The Literature Collection: 

Contemporary Poetry & Ohio Center for the Book

Decades ago, when I was an even more penniless poet than I am now, a dollarless poet, John Stickney clued me in to the contemporary poetry collection at The Cleveland Public Library. "They have everybody," he said. And so they did. It filled me with amazement, and if it doesn't fill you with amazement, then you haven't tried to find contemporary poetry in most libraries today. It simply isn't on the agenda of many libraries. What is on the agenda these days is Maker Studios with 3-D copiers and Recording studios and E-Books and Digital Books and Hoopla video-- most of which I love and have used at my local libraries.

However books... they are not considered quite such hot commodities. And contemporary poetry books? "No one wants them. No one checks them out. We

have to throw out many books of poetry because we don't have room to store what no one wants,"  librarians tell me. No, no, no. For all these no's, there is one Northeast Ohio public library which has said yes to contemporary poetry, Cleveland Public Library. This collection is an incredible benefit to Northeast Ohio writers.

First, those of you writers who have published a book of poetry, if you haven't already, you might want to look your name up in the catalogues of any number of libraries. Your chances of being collected (and kept) by the Cleveland Public Library are better than anywhere else unless you have guilted your local librarian into ordering it. (And even then, how long will it be kept?) I about fell over when I put my name in and found they had my 1986 book of Nicaraguan translations "And a Pencil to Writer Your Name," with photos by Cleveland photographer Steve Cagan, in addtion to my latest book, The Places We Find Ourselves.  (You may note the cover is a Steve Cagan photo too. I love his stuff.)

Amy Dawson, Lit Dept. Librarian
Next, look up your friends who are poets, the famous in the neighborhood, as Daniel Thompson used to say, and the famed beyond. Look up Nobel prize poets and Pulitzer Prize poets and the Cleveland Heights Poets Laureates and Cleveland anthologies. It's amazing how few are at other libraries, how  many are at the CPL. So the CPL Contemporary Poetry
section is a terrific resource, for finding poets to read-- other than yourself. The past two years, I have gone to the reading room for a day to read up on local poets whose names had been mentioned to me. It is where I found the work of Cleveland poets Miles Budimir, Terry Provost, Lady Smith. and Jack McGuane, who had only been names to me before. It was where I found books by Bruce Wiegl, Mary Biddinger, Caryl Pagel, and Phil Brady. I sat and read for hours and checked books out. Along the way, I received wonderful assistance from all the librarians and pages in the area, including the department head, Amy Dawson. A few of the anthologies were ferreted off in special places that had to be fetched by a librarian, and they were worth asking for.  

One fact the staff helped me realize is that many times, the copy of the book, or a second copy of a book was in their section related to "Ohio Center for the Book," which is Ohio's affiliate of the national "Center for the Book" in the Library of Congress. According to its website, "Starting in 1984, the Center for the Book in the Library began to establish affiliate centers in the 50 states. Today, there is a State Center for the Book in all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. These Center for the Book affiliates carry out the national Center's mission in their local areas, sponsor programs that highlight their area's literary heritage and call attention to the importance of books, reading, literacy and libraries."

In addition to the many books shelved in the he CPL's "Ohio Center for the Book" section, the Center also has a very active presence on Facebook which you might check out, if you are on that site. It lists events coming up, including "Literary Friday Frolics" and graphic novels on Shakespeare. And in August, for a second year, the library is hosting the free, one-day writers unconference known as the Cleveland INKubator, a day jam-packed with lectures and workshops for FREE. FREE. With wonderful presenters. Look it up and register here.

So for you prose writers and dramatists who have felt left out so far in this post, I say yes. Yes, the CPL has a lotta your stuff too in hard copy, too. So for all of us contemporary readers and writers who despite our e-readers and MP3s loaded with audiobooks and our online links, still love and read and check out...hardbound texts, we say:


Cleveland Public Library!



  1. Since I live about an hour away from the Cleveland library, I only go once a month, but I frequently check out ebooks from their digital collection. I will have to look through their bound poetry collection next time I go!

    1. You can get a card, even if you don't live in Cuyahoga County, and check books out. The lending and renewal period is generous, and you can mail them back if, like me, the books are coming due during a predicted blizzard.