Posts tagged performance art

Interview with The Itinerant Poetry Librarian

TIPL closing for the day in Romania, with a small VPL looking on! July 2010 © TIPL

PIW editor Sarah Ream interviews Sara Wingate Gray, aka The Itinerant Poetry Librarian.

What is The Itinerant Poetry Library?

The Itinerant Poetry Library (TIPL) is a non static, special collections public library of poetry. For free, for everyone, and for everywhere, or at least, everywhere we can get to. From May 2006 until September 2009 the library operated continuously and was, quite literally, carried by myself, The Itinerant Poetry Librarian, which involved hoicking the collection of physical books through 11 countries and 23 towns and cities, providing a free public poetry library service in each spot I got to.

Operating without the confines of a building of its own, but within parameters of typical library systems, including free membership for all, circulation procedures, library regulation and the overseeing of the library’s collection by a librarian in situ, the project fundamentally explores, and encourages users to explore, our perceptions of what a library might be. It’s part public library, part life-experiment and part live art, and by September 2009 The Itinerant Poetry Library had signed up over 1000 members, and collected and acquisitioned new poetry titles in each place the library had operated in, so the collection now has more than 12 languages represented and has been open in more than 200 locations worldwide.

For me, personally, the project is about facilitating people to examine and enrich their lives, their communities, their cultures, in the context of the wider world, by accessing both the library as a live art performance experience, and as a real public library experience – that is, joining the library and sitting down and reading one of the poetry items in the collection. The act of reading, and specifically the act of reading poetry, and even more specifically the act of reading poetry in translation or indeed reading any other of the library’s “lost & forgotten” poetry items facilitates this very process. And it’s this very process which enables us to grow as individuals, and to understand our shared future . . . Because, as the poet Louise Glück has written: “contact, of the most intimate sort, is what poetry can accomplish. Poems do not endure as objects but as presences. When you read anything worth remembering, you liberate a human voice; you release into the world again a companion spirit.”

TIPL lying on top of the grave of e.e. cummings, before opening the library in a Boston cemetery, September 2010 © TIPL

Running The Itinerant Poetry Library was a full-time occupation from 2006 through 2009, and as it provided little or no income (by virtue of the project’s ethos of free open access) this was sustainable only by performing radically new ways of living, such as eating out of the food-bins at the back of supermarkets, sleeping on stranger’s couches, and learning how to heft more than my own body weight in paper-based items (and all my meagre life-belongings) on my back, using public transport along the way to move me from one library location to the next. Since September 2009, the project has continued to operate on a part-time basis, as otherwise I would have wasted away and become too fragile to woman-handle the library around, and this has enabled me to spend more time reflecting on the undercurrents at play in my project, and specifically, to work towards uncovering a philosophy of the public library.

TIPL in her back garden during San Francisco operations, 2008 © TIPL

Fundamentally, my project is here to issue a clarion call, or, indeed, going back to the Doric Greek, a ‘paean’. Or if you’re not so much into that war stuff: a hymn to public libraries, in fact. Its modus operandi has been all about exploring ways of being, sustainable ways. Ways that address some of the core issues of our time: the limits of our world resources, the limits of a capitalist, market-driven, consumer-led philosophy. I think that poetry, and in particular, the public library have a very important part to play in helping us address these issues and that the public library philosophy, if it can be truly uncovered, will shine a light on how we should proceed.

This is an extract from an interview about The Itinerant Poetry Library. Read the full interview with Sara Wingate Gray, The Itinerant Poetry Librarian, on PIW.