“Read that one again!” commands Cicely Angleton of fellow poet John Elsberg. She wants an encore of his two-line witticism about relationships: “his love was like rice in a wooden vessel/she was the angry sea.” After Elsberg explains the reference—to antiquated wooden cargo ships that ripped in half if the rice held within became wet and expanded—Angleton, along with the rest of the audience, laughs and applauds.
Elsberg’s “No Bounds” is one of more than 50 poems recited during this Saturday-afternoon marathon reading at the Arlington Central Library. The showcase includes 17 local poets reading from their published works, as well as a special posthumous reading of the work of poet Jay Bradford Fowler Jr., who died in 1999. Most preface their poems with anecdotes and discoveries: Angleton talks about turning 80 before she presents “Salami Sandwich,” a poem about the death of a spouse; Michael Davis reads two separate odes to kitchen appliances, written while teaching poetry to elementary school students during a sabbatical from his job at the Bureau of National Affairs. “I kept telling them that they could write about anything,” Davis tells the crowd, “and I thought that these poems would prove my point.”
The event is being held in celebration of National Poetry Month and the opening of the Archive of Arlington Poets, a permanent addition to the library’s local-history collection. The archive is the brainchild of Kim Roberts, director of literary affairs for Arlington County’s Cultural Affairs Division, which sponsored the showcase. “The best way to promote works by authors is to make sure they stay in circulation,” says Roberts, 40. “We wanted a permanent home for books—those that are from small presses, out-of-print, or impossible to find—and [to] make them accessible to those interested.”
Roberts began trying to gain exposure for Arlington’s many poets when she started working for the county six years ago. A longtime Washington-area resident and a published poet herself, Roberts was impressed by the number of writers she discovered as she began working on the archive.
“This area has a huge, huge number of writers, and Arlington County is blessed to have a large number,” she says. “Most newspapers and associations have journalists working here, and a lot of those journalists do other types of writing. A lot of lawyers, also, are writers. It’s not only true of poetry—but it is especially true of poetry.”
The archive features single-author books by the 18 poets, including Roberts, and two anthologies. Roberts hopes that over time the collection will continue to grow, as more works from both the current authors and up-and-coming poets are added. “For the archive to have meaning over time, we have to keep up with it, updating it every other year,” she says. “We’re hoping this is just the tip of the iceberg.” —Sarah Godfrey