the first PAN reading of the fall occurred in September and had a back-to-work theme, or to broaden it, a “Work” theme.  Chris Llewellyn, Davi Walders and Celia Brown were the guest poets.  Continuing with the idea of seasonal themes, the next reading, “Halloween,” was presented by Barbara Lefcowitz, Stacy Tuthill and Sunil Freeman.  December featured a “Family Gatherings” theme for the holidays. Grace Cavalieri, Sarah Cotterill and Tod Ibrahim brought that first calendar year of PAN to a resounding and cheerful close with the family get-together theme.
In 1995-96, a number of things happened.  “Love Poems” had been such a popular theme that another one by that name was set for 1995 and, in fact, it was reinstated every year thereafter.  E. Ethelbert Miller, Jean Nordhaus and Beth Joselow drew an enthusiastic crowd to the “Love” reading, and in March, Colette Thomas, Michael Davis and Karren Alenier tackled the “Rebirth and Renewal” theme to vigorous advantage.  When May arrived inching toward vacation, Jean Johnson, David McAleavey and Anne Sheldon read poems about “Journey and Travel.”
            During this time, PAN had fully established itself, and when fall came, Pulitzer-Prize winning poet Henry Taylor read with Dan Johnson for the “Seasonal Change” September 1995 event.  Upon opening the “Discovery and Imagination” reading that fall, I chose a quotation from Mary Oliver: “The world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese--harsh and exciting....” and introduced guest readers Rod Jellema, Tina Daub, and Joe Davis.  Of Davis I remember saying, “…a graduate of Harvard with a Ph.D. in English from the University of Michigan, he has been a journalist for 20 years--8 years with the Congressional Quarterly--now with the Environmental Health Center--where he is a senior writer.  Although his articles have been published in 110 newspapers, his poems have not been published.”
             I felt at the time and still feel that there are poets out there busy with keeping a roof over their head and doing worthwhile remunerative work but who inevitably haven’t enough time to market their poetry, though they produce excellent poems.  To give the public a chance to meet and hear those poets was one of the reasons that PAN existed.  As Halloween approached, Maya Peretz, James Griffin and Claudia Annis read poems about “Spirits Beyond This Realm.”
            In 1996-97, PAN returned in February with “Love Poems” read by Gregory Orr and John Lee, followed by “Humor” with Reuben Jackson and Laurie Stroblas, then “Blossoms and Sensory Delights” with Laura Fargas, Martha Sanchez-Lowery, and Natasha Saje.  Also, in the spring, Poet Laureate Robert Hass held the Watershed: Writers, Nature and Community conference, April 15-20, and I was able to snag Pattiann Rogers and other poets for  PAN readings that week.   In the fall, 1996, Robert Lauder, Tom Layesman and Michelle Arku read poems about “School Days and Childhood,” Myra Sklarew, Maxine Combs and Terry Winch courageously took on “Fear” for a near-Halloween reading on October 29, and Hilary Tham, Elisavietta Ritchie and Richard Peabody brought “Reconciliations” home for the holidays in their performance.
            As 1997 began the fin de si├Ęcle was upon us.  Though not especially decadent, “Love Poems” fit the bill.  Lori Sang, Kenneth Carroll and Gretchen Colligan read a sexy and rewarding Valentine’s group of poems.  Later that spring, Hiram Larew, Elisabeth Murawski and Sharon Negri brought “Poetry of Place” alive, and the whole idea of “Flight” lifted off with  poems and selections about that subject from pilot and poet, Ann Darr, plus Mary Ann Daly, and, also Angelin Donohue (whose Dad was a pilot).
            In September, the “Poems for Children” reading was opened by 12-year-old Elizabeth Logan, followed by children’s book writer, Mary Quattlebaum, and poet Belle Waring.  In October, “Dante and Longfellow” made an interesting subject for a reading by then-Laureate Robert Pinsky who had published his translation of The Inferno.  As Thanksgiving approached, “Giving” was the theme of the reading by Donald Everett Axinn of New York and Michael Brosnan.
