My invitation to visit Wilson came from Deborah Webb of the Wilson County Public Library. She and children's librarian Rebecca Tighe made me feel welcome as soon as I arrived in Wilson, after I'd been taken to the Whitehead Inn by three friendly Wilson women, Mary Roberson, Faye Boykin, and Patsy Ferrell, who had met me at the RDU airport. Ms. Katherine Barnes with the local poetry society took me to dinner with some of her other society friends (along with Deborah and Rebecca) at the elegant Legacy restaurant in nearby Elm City, where we engaged in a little collaborative poetry writing, along with a lot of good conversation.
When I took a tour of the library later in the day, there was more ArtPark, a spring display of frogs, flowers, and bright green grass! And poetry, of course. Ah, Jane Wood and her fourth graders have been here, I said.
The Wilson County Library is a beautifully renovated building, and the staff working there are obviously proud of it. The public library is the heartbeat of a community. I felt that more than ever when my daughter was young and we spent so many pleasant hours in the children's section. Our regular visits to Story Hour were highlights of our weeks.
The public library in my hometown of Camilla, Ga. seemed a magical place when I was growing up, though, or maybe because, the building was old and the scent of ancient wood and books was everywhere. I could never conceive of the books existing without hands reaching out to open them.
When it came time for my reading that evening, I decided to begin with a poem about that first library where I spent so much time. I had written it for the NC Library Association's annual convention in Hickory last October, at the request of Frannie Ashburn, Director, Center for the Book, in the State Library Department. Frannie is one of my favorite people!
The audience gave me a rousing reception, with lots of good questions afterward. Yes, Jane was there, and the lively ladies who gathered me up at the airport, too. I decided that the best place for a poetry reading is a library, remembering other special readings around the state, a few of which I will tell you about later.
Here is the poem I wrote about my hometown library, dedicated to Frannie and to the memory of Dana Edge (see the post of 9/5/08)
BEGINNING AT THE BOTTOM
“...the bottom of the backwoods...” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution,
describing my home county in the 1950’s
for Frannie Ashburn and Dana Edge
My small-town backwater library,
behind the bank,
across from the post office,
floats to the surface of right now,
daylight drifting through window
shades onto the wooden floor,
golden light, let’s call it,
because to say sepia places
it into a scrapbook, and this story
still lives inside the folds
of my mind’s aging labyrinth,
its infinite pages bound
fast in their signatures,
spines named and numbered,
its nooks where I hid myself,
lifting a book to my nostrils,
as if I could sniff out
a good story, just like my grandfather’s
bird-dogs flushed quail
from the underbrush. Sometimes
I heard whispers rise
from a neighboring bookshelf,
a telephone ringing, the bookmobile
laboring home from the backwoods
and always the light bulbs
in every lamp humming like bees
round a sweet pool of soda spilled
onto the pavement.
To that hive of bookshelves,
I journey again
and again, letting go of my one life
to enter the stories of others,
still hungry for words
and the way they can bring me back
home to my senses,
the way they reach out to the world.
If you have a poem or reminiscence about your first library--or your current one---please send it along, by leaving a response below.
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