Collecting poems & poets: William Jay Smith
I’ve known one person with a hat box of printed poems she collected from here & there.
Magazines, mainly, but also plucked from church bulletins, found on post cards, and in newspapers, back when newspapers printed poems. The collector was my amazing mother, a secretary at Rockefeller Center, Victory Garden newspaper editor in WW II, agricultural census taker, country weekly editor & when I came along, agricultural features writer. She snipped & secured her poems inside the covers of books or slipped them into her many Bibles. James Whitcomb Riley, Robert Frost & Edna St. Vincent Millay were among her finds.
I like to think there are still poem collectors busy at their hobby, such as my mother was. Saving and snipping, keeping & curating individual poems. Her collected poems frequently illuminated nature, patriotism & death. A published collection I read that came close to what she did was put together by Caroline Kennedy, about her famous mother’s favorite poems.
I think the fun thing to do in collecting individual poems from hither & yon, is to find a topic so unlikely, the chase lasts long & the reward of finding a poem on that topic is more thunderous.
I did not find any William Jay Smith poems when I sifted through her treasures after she died. Smith is one of those esteemed creatives who is better known today for a title he held, than for individual poems. His selection as the first poet laureate was such a brand new thing in 1968, his title was poetry consultant to the Library of Congress before the more poetical laureate was added.
Although most of his considerable work is for adults, Smith also collected children’s poems into books, such as LAUGHING TIME, as you would expect, it’s a trove of nonsense verse. I got lucky in a used bookshop & discovered a volume of a handful of his children’s poems, AROUND MY ROOM, delightfully illustrated by Erik Blegvad.
Now, if you were collecting poems on a theme, how far would you have to go to find a poem on toasters? Or on dragons? And if a poem collector wants a poem that incorporates a toasters & dragons, here is one not many people know, but they should.
A silver-scaled Dragon with jaws flaming read
Sits at my elbow and toasts my bread.
I hand him fat slices, and then, one by one,
He hands them back when he sees they are done.
_ from AROUND MY ROOM by William Jay Smith
I am indebted to the Wyndham Robertson Library at Hollins University for introducing me to Smith, one of the university’s esteemed past-faculty, via a curated wall display of his work.
If your are reading this via the lyrical group of online poet fans, Poetry Friday, it is my hope that your own poems are destined for such a publication. Write on, write on….