Friday, August 7, 2015

The Poet as Resource Guide: The Case of Tara Betts

A list of suggested readings recently passed along to me from Tara Betts reminded me once again of the power of the poet as knowledge resource. Beyond producing their own works, I've discovered that some poets serve as really important guides to various other poets. 

When I arrived at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) in 2003, I began to immediately benefit from one of our greatest poetry resources: Eugene B. Redmond. He knew of hard-to-find volumes of poetry; he had extended notations on a range of poets who first emerged during the 1950s, 60s, and 1970s; and he had developed a amazing collection of books, small magazines, flyers, and photographs. Later, I began to really expand my knowledge of contemporary poetry as a result of working with Adrian Matejka, whose knowledge of the latest works and newest authors seemed limitless.  

Betts's generosity involved her taking the time to compose a list of over 100 contemporary volumes of poetry by black poets that she thought I might enjoy. I cross-checked her list with one of my previous lists of 208 volumes. Betts had identified over 80 titles that I have not yet purchased, or added to my upcoming list.

Who is this Tara Betts, and where was she picking up all these titles?

She's a poet, yes, but she's also a tremendous resource. This was not my first encounter with her expansive reading interests. A couple of years ago, I stumbled onto Betts's GoodReads listing, and I was impressed with the many, many titles she had read or tagged. This time, I was direct beneficiary.   

It'll take a while (and lord, some money) to get a hold of all those volumes of poetry that she mentioned. But at least I have blueprints for building my collection. And just as important, when I've achieved the goal of this current expansion, I know who to contact about suggestions for even more selections.

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