Poet Danez Smith sings out poems of love and intimacy in their 2020 collection Homie. In the poem “my president” they affirm all those who are their people, supporting their mama for president and their grandma for president and trans girls for president and teachers and birds and neighbors who hold the door open for them when their arms are full of laundry and the dude at the pizza spot and the children who they’d elect too, like “jonathan, eleven /…blog writer, young genius, community activist, curls tight / as pinky swears, black as my nation i trust the world in his tender / blooming hands, i trust him to tell us which rivers are safe to drink / & which hold fish like a promise.”
There’s a whole Danez Smith world in this book, a world’s expanse of observation and feeling, life and motion, elegy and ode, and the nation they create in these verses is for their beloved friends, their fam. They call their loves. The morning is a soft shawl. Texts arrive at just the right time. Trees are slow green explosions. Their anthem is mighty.
“Whatever light / bees give off after the last snow, I hold up to you now,” writes Aimee Nezhukumatathil to Ross Gay in their poem-correspondence “Letter from Two Gardens.” Here are a few favorite poems and lines from poetry that arc, so vitally, from snow to spring to summer days…for May and the days to come. You’ll find new growth, trees, cherry blossoms, sunbaked earth, bicycles, the power of a revery, gooseberries, and the light of bees.
Thank you for reading. If you’re looking for more poetry, you can find the full text of Ross Gay and Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s wonderful poem-correspondence at Orion Magazine’s website under the title “Letters from Two Gardens.”
April is National Poetry Month. We Heart cloudLibrary. And: National Library Workers Day is April 21. Libraries Work Because We Do.
Our Staff Picks today are posted from far, though for weeks we’ve tried so hard to stay close to each other and to our community.
After the library closed in March, we found our footing as soon as we could. All of our library workers—at the Main Library, Burbank, Peaks, Riverton, our Annex and our Bookmobile—are full of so much resourcefulness and creativity and dedication and thoughtfulness and care. So many staff members talked about all the individuals and kids and families who come to the library who they were missing and thinking of, just wanting them to be okay. Each week in the last month we reached out and created new ways to connect with our community and with each other at the same time that the world has utterly changed.
On a slow day at home in the heart of winter, months ago, I made a simple poster for National Library Workers Day, hoping to make a zillion copies of it for April 21 and hand it out to all of my colleagues: our incomparably hard-working shelving and substitute staff and all of the front-line-and-behind-the-scenes heroes. I didn’t know what lay ahead. The poster has one of the mottos of National Library Workers Day on it: Libraries Work Because We Do. And something held as dear to my heart, too, a message I used to love seeing posted on a fellow worker’s office door: Libraries For the People.
I’m not sure what’s next for Staff Picks, with all that has changed. For now we look at poetry on the internet, new favorites from the cloudLibrary, and what you might add to your To-Be-Read and To-Be-Borrowed piles.
As ever, thank you (so much) for reading.
Videos from the Favorite Poem Project archive.
Poetry Picks & More
April is National Poetry Month, and I can’t think of a better time to be reminded of what a sense of solace and form of connection poetry can provide. It has always been a grounding force to start my day but feels like a necessary prescription now more than ever.
Poets.org has always offered a Poem-of-the-Day, and they are now also doing a “Shelter in Poems” feature, asking users to share poems that give them solace and “actionable energy” during this time. I’ve been enjoying reading both the variety of poems and the commentary from people around the world. The Poetry Society of America also has a new daily feature, “Reading in the Dark,” in which poets share the poems to which they turn in difficult times. So as you shelter in place, shelter in poetry!
I also recently discovered the Favorite Poem Project, which was started by Robert Pinsky in 1997 with an open call for Americans to share themselves reading and talking about their favorite poems. A Massachusetts construction worker reading “Song of Myself.” The daughter of Cambodian refugees reading Langston Hughes. I first hit play on “Poem” by Frank O’Hara… “Lana Turner has collapsed! / I was trotting along and suddenly / it started raining and snowing…” Memories of laughingly repeating this poem with friends during middle-of-the-night poetry workshops in my early 20s, the words now in the voice of a glassblower from Seattle who knows them by heart. It took my breath a little, this lifeline of poetry amidst our new daily isolation.
