The format of the evening was to have each poet introduce the next by responding to his or her poem in the anthology instead of by reciting awards and bona fides. These responses were personal, respectful, and insightful. Kay Ryan revealed her admiration for what Rae Armantrout leaves out of a poem as much as for what she keeps in; Brenda Hillman singled out the spiritual notes in Jane Hirshfield’s work. Dean Rader noted that he finds himself placed between Robert Pinsky and Kay Ryan in the anthology, and I think we all understood his trepidation introducing the great Kay Ryan, though he did so with humor and aplomb. This format for introductions, unique in my experience, was Anji Brenner's idea. It worked beautifully and I'd like to see other coordinators try it.
The library reference desk had been turned into a bar. I am a librarian and was on something of a busman’s holiday, so I made conversation with one of the bartending staff members when I sighted the Haines Criss-Cross Directory behind her. Do we still get requests for Haines Criss Cross? she asked. "No," I said but our segue into talk about the conversion of reference books to electronic format was interrupted by the clamor of the entire audience lining up for more wine. The wine flowed generously all night, free of charge and happily shared by the library staff. The audience stayed for over two hours, and was as engaged at the end of the night as they were at the beginning. When Brenda Hillman asked for a show of hands, we discovered that many in the audience had traveled from San Francisco and the East Bay and from as far away as Sacramento. Driving around the Bay Area is not easy, so when people make a long drive to come to an event, it means they were committed to being there.
As a library manager as well as a poet, I contend with the changing notion of the public library (they ask: “Who needs a library in the age of Google?”). The Best American Poetry 2012 West Coach launch at the Mill Valley Public Library is an example of the public library at its best: a place for storage and retrieval of information, a place for contemplation, but also a welcoming space for cultural and community gatherings. This night in November for The Best American Poetry 2012 brought a community of readers into the public library because of poets and poetry. Not only do people read poetry, they come out in large numbers to hear it. This pleases me no end.
-- Stephanie Brown