We were delighted to welcome John Barr to the Library earlier this year. John served as the first president of the Poetry Foundation from 2004 to 2013. The Poetry Foundation website describes the work he did 'to develop the Foundation's strategic plan and to build a permanent home for Poetry magazine, the first in its 100-year history. He has taught in the graduate writing program of Sarah Lawrence College and has served on the boards of the Poetry Society of America, Yaddo, and Bennington College.' He is also an author; his books include The Hundred Fathom Curve: New & Collected Poems and a two-volume mock epic, The Adventures of Ibn Opcit (by Red Hen Press, 2011 and 2013). A new collection, The Long Republic, is forthcoming.
We couldn't let such a distinguished guest visit without asking him one or two questions about what he thought about Scotland and the SPL. Not only did he share his time, he gave us permission to publish the poem that appears below.
'Your website has been my window on Scottish poetry, and many wonderful poets that were new to me. The spare, profound poems of George Mackay Brown have been a signal influence on my own writing. The lines on his gravestone also sit above my desk: Carve the runes Then be content with silence.
'I first met [former SPL Director] Robyn Marsack in New York, and [Chair of the SPL] Ian Wall when he paid us a visit in Chicago. That led to a reciprocal visit to SPL in Edinburgh, and eventually to an exhibition from SPL which the Foundation presented in its Exhibition Hall. Last summer we again visited SPL, to celebrate its beautifully remade home. On this last trip we took the time to see much more of Scotland, and were moved by its geologic beauty and by the history alluded to in 'The Library at Innerpeffray.'
'The Foundation is known for two things: it publishes Poetry magazine and is the recipient of a major gift from philanthropist Ruth Lilly. As the Foundation's first president my work was to create an organization to put the money to work for the greater benefit of poetry. In the decade that followed our programs placed the best poems we could find before a readership that started from a modest base of 10,000 and eventually surpassed 20 million annually. For me personally the Foundation combined a long career as investment banker with a lifelong engagement with poetry: writing it, reading it, and teaching it.'
The Library at Innerpeffray
For MM and MKM
On a drumlin by the River Earn
we step into the nature of the known.
Harled and slated as it was from the start,
this place, its books and the bookmaker’s art
for 300 years and counting kept their troth
with crises of loyalties, religious wrath,
rational enquirers and divines,
successive reaches of related minds
to give a shape to reality itself.
Knowledge ages. Shelf by silent shelf
the volumes speak volumes about dead languages,
dead letters, and about what never ages.