            “Love Poems”presented by Myra Shapiro, Matthew Lippman and Diana Timblin launched 1998 PAN.  “Frost and Fire” on March 4, featured Shirley Cochrane, Joanna C. Scott, and Lisa Russ Spaar in a passionate reading.  That spring “Gardens and Gardening” thrived presented by Jacklyn Potter, Heddy Reid and Elizabeth Stevens.  
            James S. Taylor read from and talked about his book Poetic Knowledge on May 26, a different but important departure from the usual all-poetry format.  Taylor’s premise is that when poetry was taught as a regular part of the curriculum by colleges and universities years ago, it bred a particularly rich and desirable kind of knowledge that could bear fruit throughout one’s life, and that universities are much the poorer for its absence. 
            In June 1998 just two years before the turn of the century, the idea of “Voyaging” was was needed.  Michael Collier, Judith Dollenmayer and R.T. Smith navigated a superb reading.  Also in June, Ruth Boorstin and Philip K. Jason tickled the Library audience with “Humor,” and that fall, on September 15, Merrill Leffler, Robert Sargent and Carolyne Wright were featured poets for the “Returning/Coming Back” theme.  “Safe Harbors/Dangerous Seas” brought PAN’s calendar year to a close with poems presented by Anne Caston and Lisa Parker.
            In the last year of the 20th century some fantastic readings took place.  Needless to say, in February 1999, love bloomed again in the reading by Barri Armitage, Ramola D and Jonathan Vaile. On March 4, Rumi translator Coleman Barks read with Barbara Hurd, exploring “Longing and the Thirst for Ultimate Water.”  In April “Renewal” was revised as a theme at the end of the century in the presentation of Stephen Cushman, Catherine Harnett Shaw and Marcella Wolfe.
            On the Bard’s birthday, April 23, John Bartoli and James Gregorio gave the “Shakespeare’s Birthday” reading, but in late May, Martin G. Murray and Alice Birney brought scholarly information to PAN’s “Celebrating Whitman” program, along with librarian David Kresh on May 31, Walt Whitman’s birthday anniversary.  To celebrate the final Father’s Day of the 20th  century, Sid Gold and Lee Briccetti read poems about “Dads.” 

            In September, 1999 “Favorite Fall Poems” were read by Nancy Naomi Carlson, Wendell Hawken, and Craig C. Smith; “Gratitude” was the near-Thanksgiving theme presented by William F. Claire, Lane Jennings and Raymond Lovett, and the final PAN reading of the century, “Centuries’ End and Millennium,” and was given by Kim Roberts and Karen Thompson.

            As the century ended I was facing a dilemma as director. During these first years of PAN, in order to provide more poets with a chance to read I had discouraged poets from applying more than once, but considering that a poet’s work evolves and changes over time, that policy seemed too limiting, so I instituted a two-to-three-year interlude before a reader would be considered again.  As it turned out a few poets read a second or third time if they sent in excellent poems on the requisite theme.  I also asked some poets and writers and later interns to serve as first readers, so that my poetic sensibility didn’t override other excellent choices.

            Poetry at Noon in the 21st century began January 28 with two widely known poets, Marie Howe and Tom Sleigh, followed by the traditional “Love Poems” reading in February by Mel Belin, Jean Kalmanoff, Mary Ann Larkin and Patric Pepper. In March, 2000, “Fun Poems for Children” were delivered by Nancy Allison, Cicely Angleton and Jill Williams.  John Bartoli, who could be mistaken for the Bard if this were the 17th century, read on April 25 for a post-“Shakespeare’s Birthday”program.  The idea of “Growing Older” was tackled successfully on May 30 by Joseph Awad, Laureen McHenry and Victoria Wyatt.
            That fall, the lens of “Hindsight” offered an interesting filter for selections by Jill Ann Mortell and Rhonda Williford.   “Obsessions/Addictions” were wrestled with in poems read by John Clarke, Bernadette Geyer and Kwelismith, and “Transformations” ended PAN’s first year of the new century performed by Lynda Malavanya, Gareth Philips and Marie Pavlicek-Wehrli.
