Lorraine Mariner, Assistant Librarian
I first found out about the National Poetry Library whilst studying at Library School; a fellow student told me about the library when they found out I dabbled in poetry. Could such a library really exist! I followed the net and ball carpet through Royal Festival Hall to Level 5, became a member, and would pop in on my way home from work (as a cataloguer at other libraries) to look at the magazines and decide which ones to send my poems to. I never imagined I’d get the chance to work here until a cataloguing job came up. Eleven years later I’m still here doing a bit of everything. An early memory of using the library is reading a poem in an anthology by Alden Nowlan, wanting more, and lo and behold there on the shelves were his books from Canada.
Pascal O’Loughlin, Assistant Librarian
I first visited the National Poetry Library in the late 80s/early 90s. I remember borrowing Frank Bidart’s The Book of the Body – just came upon it while browsing – and being blown away by his long poem ‘Ellen West’. I think that was the beginning of my love for poetry – I’d been interested before then but that poem captured my head and my heart in an altogether new way. Then in 2008 I switched career, retraining as a librarian, and as part of the course I secured a placement here at the library working on magazine conservation. From there I successfully interviewed for a Library Assistant position, and then Assistant Librarian. The collection surprises and delights me every day. Other titles, discovered while browsing, which became markers on my poetry journey are Leslie Scalapino’s Considering How Exaggerated Music Is and Vahni Capildeo’s No Traveller Returns.
Jessica Atkinson, Digital Coordinator
Working in the library has been a real conversion for me. Before I worked here I had only studied poetry at school and rarely read it for pleasure. But my bookshelves today tell a different story! Our collection is so broad and covers so many schools of thought (no matter how small or underground), anyone could find something in it that they would love. I’ve discovered so many incredible poets that I never would have come across otherwise and I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of them. One of my favourite items is Yonic Youth, a radical feminist zine created at Nottingham University to celebrate Women’s Herstory Month in 2017. This one-off uses collage, a typewriter and mono-printing to explore sisterhood and what it is to be a woman today – including Donald Trump slurs and DIY body-printing!
Lauren Purchase, Library Assistant
When writing my dissertation Wallace Stevens’ words ‘the poet is the priest of the invisible’ began to resound. It became clear that contemporary poets such as Chaucer could be analysed to gauge societal opinions towards those within the walls of medieval universities which had otherwise been left unrecorded. This reinforced to me the importance of each generation possessing poets who spiritually represent all. When the advertisement for a library assistant appeared in 2017 I naturally applied and now I feel privileged to be playing even a small part in assisting the nation’s current spokespeople and encouraging future voices. Philip Larkin’s Poetry Library membership form in the library’s rare book room beautifully highlights the harmonious historical relationship between the library and national poets.
Saradha Soobrayen, Library Assistant
Since 2007 I have been nurtured as a library user, editor, facilitator and performer. I’ve witnessed the transformation of the space and the expansion of the collection with its interweaving streams across languages, poetics and art forms. I recall viewing Ann Carson’s NOX in one sitting feeling both the ART and the POETRY. More unexpected gems are in the Rare Books Room: Nancy Campbell's How to say I love you in Greenlandic, and on the Books About Poetry shelves: David Shields’ Reality Hunger. The National Poetry Library is where the unknown becomes familiar, and where books become trusted companions on an unintentional journey.
Will René, Library Assistant
Admittedly my first visit to the National Poetry Library was trying to slip by unnoticed in my ill-fitting suit just after my job interview here, to see whether the collection could possibly live up to the somewhat utopian ideal I had formed of it in my mind. I was not disappointed, and I’ve still not lost the sense of wonder and excitement I felt when I first saw how vast and rich a collection it is. I’ve grown particularly fond of the library’s broad and ever-changing collection of magazines, especially the idiosyncratic low budget journals that breathe so much life into the shelves – Zarf and SPAM are highlights at the moment.
Katarina Kelsey, Library Assistant
I was introduced to the National Poetry Library by my tutor, Susan Johanknecht, when studying Book Arts at Camberwell and was fortunate enough to get a job in the library not long after my studies. The library has a great collection of poetry posters and my favourite pieces can be found here. Nina Steane, MidNAG and Paul Piech stand out as poets and makers who produced beautiful and dynamic designs, as do broadsheets by magazines such as MPT and Funhouse. There’s also a comprehensive collection of Poems on the Underground. I find the accessibility and idealism of this collection really inspiring.
Mia Farlane, Library Assistant
I first visited the National Poetry Library in 2003 when I was doing my Writing MA; a library assistant helped me find a poem by Aleksandr Blok. I went to ‘Voice Box’ readings (held where the AV area is now) and heard, among others, Jackie Kay, Kathleen Raine and (future colleague) Saradha Soobrayen. I’m grateful for the multilingual, international nature of the collection; since starting at the library in 2007, I’ve been haphazardly rereading French and Latin poetry, and New Zealand poets I first discovered via my novelist mother. Another perk of my job is following the progress of my aunt, Fleur Adcock, through the press cuttings archive that I’ve been cataloguing.
Karen Smith, Cataloguer
A lifelong library fan, I discovered the National Poetry Library whilst reading English literature 15 years ago at Goldsmiths. I used to linger by the entrance, eyeing the new books display and feeling like a treasure hunter with too many prospects. Time dissolved and the longer I spent in the stacks, the more I wanted to read. The collection was invaluable during my Master’s degree (Modern Poetry at Kent, focused on the New York School) and I created a reason to come back as part of my librarianship studies (what resources are out there for... contemporary poetry?). A new cataloguing position came up in 2014 and I knew it was the role for me. It’s such a special collection and I particularly love describing additions to our panoply of artists’ books. I can now eye-up new books all day long!
Kaissa Karhu, Digitisation Project Assistant
Raised in a family of artists and writers, I have always viewed art and writing as an expression of my cultural identity. Working at the National Poetry Library has allowed me to experience poetry in visual form through the library’s collection of posters, prints and postcards. Seeing poetry expressed through a range of formats has been great and has reignited my passion for writing. From watching footage of my childhood favourite John Agard reading Half Caste, to cataloguing Paul Peter Piech’s woodcut poetry posters, to reading Ntozake Shange’s Wild Beauty, the library has exposed me to a range of different voices and perspectives.
Sonia Hope, Support Librarian
I was studying for an MA in gender when I first discovered the National Poetry Library. Years later while researching black women’s writing, I was thrilled to find early 1980s feminist collections by Maud Sulter and Jackie Kay here. I like poetry that becomes a part of your life as you read it: Hannah Lowe’s Chick and Melissa Lee-Houghton’s Sunshine spring to mind. Working at the library happened by accident: I was a librarian at the Hayward Gallery; a member of the team was going on sabbatical so I offered to help out. I’m happy to say that I’m still here.