Jessy Randall, Curator of Special Collections, on third grade, Harriet the Spy, and getting inspired.
How long have you been at CC and what’s your job?
I am the Curator of Special Collections and I was hired in the spring of 2001. When you’re a curator you do a lot of stuff. I do the kind of work that every librarian does, but specifically with special collections . . . rare books and manuscripts. I also look after the college’s own history in archives and I have some general library responsibilities.
What’s your favorite thing about the library?
I’ve liked every library job I’ve ever had. I worked in my elementary school library in third grade, I worked in my college library, my graduate school library . . . I love the feeling of being in a library, whether it’s a really new, modern one or the old Carnegie building. My favorite thing about the CC library specifically is my colleagues and the way we get along. Coming to work is a pleasure.
When did you get into poetry?
Also in third grade! Third grade was a big year; I got my first library job and started writing poems. My school had a poet-in-residence and she was a very encouraging kind of poet. She loved everything everyone was doing, but she’d nudge you, ‘You know your poem doesn’t have to rhyme,’ that sort of thing. Something happened there. The second thing was I read Harriet the Spy. I didn’t spy on people but I kept notebook with me all the time, like she did. And that habit stayed with me. I was definitely not the best poet in my high school or college, but I didn’t stop and a lot of those really amazing, talented poets just stopped. I don’t know. I wish they hadn’t because I’d like to read their books!
Do you keep a strict writing regimen or do you just write when you get inspired?
Well, I’m married and I have two small children so I tend to write in the evening after the kids have gone to bed. Sometimes days go by when I write nothing. Before I had kids I wrote a couple of novels. I could put in hours. Now that’s not possible. Poems are good for parents.
What’s your process?
I tend to write in pen in a green composition notebook. I let things sit for a long time, one month or three months and then I go back. Right after I write something, it’s genius. Then the next day I might hate it. So I write, and then turn page, and go back to it months later. It’s often months or years between first draft and publishing something. Literally years. People will read a sad poem and be like “Is something wrong with your marriage?” Not at all, that poem is from 1987. I think it would be really tough on block plan to write poetry, because you don’t have time to let it sit and rest.
How do you come up with idea for your poems?
Most of my poems are about pretty normal, everyday things. Talking a walk, I’ll often get a line or idea. If I ride my bike, I often get a line and go off that. And certain books, too. I went to Columbia and studied under Kenneth Koch. He influenced many students; I was one of them. His theory was that the way to teach great poetry was to read great poets and then write like them. I totally agree with theory, its much easier and more beneficial to imitate a poet rather than analyze or describe them. You don’t fully understand what makes a poet until you try and write like them.
Who are your favorite poets?
Frank O’Hara, Margaret Atwood, Nikki Giovanni, Russell Edson, Kenneth Koch of course, E.E. Cummings, and Sylvia Plath.
What’s ‘netcessary literature’?
Digital poetry that can’t exist on the page. It’s meant to be looked at on screen, whether it moves, is interactive, or if there’s an element of chance bringing stuff in from web. Digital poetry, to me, is ambiguous because there is a lot on the web that could also be on the page. It’s not enough of a definition. Netcessary poetry is not the same as what you’d read in a book.
How has your job as librarian shifted with the advancement of technology?
When I went to library school the web was young, email was novel. The Internet was so different then. My first job out of library school I used AOL (laughs). The emphasis on digital is much bigger now. In some ways I embrace that. Here we are in little Colorado Springs, far away from the coasts and big scholars. The digitization of materials means we make things available.
If you could design a CC block, what would it be?
Well, Steve Lawson and I co-teach a half block course every two years called “History and Future of the Book.” It’s about the different material forms of written word. It supports the book minor, which is kind of new. But if you handed me a block on a platter and I didn’t have to worry about my library duties, I would try to do a Kenneth Koch ‘imitation of other poets’ project. It’s a hybrid, a nice combo of reading the greats and writing your own.