I live in a town with wonderful libraries. And this has left me spoiled.
Even though Bloomington is a small town, our municipal library is one of the best I’ve visited. I think it compares favorably to libraries in much wealthier, more densely-populated areas, like Silicon Valley and Toronto. And within a mile’s walk of the town library is the main university library with its ten story tower of stacks. Plus there are specialty collections scattered across campus, like the rare books library, the black culture center library, the education library, the disabilities library, the physics library, the life sciences library…
Given that I’m a bibliophilic glutton, I visit them all.
But the same way wealthy people become readily habituated to excess and can still feel unsatisfied with what they have, our splendorous libraries have given me absurd expectations & I can find myself feeling petulant when these go unfulfilled. For instance, the New York Times Book Review recently published their annual poetry issue, and as I was reading through it I hopped over to my computer to look up some call numbers for books I wanted to borrow. But none of my local libraries had purchased these books yet!
I did notice, however, that several of the poets whose new books I wanted to read had been included in The Best American Poetry 2011. I sighed a beleaguered sigh and placed a hold request for this volume instead. I hadn’t read it yet. If I were the sort of person who likes puns, I’d probably now write something like “I’m less well-versed in contemporary poetry than prose.” But I’m not, so I won’t.
Not everything in the collection was meant for me. This is probably a good thing. Editors Kevin Young and David Lehman would’ve been doing a poor job if every poem they picked appealed to one particular (& peculiar) person’s taste.
And yet, despite knowing full well that not everyone shares the same taste in poetry, I can’t help but recommend you read (or at least experience) my favorite from the collection, Erin Belieu’s gorgeous, plain-spoken, devilishly clever “When at a Certain Party in NYC.” In such a short space she captures so much of what people love & hate about New York. And her words are perfect: the Midwest described as the great asphalt parking lot of our middle, the crushing self-doubt of living amongst the razor-blade women with their strategic bones and learning that even their toothpaste is somehow more desirable than yours.
I could go on quoting charming phrases from her work, but a brief internet search revealed that I don’t need to: from the comfort of your own wherever you are, you can click the link below and hear her poem in its entirety. The only problem is that the narrator zips through so quickly that you probably won’t have time to savor everything worth savoring, but… why not hear it twice?