            For PAN’s second year of the century, or 2001, “Love Poems” arrived again presented by  Kwame Alexander, Grant La Rouche and Ann Silsbee.  Two thousand and one was an auspicious year for PAN, for that spring PAN began its 10-year association with Michael Kahn and The George Washington University Academy of Classical Acting.  The ACA kindly lent its professional actors to read for our “Shakespeare’s Birthday” program.  This first year, actors Steve Martin, Ashley Strand, Peggy Scott and Susan Wilder gave stunning readings.  In particular, I remember Susan Wilder’s insightful interpretations of dialog from the plays.  The May reading in 2001 showcased poems about “Animals” offered by Andrea Grill, Jean Johnson and Nan Fry.
            As you know, 2001 was to become an annus horribilis for the country, and reverberations were felt throughout the Nation’s Capital, but particularly on Capitol Hill.  I remember standing  on the 5th floor of the Adams Building and catching sight of a section of the Pentagon in flames.  Needless to say, I left as government buildings were closing and headed out-of-town.  No public programs would be held for quite some time, and even if they had, few people would have come. 
            In light of all this, a “Harvest” reading was held after the Library reopened, but not until November 20.  Even then, a trio of in-house poets read to a handful of mostly staff members who were brave enough to attend.  The poets were: John Clarke, David Kresh, and Patricia Gray. 
            Poetry at Noon timidly began again in January 2002 with “Winter’s Tales” and guests Dan Johnson, Colette Thomas, and Martin Galvin, followed by “Urban Life” at the end of that month  with Tonya Maria Matthews, Davi Walders, and Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon.  We began to feel truly back in the groove with “Love Poems” landing exactly on Valentine’s Day in 2002.  Miles David Moore, Anne Marie Macari and Benjamin Hicks read.  And again, the soothing repetition of themes continued in April with “Shakespeare’s Birthday” delivered by the Academy of Classical Acting.  A “Mid-Summer Night’s Dream” ended the spring season on May 4, with Dan Cuddy, Heddy Reid and Yvette Neisser.
            “Poetry on the Mountaintops” opened the fall season in September featuring Martha Sanchez-Lowery and Ramola D.  “Mystery and Exoticism” seemed to warm the spirits on October 29 when Padmini Mongia and David Keibel read.  “Home and Hearth” further warmed us when Miranda Field, George Bilgere, and Geraldine Connolly read.  (Am unsure whether all three poets read—or perhaps just two—but which two?)
            On February 11, 2003 the sonorous voice of radio and TV personality Robert Aubry Davis
could be heard in the Pickford Theatre reading “Love” poems that had been published through the ages.  Later that spring poems about “Power and Peace” and “Healing” could be heard in the Pickford Theater.
            In November 2002, Kate Gale, Debra Nystrom and Dennis Loney rendered “Other Lives: Persona Poems” to an attentive audience.  And on December 9, PAN broadened the number of poets who could read at one time to feature a sampling of DC Poets to be followed in future years with a sampling of poets from other states.  District of Columbia Poets reading were Sarah Browning, Michael Gushue, Erich Hintz, Carol Jennings, Joy Kraus, Gregory Orfalea and J.D. Smith. 
            Two-thousand four was a leap year, and in early February Hiram Larew, Meredith Holmes and Dan Maguire considered its implications with verse.  For Valentine’s Day, Marilyn Taylor read “Love Poems,” followed on March 4 with an early St. Patrick’s Day program of poems presented by Robert Aubry Davis.  In April ACA actors Robert Leembruggen and Ian Gould read poems by, and excerpts from, Shakespeare.  Earthly Delights crowded our senses with the offerings of Lucille Lang Day and Nan Fry.
            On September 30, 2004 the formidable subject of “Men and Women” was broached in poetry performed by Shayla Hawkins, Myong Hee Kim, Ann Silsbee, Ernie Wormwood and Dwaine Rieves.  Late October featured “Poems for Children” from Sheree Fitch, Laura Krauss Melmed and Mary Quattlebaum.   “Things My Parents Told Me” were revealed in November by Abby Wilkerson, Christina Wos’ Donnelly and Judith Harris, and ending the calendar year, “A Sampling of Maryland Poets” took the stage in December, with the spotlight on John Carter, Charles E. Wright, Sauci Churchill, Carol Conover, Joanne Rocky Delaplaine, Gary Stein and Patricia Valdata.
