Up a flight from my office, on the third floor is the learning center, aka the College library. When I first cruised its window aisle a good four years ago, I was astounded at the prehistoric native tools and weapons, displayed in a glass case without thought to the sun or to thieves, without much thought at all it seems, to their fantastic value. Of course, this is the same community college that hangs two Lee Adams murals in its lobby and provides no legend, no lighting and no protection from the elements. In fact, the College doesn't even list the paintings in its inventory, which likely means they are not insured either. I learned from the former campus president that at one time, they were in "storage" dangerously near destruction as the campus underwent renovation.
So it wasn't a surprise to find the books.
They were piled on a desk in the hallway without much thought to their order; that would've required time and these were dispensible books, and didn't deserve organization. They were in general, books about poetry; all hard covers and without dust jackets. Taped to the wall is a sheet of notebook paper, and on it, someone scribbled the word: "FREE."
I swept up half a dozen: William Blake and his Mystical Vision, The New Apologists, The Poetic Pattern, and a few others about myth and symbol. These are mostly older titles, no longer in print.
What a circe to go walking and return with an armful of books. At my desk, I opened each one and flipped through their pages. The secretary comes to the doorway, curious.
"Poetry books," I tell her. "Not interesting to anyone who's not interested in poetry." She demonstrates her interest. Tells me she reads poetry at poetry dot com. That's where our student assistant has some poems up. And her late husband wrote poems for her. They're posted at poetry dot com as well. "All you have to do is send them your poems," she tells me, "and they'll put them on the internet."
I look at her. Smile. Nod. What to say? "I like for mine to be accepted for publication"? That has an elitist sound in her company. "Poetry dot com is a hoax"? But this is the Liberal Arts department of a large community college. Isn't there some implicit demand for education even among the support staff? Or am I reaching? Would it matter if I told her that I've got published poems? I don't think it would, so I say nothing. What ripple of meaning would cross her mind if I said Pushcart Prize nominee? I imagine none. So I just smile and look stupid in her eyes.
"Dumbing down" - I know what it means.
I'm torn between such downcast apathy for the "academic" environment I find myself in and an optimistic urge to unearth treasures - individuals who cherish the word. What happens is this gravity: the high of found books, the low of encountered ignorance. I feel like an intellectual snob here.