Wednesday, August 4, 2010

THE POETS HOUSE - OASIS ON THE HUDSON













On the torrid Friday afternoon of July 16th approximately ten intrepid members of the NY Librarians Meetup Group crossed over the sweltering West Side Highway and entered the cool glass oasis of the newly relocated Poets House. For those who love visiting the Cloisters and musing about life as you look out over the Hudson a visit to the Poets House, located at 10 River Terrace, straight down Murray Street, overlooking both the Hudson River and a tree lined park in Battery Park City merits a look see. And visitors don’t have to be enamored with Robert Frost or Emily Dickinson, whose poetic line “I dwell in possibility” adorns the wall leading to the exhibit/performance room to appreciate this marvelous literary space. The soaring glass windows letting in the western sunlight reflected off the Hudson is so awe inspiring and serenity inducing that you will want to plump yourself down on one of the soft fabric couches in the second floor reading room with or without glancing at one of the 50,000 American poetry volumes gracing the open bright white shelving system at Poets House.


Before heading to the second floor reading room, however, I recommend contacting Ms. Carlin Wragg, the Poets House effervescent Community Relations Manager for a guided tour. While we cooled off in the lobby, signed the e-mail list and donned turquoise buttons emblazoned with the words “Poets House” and “poetry advocate” Ms. Wragg introduced herself and the volunteer high school and college interns and the staff member responsible for the poetry community outreach program who also accompanied us on our tour. Like all good hostesses, Ms. Wragg inquired as to our backgrounds which brought us to one of the purposes in visiting the Poets House. While most of the interns were English majors with a strong interest in poetry our group comprised librarians with varying interests, not necessarily of the literary variety. However, as Ms. Wragg and Stephanie, the Meetup group’s organizer, pointed out librarianship is a many splendored career encompassing many facets. Our visit to the Poets House was therefore particularly timely in this epoch of librarian career transitions. Indeed, Ms. Wragg stated that the Poets House began as a literary organization but now also functioned somewhat as a ‘library’ requiring unique library skills.





Those library/literary skills were evident as we viewed the 18th Annual Poets House Showcase which displays all the poetry books published in America for that Showcase year. Also included in the annual showcase are self published poetry tomes sent to the show organizers and chapbooks. Chapbooks form an important part of the Poets House collection and it recently held its second annual chapbook festival. The yearly “special collection” of poetry which numbered 2,000 volumes this year comprises the Poets’ House yearly acquisition; all of the selections are sent in by publishers or self-published poets and there is no special acquisitions budget. The original collection began in a Soho loft from personal donations from the reading collection of poets acquainted with the organization. The Poets House is clearly a hybrid literary/library institution and as we wandered over to the displays to touch the exhibited works Ms. Wragg expressed the idea that the Poets House taught librarianship without the formalities of an official program. I certainly agree that there is nothing ‘formal’ about any of the space in the Poets House and every corner of this glass wonder fulfills its purpose to, according to Ms. Wragg, lend a human face to poetry.



The human face of poetry moved this writer, whose appreciation of poetry wouldn’t merit a Richter scale rating, to pounce on the openly displayed Showcase poetry works. The curators of this annual showcase created a most enticing literary and visual outpouring of poetry books since the books displayed on cherry wood shelves all faced outward, cover face up, and organized alphabetically by publishers so no volumes were granted undue favor. An irrestible force compelled me to pick them up and open them in much the same way a chocolate lover would open up a brightly wrapped bonbon. The exhibition space for the poetry showcase is a marvel and perfectly suited to those with a poet’s soul and a flair for the dramatic. The exhibition room, used for performances and poetry readings throughout the year faces South Teardrop Park which can be seen from wide floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Not only can visitors to the exhibition room look out at a park while hearing poetry readings, but the glass doors fully open out on the park. During poetry readings or dramatizations visitors can sit on the rock outcroppings in South Teardrop Park and watch the performance. Not only does the Poets House’s specially designed performance flow into a stone courtyard but the room is fitted with all the modern multi-media accoutrements such as HD video cameras which record the readings. Soon, these readings will be available online for those who miss the wonderful performances.

As we continued our tour, the Poets House continued to surprise and delight us. After we left the Showcase exhibit the group floated into the whimsical Constance Laibe Hays Children’s Room. This small oddly shaped area resembles a half oval and its glass enclosed space overlooking the lobby area creates the perfect cocoon to introduce children to the joys of poetry. Inside, this lopsided “egg” is an archway under the main staircase – a secret crawl space within the children’s room – a sort of tree house on the ground - where children can hide out and play with the various stuffed animals scattered along the old fashioned desks and floor or look at the many picture poetry books housed in bookshelves. Children are encouraged to write poems on the typewriters – yes, not even electric – located in the children’s area. According to Mike, the children’s room curator, one child cleverly called the typewriter a “screen less computer.” Out of the mouth of babes! Children’s creativity is strongly encouraged in this welcoming space; once a month an author does a program with the kids and these young poets visiting the Poets House use objects in the children’s room in a dynamic way. For instance, there is an old-fashioned catalog with poetry cards which contain images. The youngsters can use these cards to draw images.






Last but not least was our visit to the upstairs aforementioned reading room where the adult poetry works are displayed and can be read staring out the panoramic windows level with the trees overlooking the Hudson. Upstairs is also another climate controlled glass enclosed room for rare poetry book/works exhibits and a conference room whose windows face Ellis Island in honor of the immigrant ancestors of the room’s donors. The Poets House reading room contains ample room for visitors to plug in their laptops and enjoy the view as it provides free wireless. There is also audio equipment in carousels to play poetry readings - providing the perfect accompaniment when looking out to the magnificent sun dappled trees.
The Poets House provides the perfect accompaniment of grace and light for anyone who longs to escape quotidian travails. I can’t wait to read Emily Dickinson overlooking the Hudson River esplanade.

For further information on The Poets House please visit http://www.poetshouse.org/.







By Jodi Cantor







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