Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Lee Briccetti: The Woman Behind “Poets House.”

I met Lee Briccetti executive director of “Poets House” during the “Poets House Showcase” this April (2006). “Poets House” is located in the SOHO section of New York City, and offers classes, lectures, readings, a library with thousands of poetry books, chaps, broadsides, etc… for the benefit of poets, writers, publishers, editors, and the general public to study and enjoy. Briccetti graciously agreed to be interviewed via the internet .

Doug Holder: “Poets House” was started in 1985 by Stanley Kunitz and Elizabeth Kray. Their vision was to create a “Place of Poetry.” They felt this was lacking in American cultural life. Do you think things have changed in the last twenty years?

Lee Briccetti: My work as executive director of “Poets House” convinces me that the whole culture of reading is in evolution. Desktop publishing has democratized the means of production, giving many more Americans, and a wider range of voices, access to print.

There is much poetry in this nation, and in many ways that poetry is being experienced—as text in books and magazines; on the internet and the radio; and in reading series in libraries, bars and bookstores, which continue to provide a social context for the exchange.

Finally, I would like to say that I do believe Poets House has made a contribution by creating a more visible presence for poetry in our culture. Initiatives like our poetry installation at the Central Park Zoo, a permanent addition to the Zoo’s signage near the dazzling animals, surprise audiences with a discovery of the pleasure of poetry in unexpected places. Also our “Poetry in the Branches,” program has become a national model for librarians who learn how to make their sites centers of poetry. My real point here is that for love of the art to thrive, first there must be exposure. And many more organizations and presses are working together to create these points of public contact.

DH: Poets House has over 45,000 items including books of poetry, chaps, biography, criticism and anthologies. You say you are the most comprehensive archive. How do you define “most comprehensive”? Are you more comprehensive than say the poetry collections at Buffalo and Brown Universities?

LB: Our Poets House Showcase gather’s the entire year’s harvest of poetry books—nearly 2,100 this year. Through this program we have become one of the most comprehensive collections in open stacks, open to the public. We need and love many university collections—but Poets House exists to reach out to the unmatriculated and unaffiliated—to poets and readers at every level of learning.

DH: You have a “Password Series.” It invites poets to read and discuss the work of other poets. How do you pick your guests? Why do you have them discuss other poets, instead, say, their own work?

LB: The “Password Series” celebrates poetry through the enthusiasms of contemporary poets who focus their presentation on the oeuvre of some other writer. One of the great interests for me is the match: watching two literary imaginations engage with and inform each other, in the dialogue of reading.

Most frequently we determine the match through long conversations with poets to learn of their literary loves.

The beauty of this kind of programming is that it communicates, here in our magnificent library, that readers and listeners are in a continuing conversation with all the poets who have ever lived. Indeed, I think that opening this conversation that crosses barriers of place and time for everyone, makes for a lively experience of the art.

DH: You have created an “Online Directory of American Poetry Books.” Can you tell me a bit about this?

LB: The Directory is a compilation of records documenting each book that has appeared in the Showcase since its inception nearly fifteen years ago. The Showcase is open annually to all publishers with new books of poetry who submit their books to us. There are forms on our website:

DH: You are a poet with a new collection out: “Day Mark.” Are you part of any “school,” of poetry? How do you define yourself as a poet?

LB: Temperamentally, I am well suited to the democratic embrace of the Poets House. I love getting the overview of what is out there each year; and there are many poets whose books I look for and whose “projects’ I want to keep up with. I think of myself as interested in experimental writing but I am foremost a devotee of Shakespeare, Keats and Dickinson. These are the poets I memorize devoutly so that I can carry their words with me.

DH: How do you find time to write? Any major influences?

LB: Discipline is my only hope in terms of getting writing time. I dream of whole days alone to read ten books at a time and think and enter a writing trance. But for now it is the local Café and a few mornings a week before work.

The whole idea of influence is tricky, no? Since as artists we are always making and articulating new connections between everything in our experience; but okay, oh well… the writers I hope I am most influenced by this year are Borges, Calvino, and Mandelstam.

DH: Poets House will move from the SOHO to Battery Park City. You will have a rent free space for many years. What other advantages will there be?

LB: As we move to the new permanent home, we aim to find ways to keep the intimacy of our current space while professionalizing the library and its services. The new home will give us room to grow our programs and services:

--comfortable reading and writing places where one will be able to lounge with books of poems or listen in the Multimedia room;

--exhibition space

--an expanded Children’s Room where school classes can visit in the morning and families can visit in the afternoon.

--expanded classrooms spaces for writing workshops or reading seminars

--Doug Holder

For more info. On Poets House go to

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