Nora says it best. Poetry has been giving me life, too, all that’s being created even now, like Juan Felipe Herrera’s Social Distancing. In the first week of April Nora sent me a million wonderful ideas (and Sarah Mari weighed in with a great Sarah Kay spoken word performance) and we put together All Poems Considered: Poetry eResources. Check out Danez Smith and Franny Choi and their epic podcast VS, all the sweet and powerful readings and videos out there, and find a book and a marker and make your own erasure poem. Erasure poems resonate: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all that’s revealed when so much changes, the revelations that can be tender or that offer starker truths.
One of my favorite books to recommend for a family read aloud is Kathi Appelt’s The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, available through cloudLibrary as an audiobook.
This National Book Award Finalist is a hilarious, mostly tall tale, with interweaving stories and an unlikely cast of characters. There’s 12–year–old Chad Brayburn, on a mission to save his mom’s cafe (and her sugar pies) from a greedy developer and a world-class alligator wrestler, bent on turning the swamp into a theme park. And Bingo and J’miah, raccoon brothers and new scouts, headquartered in an abandoned 1940 DeSoto, recruited to protect the swamp. Not to mention feral hogs and an illusive bayou bigfoot. It’s a rollicking tale, but with themes of conservation, family and loss.
If the story doesn’t sound intriguing enough, country singer/musician, Lyle Lovett gives a smooth, third person narration to create an even greater family listening experience.
The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue by Karina Yan Glaser, the third book in The Vanderbeekers series, will not disappoint. Available in cloudLibrary, this book is sure to be a family read together favorite. The Vanderbeeker children have really made a mess of things this time and it looks nearly impossible that they will be able to save their mother’s baking business. But never fear, dear reader, Karina Yan Glaser has crafted yet another tale where working together and asking for help when necessary is always the right decision and family finds a way in the end.
During this tumultuous time The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue is a lovely light story that has adventure, animals, delicious cookie ideas, and a ton of heart.
Sarah Mari’s Pick
I’m going to go with YA fiction pick In the Neighborhood of True by Susan Kaplan Carlton, a former Maine resident. The book tells the tale of Ruth Robb, a Jewish teenager who moves from New York City to Atlanta in 1958 after the unexpected death of her father. There Ruth quickly discovers that if she wants to be popular, she can’t be Jewish. She decides to hide her religion to stay friends with the A-list crowd and the handsome popular boy, David. Then a violent hate crime rocks the small community. Ruth suddenly finds herself having to choose: between one of the two worlds she has cultivated for herself, and between what is easy and what is right.
I heard Caplan speak about In The Neighborhood of True. Though the book is set more than sixty years in the past, there are stark comparisons to events that are happening today, wrapped up in a bit of history that not many know about and a teenage character who is frustratingly realistic.
Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped from the Beginning was a National Book Award-winning work in 2016. He met Jason Reynolds at the ceremony — he was also nominated for his book, Ghost — and the two became friends. When Kendi later though about who should adapt his book for young readers, he immediately thought of Jason because of his ability to connect and engage younger readers.
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You is Jason Reynolds’s remix that gives young readers an approachable and accessible way to examine the country’s legacy of racism, and how it impacts our lives today. Young readers already know and love Reynolds’s books, and now they have the author speaking directly to them about difficult and important concepts. He emphasizes that this is NOT a history book, or at least, not your typical history book. It’s aimed at middle schoolers and high schoolers, but I definitely encourage teachers, parents, and anyone interested in Kendi’s work to borrow a copy. If at all possible, give the audiobook a listen — Reynolds narrates himself and his rich voice and strong pacing make him the audiobook all the more compelling. He was named the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature this year, and knowing that he will be visiting and speaking with — and listening to — kids across the country gives me hope.
I am always on the lookout for my next true crime fix and if you are too, look no further. You literally can’t make this stuff up! I had to keep checking while reading Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup to confirm it was indeed nonfiction and I had not accidentally stumbled into the crime fiction section when I picked this book out.
