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Thursday, May 7, 2015

The 'feel' of the world

“What is more important in a library than anything else - than everything else - is the fact that it exists.” – Archibald MacLeish

Archibald MacLeish, one of the so-called “Lost Generation” of writers and artists who made Paris their home in the 1920s, grew out of a rebellious writer into who  American Libraries called,  “One of the hundred most influential figures in librarianship during the 20th century,” working tirelessly to promote the arts, culture, and libraries.

Among other impacts, MacLeish became the first Librarian of Congress to begin the process to name what would ultimately become the position of U.S. Poet Laureate, a position he himself easily could have fulfilled.

Associating himself with the Modernist school, he wrote so eloquently and powerfully that he ended up with dozens of prizes including two Pulitzers for Poetry and another for Drama.  His dramatic winner, the Broadway play J.B. – a modern day re-telling of the Book of Job – also won a Tony as Best Drama.

Often at odds with journalists, he once said, “Journalists don’t understand how poets work.  Journalism is concerned with events, poetry with feelings. Journalism is concerned with the look of the world, poetry with the feel of the world. 

“Poets,” MacLeish said, “are literal-minded men who will squeeze a word till it hurts.”


For a definitive look at his poetic style, read his first Pulitzer winner, the epic Conquistador, written after he literally “walked the walk” of the pathway taken by the conquistador Cortez when he first marched through what would become Mexico.   And for a quick look at his work, here’s a segment his poem “Ars Poetics,” a poem written to show how he himself viewed poetry. 

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs

A poem should be equal to:
Not true

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea -

A poem should not mean
But be

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