Meet the Neighbors: Q&A with Shaileen Beyer

Little Patuxent Review reminds all its readers and contributors that we are sponsoring a free poetry contest for Maryland residents with the Enoch Pratt Free Library. The winning poem will be published in Little Patuxent Review, honored at a reading at the Library, and celebrated at Baltimore’s CityLit Festival. Runners-up may also be considered for publication. The deadline is March 1, 2019.

Shaileen Beyer is a librarian and member of the Poetry Programming Work Group, which administers the contest. A native Baltimorean, Shaileen has worked in the Fiction Department at the Central Library since 2005. She has a Ph.D. in English and a master’s degree in library science.

We’re very grateful she’s willing to answer a few questions for us.

Q: What’s the mission of the Enoch Pratt Free Library?

The Pratt’s mission is to “provide equal access to information and services that empower, enrich and enhance the quality of life for all.” As the State Library Resource Center, the Central Library has an additional mission. It “provides cooperative, cost effective, statewide resources and services for Maryland libraries and their customers.”

The Poetry Contest realizes both missions: it creates free opportunity for Maryland artists and shines a bright light on poetry, which brings out the best in us all.

Q: What’s the history of this contest?

The Poetry Contest was the idea of my colleague Lisa Greenhouse in 2011. We were brainstorming ways to make poetry more visible, and she said, “We should have a contest and put the winning poem in the window!” (The Central Library has enormous show windows.) LPR came on board to judge the entries and publish the winner—a collaboration that we’ve repeated now for six of the contest’s eight years, turning to Poet Lore for the other two. The CityLit Festival organizers have helped every year by making room in their schedule for the winner. The Pratt has such good neighbors.

Q: What resources for writers do you have at the library?

Writing begins in reading, as poet Charles Wright reminds us when he quotes poet Theodore Roethke: “You want to be a writer? There’s the library.” At the Pratt we have terrific retrospective and contemporary collections in all imaginable genres. Looking for oodles of plays? Publishing tips or writing prompts? The poetry scene’s newest arrivals? Stop by the Central Library, or visit our online catalog to find e-books or request transfers of print books to any Pratt branch.

We also feature wonderful free programming for would-be authors. Poetry & Conversation and Writers LIVE! readings—often preserved on podcasts—inspire listeners with magical passages. Writing workshops led by esteemed teachers such as Clarinda Harriss cultivate skill and confidence. And gatherings like the Central Library’s Writers’ Roundtable allow people to share what they have made.

Q: Now for a little more about you—what are some of the best parts of being a librarian?

I love being near literature! Having books before, above, and below me means I have many cues to scoop up possibly amazing reads, before the quicksilver of them darts downstream. Even the many books I will never open make me happy. That someone labored to create a world of words, that someone else will spend treasured hours there—it’s such a sweet part of being human.

Matching readers to books also excites me. To try to understand why a customer loved one book, and then try to guess what else they might love—it’s like emotional math. And it’s so intimate. When you know someone’s favorite book, you know so much about that person. I feel lucky to be let in.

Q: Do you do any writing yourself?

I’m too shy to talk about my writing here. But we have a surprisingly large number of staff at the Central Library who write poetry. Perhaps there is something poetic about library work? Like many librarians, I’m fond of lists, and I’m compiling one of poets with library career experience, including Stephanie Brown, Connie Wanek, Lorraine Mariner, Don Share, Julianne Buchsbaum, and of course Philip Larkin.

Q: Have you had a chance to look at our current issue? Any favorite piece?

I adored “Sponge,” Chelsea Lemon Fetzer’s beautifully measured poem about dishwashing and so much more. Compelling rhythms, as here—“Time to rise from the stiffened bed / with an idea for the day or no idea”—mirror the rhythm of life the poem celebrates, one in which endlessly falling under and rising above difficulty results in happiness, flawed but serene. In the same spirit, concrete words rub together deliciously—”Mildew like a slow weather,” for example, and “confetti of coffee grounds”—making music of challenges. Poems rich not just in sensation but also understanding are heaven to me. I wanted to stay in that kitchen a long time.

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