            February 1, 2005 signaled Black History Month and Kenneth Carroll brought four young, gifted poets from the DC Writer’s Corps to read.  They were: Anoa Hunter, Adell Coleman, Tina Pryce and Carenda Tillery.  Picking up the “Love Poems” theme that year were: Karen Benke, Moira Egan and David Dalton, while Robert Leembruggen returned bringing Teresa Castracane for the “Shakespeare’s Birthday” presentation.  On May 31, Robert Aubry Davis  returned on the actual month and day of Walt Whitman’s birthday to give the “Leaves of Grass” reading in the 150th year after its first publication.  June 7, looking forward to summer temperatures, George Bilgere and Marilyn Bates brought a warm feeling to the “Humid Nights” reading.­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­
            Furthering the Whitman anniversary theme in September, Kwame Alexander, Patricia Clark and Kim Roberts read both their own and Whitman’s poems in “Singing the Body Electric.”  October brought “Saints and Sinners” to the fore, featuring Kathi Wolfe and Michael Mack, and in December a “Sampling of Virginia Poets” starred Karen Kevorkian, Katherine E. Young, Sandra Beasley, Lin Lifshin, Cliff Bernier and Mary-Sherman Willis. 
            Love in 2006 landed on Valentine’s Day with appearances by Marjory Wentworth, Rosemary Winslow, Marcella Wolfe-Gervais and Dominic W. Holt.   In March, “Trust/Mistrust” was explored by Grace Cavalieri, Kathleen O’Toole and Susan Thomas.  The “Shakespeare’s Birthday” reading tradition was upheld by actors Anna Kepe and Tjana Valentiner.  Then “Imaginary Places” took shape on May 23 with Richard Hedderman, Elaine Terranova and Terri Witek reading.  That October 10, “Ancient History” was the theme of a reading by Larry Johnson, John O’Dell, Kay Lindsay and Michael Davis.  Finally, the mouthwateringly “Delicious Poems about Food” had to wait until November.  That theme was prepared by Bernadette Geyer, Carly Sachs and Marcela Sulak.  In December “A Sampling of Poets from Florida” were embodied by Kay Day, Roselyn Y. Cole and Dorothy Fletcher.
            “Love Poems” in 2007 was the province of Greg McBride, Mary Ann Larkin and Patric Pepper, and on March 13, the rather fraught subject of “Forgiveness” was lovingly presented by Linda Annas Ferguson and Jeanne Murray Walker. In May that year, “Innocence and Experience” took center stage in a reading by Joy Gonsalves, Mary Elizabeth Murphy and Jean Nordhaus.  Next, “Shakespeare’s Birthday” got an extra burst of enthusiasm from the ACA and featured 6 actors: Dan Crane, Melora Kordos, Stephen Martin, James Ricks, Bob Rogerson and Erin Sloan.
            When the leaves fell in 2007, Indian Summer brought “Magic and Magicians.”  Adele Steiner, Nin Andrews and Willa Schneberg pulled that reading out of the hat nicely, without having to saw anyone in half.  On December 7, “A Sampling of South Carolina Poets” brought Poet Laureate Marjory Wentworth with three more excellent poets from the state: Kwame Dawes, Carol Ann Davis and Susan Meyers.   
            “Love Poems” in 2008 gave the stage to E. Ethelbert Miller (possibly the most popular poet on the subject), Sally Bliumis-Dunn and Benjamin Morris.  In March, “Fathers and Daughters” captured the imagination of presenters Preston Pulliam, Jody Bolz and Dan Logan and of the audience. Also that month, "Family Names and Nicknames" proved amusing and intriguing in readings by Mary Buchinger, James L. Foy and Sheppard Ranborn.  In April we joined the Academy of American Poets to encourage everyone to carry a “Poem in Your Pocket.”  Those who did were given a shot at the PAN open mic.  “Shakespeare’s Birthday” was held a day before the Bard’s putative birthday and featured again the wonderful ACA graduate students.