For fans of Catch and Kill and I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, here is the page-turner you’ve been craving: the scandalous, white-collar true crime story of the rise and downfall of Silicon Valley company Theranos, skillfully recounted by investigative journalist John Carrreyrou of the Wall Street Journal.
Prepare to be shocked as you meet Elizabeth Holmes, Stanford dropout and privileged daughter of a wealthy, well-connected family, and discover how she was able to raise billions of dollars over several years to produce and market her amazing invention: a small, portable blood–testing machine called the Edison that could run several blood tests on only a drop of blood. There was only one small problem that she didn’t share with investors: she could never actually get this invention to work.
This best-selling book has been included by NPR, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal on their Best Books of the Year lists, and for good reason. Leave it all behind for a few hours as you are swept up in this outrageous true story of corruption and intrigue in Silicon Valley.
A page from “Pokko and the Drum” by Matthew Forsythe.
Picks For Your To-Be-Read & More Shelves
Pokko and the Drum by Matthew Forsythe
In this deceptively simple-seeming picture book, we follow the adventures of Pokko, a young frog, and her parents, who make a big mistake when they give her a drum. After all, they’re just a quiet family who lives in a mushroom. And Pokko simply can NOT stay quiet with that drum. But is it a mistake after all? Deadpan humor, a beautiful color palette, and a story that works equally well for children and adults. For any parent who has ever realized the gift they just gave their child might have unintended consequences and for any child who’s ever marched to the beat of their own drum, this story is a winner.
The Little Women Cookbook: Novel Takes on Classic Recipes from Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy and Friends by Jenne Bergstrom and Miko Osada
Full disclosure—The two authors, librarians in San Diego County, are acquaintances of mine. But I don’t think that has influenced how much I adore this book (at least, not too much). Historical recipes are one of my favorite niche genres, and historical recipes from books? Even better. The authors have adapted the recipes from vintage cookbooks of the March family’s era and updated them for modern kitchens. Combining quotes and illustrations from Little Women, helpful cooking tips, and lovely food photography, this is a must read for Little Women fans everywhere. And if you love food inspired literature as much as I do you can also check out Bergrstrom and Osada’s blog 36 eggs, in which they explore recipes from all kinds of works of food-filled fiction, like Anne of Green Gables and the Harry Potter series.
As Brooke Gladstone observes in her introduction to Presidential Campaign Posters, campaign posters are a tool to enlist voters, condensing complicated policies and issues. Like Japanese manga, if there are fewer details in an image we can identify with the candidates and their message more easily. At the same time, the most effective campaign poster of every era leaves as much as possible to the voter’s imagination.
In the coming months we’ll witness the Presidential Campaign Posters of the 2020 elections: you may enjoy this book as an interesting history compiled by the Library of Congress.
Back in February, in the midst of winter doldrums, I checked out Animal Crossing: New Leaf. As soon as I had the game in my hands I found myself completely hooked. My first focus was on stocking the museum with fossils. I honed in so acutely on this that the villagers began to complain that I wasn’t paying enough attention to them. I started to worry and overcompensated by visiting all of the people and bestowing them with all manner of gifts. Then the villagers began to complain that I wasn’t committed to the public works projects for the town. Eventually I had to do a routine update and I lost all of my progress just in the nick-of-time so that the game made its way back to the library before the due date. (Thank goodness.) The new version of Animal Crossing is set to release in April and the hype surrounding it has been real: I completely understand why.
Click to read the rest of Brian Doyle’s “An Leabhariann.”
Recently, dear friend and former PPL reference librarian Paul D’Alessandro sent this link to me. Like so many library workers he cannot, even in retirement, resist sharing with others what he finds in his own search for sustenance.
Brian Doyle’s essay hits every note with casual perfection. It explains why we library workers do what we do, why we care as much as we do. Its tidy packaging and sprawling spirit also explains why I read, always hoping to find just this sort gem. It requires little time (so short!) and I suspect I will read it again and again for the pure joy and sense of recognition it brings. I hope you like it too.