In the last two weeks we were very fortunate to receive close to $1000 in funding plus a shelf’s worth of book donations thanks to David Bergman and some NYC folks like Kimberly Lyons and Vyt Bakaitis. Our cause has drawn much attention and praise, but we have much, much further to go if we’re going to implement and develop a functional public library focused on small press poetry, book arts, creative writing and Baltimore’s literary heritage.
In recent days, I’ve had very interesting conversations with poets in Baltimore who have expressed concern that there is no centralized archives for Baltimore’s expansive and diverse literary scenes and cultures. In my estimation, a central resource of materials would represent a locus for finally defining a Baltimore Poetics, set apart from the range and roles of poetic communities around the country (especially strong in San Francisco, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, DC… the list is too long). But where is Baltimore in this mix?
Our first project is to interview all our poets, young and old, to tell the story of the Baltimore aesthetic: what sets us apart from the others? What were the defining moments in Baltimore’s poetry history? Who are some of the influences that have shaped the way we think about and define Baltimore Poetics? This oral history project will be ongoing and complement/supplement our perpetual collection of materials from the poets themselves, creating a “living archive” that will come closer to explaining our unique literary heritage. This has never been done before, but with the burgeoning of so many brilliant reading series and poets, the time is right. And that is our most important mission at the Small Press Poetry Library and Archives.
I want to personally urge you to think about our potential in the community, and act toward becoming a partner and advocate for future programming and events, especially ones that help our community members become better readers and thinkers. This is called “creative literacy,” using poetry and writing as a tool for thinking through daily problems, and as a step in a young person’s professional development.
Without the help of people like you, we could have never curated two years of It Takes a Village, a writing/publishing program in which Baltimore City middle school students learned to write and edit poems in small workshops, with the help of poet-educators like Shirley Brewer, Fernando Quijano, Adam Robinson, and Amanda McCormick, then create a textual/visual layout, plus proofs, and finally publish a full-length book that not only highlights the students’ creativity, but also acts as a dossier for future employment and education. This is professional development at its best.
We also could not have published a series of chapbooks in conjunction with Community Visions, a homeless shelter in Silver Spring, MD at which Benjamin Warner, a professor of English at Towson University, hosts a writing program for its community. The publication is in its fourth issue, with more than 25 participants published.
And most importantly is our relationship with other libraries in the area (Towson Library, Waverly Library, The Village Learning Place) at which we have hosted free events for the public (The Cruellest Month Poetry and Performance Festival), for both adults and children, where community members are invited to attend workshops, perform their poetry, and collaborate with artists from different genres to create a living street performance in real time.
The introduction of a central library, The LitMore Small Press Poetry Library and Archives, will centralize our efforts, making it easier to host and develop programming aimed at strengthening community participation and collaboration, and create cultural capital with our representatives as assets for the future prosperity of Baltimore’s literary heritage.
But it’s going to take a lot of work, and a good amount of funding from grants and donations to keep it viable. Since we don’t have a steady source of income, we have to rely heavily on contributions from the public, which will secure a foundation where we can apply for institutional grants and finally be able to stand on our own legs. With your donation, you will put in motion a resource that is second to none in the Baltimore metropolitan region, serving you and your neighbors, making us servants of and advocates for community sustainability, without corporate intervention or commitments.
We are an independent and free library for all. Help us make it, and keep it, that way.