            In the fall of 2008, the PAN podium was given over to a sampling of poets from two states, Kentucky and Indianna.  Kentucky Poet Laureate Jane Gentry Vance brought three poets from her state who had won the Yale Series of Younger Poets series (each on a different year, of course).  The Commission on the Arts in Kentucky helped fund the trip and even provided funds for a light lunch after the program!  Appearing with Vance were Tony Crunk, Maurice Manning and Davis McCombs. 
            In December 2008, “Indiana’s Air Poets” arrived.  No, they weren’t flighty. Their poems had been chosen to be incorporated into stained-glass murals in the new Indianapolis International Airport and they read those poems for PAN.   Former Indiana Poet Laureate Joyce Brinkman introduced current state Laureate Norbert Krapf, along with Ruthelen Burns and Joseph Heithaus, all of whom had an opportunity to read.
            The 2009 season began as usual, but with a packed house in the Whittall Pavilion for the “Love Poems” reading by Edwin Zimmerman, Kristi Berkey-Abbott and Judith Offer.  Because Ed Zimmerman was a highly respected jurist as well as a poet, lawyers and others in the legal profession swelled the audience to hear their colleague.  All three poets enjoyed their enthusiastic reception.  Then, in March, because the Library of Congress had mounted an exhibition on Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln scholar and poet Daniel Mark Epstein read and talked about the 16th President.  Occasionally, Lincoln had written poems himself, and he often enjoyed reading poetry.
  In April 2009, PAN celebrated its 15th anniversary by bringing back as many poets as could be fitted into the allotted time.  At least twenty-five returned.  They were: Karren Alenier, Nancy Arbuthnot, Cliff Bernier, George Bilgere, Jody Bolz, Kenny Carroll, John Clarke, Grace Cavalieri, Nan Fry, David Gewanter, Barbara Goldberg, Erich Hintz, Reuben Jackson, Hiram Larew, Lin Lifshin, Judith McCombs, Miles Moore, Yvette Moreno, Jean Nordhaus, Linda Pastan, Heddy Reid, Kim Roberts, Rosemary Winslow, Kathi Wolfe and Edwin Zimmerman.
            Fall 2009 brought a September “Life is Beautiful” theme that was celebrated in the selections of Sue Ellen Thompson, Barbara Crooker and Joseph Ross, but I’m not sure the reading scheduled for December 8, 2009—ever came about.  It was to be “New to the World”—Poems about Babies.  Not sure what happened, but the winter of 2009-10 was a doozy.
            The “Love Poems” reading set for Febrary 9, 2010 was canceled because the Library was closed all week.  That was the “Snowmageddon" year in which snow was piled as high a car roof.  Sadly, we had set up one of the most interesting of all the PAN programs to be followed by a screening of “Bright Star” the Sony movie about John Keats and Fanny Brawne.  Heddy Reid and Margaret Mackinnon had agreed to read classic and contemporary love poems and Kate Harding of Nantucket was to read the short composition that won her a diamond ring as the grand prize in a national love-letter-writing contest.  But you know the bad news.  It couldn’t happen; however, Reid and Mackinnon were rescheduled for a March 12 “It’s Never too Late for Love” reading, and on March 23, several DC poets whose work appeared in the Full Moon on K Street were introduced by that anthology’s editor. 
            Twenty-ten was a splendid year for the “Shakespeare’s Birthday” event.  Gary Logan, director of the Academy for Classical Acting, had gradually ramped up the actors’ presentations at PAN, and this wasn’t the first year that props for fight scenes were disallowed by the LOC security, but for several years the actors had been playing scenes rather than just reading lines.  This was a standing-room only presentation in the Whittall Pavilion and indicated that the “show” would have to be moved to the larger Coolidge Auditorium in the future.
            In October 2010, a “Rhode Island Sampler” of poets was lead by RI Poet Laureate Lisa Starr, accompanied by Charles “Chachi” Carvalho, former RI Poet Laureate Tom Chandler and special guest Amber Rose Johnson, the national champion of the Poetry Out Loud competition for high school students, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation.  “Decade One of the 21st Century” was celebrated on December 7 by Col. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, Mary-Sherman Willis and Lucille Lang Day.

