Many thanks to our friend and mentor, Louise Robbins, for connecting us with Skye and her marvelous poems. In the work featured here, the speaker– a librarian in a busy, urban public library– is torn between frustration and a kind of hamstrung benevolence for the homeless she serves. A real, and touching glimpse into the world of librarianship! ~Erinn
LAIP: Tell us a little bit about your training and your work as a poet.
SL: After lugging a typewriter up and down the foothills of the Himalayas during a stint in the Peace Corps, I landed at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in Iowa City, Iowa. Studying fiction writing there significantly furthered my impressions of the “serious” nature of creative play. Yes, a story can save a life. Yes, a novel can be a home for a wandering spirit. Yes.
I sallied forth with this attitude in 2002 and soon found myself writing a novel–best described as a Never Ending Story–ambitious, protean, and long suffering in its incompleteness. Finally into the gap between my daily life as a working librarian and my nights storming around a keyboard with prose snuck a little spontaneous, Zen-influenced pleasure. This ticklish pleasure is writing poetry.
LAIP: You earned your MFA and then decided to become a librarian, which is a choice I made, too. As a writer, what led you to librarianship?
SL: As a writer, I can get very entangled in my own imagination. It is a great wonder and relief to go to work each day and productively get tangled up in the imaginations of others, whether through selecting books for community members, staging creative happenings at the library, or simply by creating a supportive space for both the staff and the community to discover their own talents and abilities through the resources at hand.
LAIP: How does the library influence and support your creative work?
SL: I am fascinated with collections and how they reveal the parameters of a community’s interests and tastes. I love the process of discovery through browsing and often I will pastiche into a poem or chapter a stray sentence, title, image or idea I’ve found in the lonely stacks of an out-of-the way library.
Culture as scavenger hunt!
In this sense, the Blue Island Public Library in Illinois has been a great inspiration. I still turn up things in the stacks that make me laugh and wonder, from all the great sociological classics of the past, anything from Jane Adams to Eldridge Cleaver, to first editions of Gwendolyn Brooks, yellowing Hare Krishna pamphlets and, of course, Martha Stewart as a dewy-eyed ingénue in bell bottoms, discovering her inner pot-roasting, crafting diva before my very eyes.
LAIP: Your top ten poetry books– what do you wish every public library had on the shelf for the 811s?
- Alan Ginsberg
- Philip Levine
- Dean Young, Bender: New and Selected Poems
- John Milton, Paradise Lost
- Pablo Neruda, The Essential Neruda
- Dorothy Parker
- Wendell Berry
- Jane Hirschfield
- W.B. Yeats
- William Blake
Other favorite books include Her Soul Out Of Nothing by the Alaskan Olena Kalytiak Davis and anything by the Irish poet Medbh McGuckian or the NYC poet and literary critic Wayne Koestenbaum.
LAIP: As a poet, what would your ideal library look like? What would your ideal library look like as a librarian? Are they different? Why?
SL: As an artist, I like to marvel on unusual, multi-lingual collections, strange objets d’art and local history exhibits and installations. As a librarian, I am inclined less to tiptoe independently through the stacks and am more concerned with the providing of innovative services with generous, empowering impact. Amazingly, most libraries have big enough circus tent to provide for both of these experiences and more.
Don’t miss out on reading Skye’s wonderful poem, “For Those Who Have No Home Except Here With Us” in full (excerpted and linked above).
And check out Skye’s publications available online!
- Fiction: “Untouchable Heart” at Urhalpool
- Translated poems: Six poems of Joy Goswami at Parabaas, and “If You Must Ask Me” at Parabaas
Skye Lavin has studied at Yale, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, School of Library and Information Studies. Until recently, she was the Reference Services Manager at the public library in Blue Island, Illinois. She is currently the Manager of Adult Services at the Cambridge Public Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts.Pin It