Banquet with poet Janice Harrington; ILA Annual Conference ’09

Cappuccino Cake

As we sat at our banquet tables and admired the intricate book-sculpture centerpieces while eating cappuccino cake on Thursday evening, we librarians had the pleasure of being entertained by the fabulous poet and storyteller Janice Harrington.  Harrington is a spirited and interactive speaker!  She began by asking all of us to rise — our bellies full of cake — and say:

“If you’ve got a tambourine
Shake it to the glory of God!
Glory! Glory! Glory!
Shake it to the glory of God!
Tambourines! Tambourines!
Tambourines to Glory!”

-excerpt, Tambourines to Glory by Langston Hughes

Next Harrington told us a story about the girl with large eyes who fell in love with a fish.  But their love was forbidden, and so her family persecuted the fish.  As he died in her arms, the girl also died and gave birth to their children, the children of the fish and the girl with large eyes: they were lily pads.

She also read poems to us from her book, Even the Hollow My Body Made Was Gone.  The poetry speaks for itself:

“Traveler, believe the stars are bright beetles
tied to strings of light.  Believe that a brown girl
wields these lambent arcs, that wild vibrations
tremble the tips of a brown girl’s fingers.”

-excerpt, “Turning”


“…a colored woman is grieving.
Her goat-faced girl, her baby is dead — that is the song, sing it.

Say, a colored woman is grieving her baby girl, sing it.”

-excerpt, “If She Had Lived”

“I lay in a field of grass once, and then went on.
Even the hollow my body made was gone.”

-excerpt, title poem

At the end of her talk, Janice Harrington talked about how some libraries won’t buy poetry for their collections because they don’t think anyone will read it.  But poetry is important, she argued, and library users will discover that they love poets if only librarians would put copies of these books in their hands.  Finally, Harrington asked us all to stand, raise our right hands, and say:  “I will put a book of poetry in someone’s hand. . . . (even if it’s my own!).”

(click here to see more links for ILA Annual ’09)


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