Saturday, April 07, 2007

THE LIBRARIAN AND THE GARDENER

Amy Martin is the librarian at Public School 116 in Manhattan. Stanley Kunitz was a prolific poet and gardener who passed away last year at age 100. Recently, I interviewed Amy for Creative Times. Shortly afterward, I read Kunitz’ The Wild Braid: a poet reflects on a century in the garden. And then something interesting happened: whenever I thought of Amy, I thought of Stanley. They always appeared in my mind as a pair.

There are some striking similarities between running a library and overseeing a garden. Maybe that’s why I think of Amy and Stanley simultaneously. The Wild Braid features photographs of the author in his lush, magnificent garden. It’s the place where Stanley connects to nature, ideas, creativity, to a deeper level of thinking. In the photos, Stanley looks completely at peace.

Like Stanley, Amy has created an oasis of calm which belies a fertile ground for sowing the seeds of wonder, imagination and reflection. A gardener in her own right, Amy is always planting and weeding books in order to set the stage for curiosity and connection-making. Upon entering the sun-soaked room, the visitor sees the results of her careful tending: each carefully-picked book perches upright on a shelf or in a tabletop basket for easy perusal and enjoyment.

When I asked Amy for a bit of advice for aspiring librarians out there, she made this recommendation:

Have a sense of wonder and nurture that sense of wonder in children though books, conversations, and questions. Be prepared to be surprised yourself by what they want to learn; don’t be judgmental.

Amy’s pearl of wisdom reminded me of this excerpt from Kunitz’ Wild Braid:

This is one of my principles in teaching as well [as in gardening]. It’s a terrible mistake to impose your pattern on a student. Something that especially pleases me about my students is that they’re all so different, each one. What one needs to cultivate in a young poet is the assertion of that particular spirit, that particular set of memories, that personhood.

In their words and in their actions, both Stanley and Amy have provided something necessary in our fast-paced world -- a physical and mental space where people can let their minds roam and connect to the idea or feeling they need at the moment. Maybe that’s why Cicero said “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”
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