            Before the next PAN event I would say a loving goodbye to the program I had designed and directed and to the Library of Congress itself, for I left the PLC at the end of October in 2010, but not without setting the schedule for the 2010-2011 PAN readings.  November 16, 2010 featured David Gewanter, Carol V. Davis and Joseph Ross in the “Insider/Outsider Experiences”reading.
            In 2011, my plan to showcase the state Laureates continued with Alabama Poet Laureate Sue Brannan Walker, Michael Salcman and Michele Wolf.  March 15 gave the spotlight to Janee Baugher, Sarah Crossland and Elisavietta Ritchie, who addressed “Reversals of Fortune.”  “Shakespeare’s Birthday with ACA’s performance continued to be a huge success, and May 24, 2011 brought my influence to an end.  Jody Bolz, Tom Healy and Anne Harding Woodworth read on the theme of “Away from Home.”
            A number of Poetry at Noon participants are no longer with us and are truly part of The Splendid Wake.  Those I know of are: Hilary Tham, Jacklyn Potter, Ann Silsbee, Cicely Angelton, Robert Sargent, David Kresh, Donald Everett Axinn, and Edwin Zimmerman.
            Throughout these years, PAN was carried out without a budget, through the good graces of the Library of Congress.  A special thanks goes to the then-head of Scholarly Programs, Prosser Gifford, who personally bought lunch for the guest readers, and to all the poets and guests who gave up their lunch hours to attend!

Please Note: I regret that there were one or two of Poetry at Noon programs for which I could not locate a file and would appreciate hearing about.  If you notice any omissions or errors, please email Patricia Gray at  Also, the poetry readings now held occasionally at mid-day at the Library of Congress are no longer in the PAN format.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Poetry Clearinghouse

Long, long ago, in the mid-1980’s, before the Internet and email and Facebook and Twitter had gained hold, in the days when stamps and envelopes were still in evidence and the arrival of the postman created a flurry of daily excitement, a committee of local poets and poetry organizers used to meet at the Folger Shakespeare Library to exchange poetry news and information and generally support the cause of poetry in the Greater Washington area. By then, the number of presenting organizations had grown, poetry readings were proliferating, and it was getting harder and harder to keep track of the burgeoning poetry activity in the area. The Sunday “Book World” supplement of the Washington Post did print a one-page listing of the week’s upcoming literary events at the back of each issue, but this included fiction and non-fiction events as well as poetry, and was not sufficient to cover the profusion of poetry news. The poetry committee members determined that it would be useful to create our own newsletter, to be sent by mail to a list of local poets and poetry-followers with information about upcoming readings and events, submission opportunities, and announcements of prizes and publications. The newsletter was titled “Poetry Clearinghouse.” It came out every two months. And I, as then-Poetry Coordinator at the Folger, acquired the task of producing and mailing it.

Producing the document was not burdensome. People would call in their news and events, which I would compile and type into a single, two-or-three-page double-sided document every two months. This I would reproduce, collate (manually), fold and staple (manually), label with individual sticky labels, then bundle into packets separated by rubber bands according to zip code. I would then load the packets into two large canvas sacks, persuade some sturdy male employee to help me transfer the sacks to my car, and drive to the bulk mail center, a sprawling, rather dispiriting complex in the Brentwood area of northeast Washington.

The bulk mail center in that era resembled one of Inferno’s lower circles. It was, to my knowledge, the only processing facility in a city addicted to bulk mail. It was designed for much larger mailings than mine. Lines snaked and waits were long, the hallway dreary, hot and airless. (In my memory, it was always summer.) As I stood in line in the heat, inching forward with my dirt-encrusted canvas sacks, it occurred to me that there might be better ways to pass the time.

I don’t remember how long the Poetry Clearinghouse lasted, whether it outlived my tenure at the Folger and was taken over by my successor, Michael Collier, nor when and how it died. Soon after, computers, Internet, and email gradually entered our lives. For many years, the poet John Clarke, who worked in the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress, sent out periodic emails listing poetry events and activities to a list of recipients who learned of his project by word-of-mouth. Kim Roberts’s splendid Beltway Quarterly website has taken up the mantle today with a comprehensive monthly catalogue of events, kudos, new publications, submission opportunities, and other poetry news. We’ve come a long way indeed from the bulk mail center!