Here at the SPL we have always taken pride in our enquiry service; it truly embodies our motto of bringing people and poems together. Powered by tea and cake, the library team discover poets and poems that may have been lost for years, aid researchers with important bibliographical queries and suggest poems for weddings, funerals, christenings, art installations and many more. This blog will provide a ‘behind the scenes’ look to our enquiry service and share some of the interesting poetic findings of 2019.
The most common enquiry type we receive is poems people can recall in part but don’t know where to find. The ways in which SPL users become acquainted with poems is diverse – some hear a few stanzas on the radio or television, others remember their Aberdonian grandmother reciting a poem to them while doing the dishes. Either way, we are always delighted when we match enquirers to their lost poems.
A particularly challenging query was this poetic fragment, attributed to William McIlvanney:
And do you doubt there in the dark
the meaning of your living
if it has been a wasted work,
an unrequited giving?
At a first glance, the librarians did not recognise this as being in McIlvanney’s style. After more contact with the enquirer, the poem was discovered in a rather unconventional place: a photo of one of the poet’s manuscripts in a website maintained by McIlvanney’s family. See here for the full text of the unpublished poem, ‘Visiting my Mother in my mind, in her 88th year’. ‘Thank you so much for your help,’ the enquirer said. ‘Very much appreciated.’
Many things are Google-able these days (which can make our job slightly easier) but sometimes one needs to rely on old-school methods to find a lost poem. ‘I would like to trace the full poem from which the following quote is taken from,’ another enquirer said to us. ‘It was cited in a post on social media and attributed to John Burnside.’
Sometimes I have waited at the edge
of darkness for a glimpse of something wild
and mutable, a sweet glitch in the tale
to show the borderland through which they pass
The name of the poet was a good lead, however searching online was of no use. It took browsing through all of the library’s collections of Burnside’s work to unearth the answer: the poem “Deer”, published in The Light Trap (Cape Poetry: 2002). ‘Really excellent help and service,’ the grateful enquirer said.
We are always happy to receive feedback for the work that we do. Here are some comments from enquirers over the past year:
- You have gathered more information than I thought possible. Over the years I have made several enquiries to your excellent library, sometimes with only one line from the middle of a poem or the ghost of an idea. The librarians always managed to get a result.
- Arguably the power of the internet makes life easier for the librarians but the search is driven ultimately by an enquiring mind – curious, interested and informed.
- Thank you ever so much for such a very helpful answer. I am very grateful that you have spent so much time on my enquiry.
- Thank you so much – this is amazingly helpful! I’m always blown away by the service that libraries provide.
- Thank you so much! [This poem is] the one. […] It brings back special memories to us as a family. I’m amazed you found it as we did no end of searching online with no success.
Our enquiry service is free – support our work with a donation or by becoming a Friend of the library.