As one of a breed of arty working-class girls from a family with both American and Canadian roots, I was a young woman who made it to a State University and felt amazed to have gotten there. But I still wished I’d ended up in a place that had something other than an army of orange plastic chairs to sit in. (I know, if nobody else in your family ever went to university, then you should just shut up and feel lucky…) But as a reader I’d been living in my mind, inspired by a world of books and images. Tapestry-upholstered couches! Oak bookcases carved with mini-gargoyles!
Harpur College, later the State University of New York at Binghamton, now Binghamton University had none of these. At eighteen, I was just one year younger than the cement and brick place that would educate me.
In the Library, a door of a small room opened to an ancient navy-blue davenport sofa. Someone had plunked that used, loved couch next to a bookcase stocked with poems. I slipped in.
Even having written fourteen books, I still feel the mental draw of that room, though it’s long gone.
But what if I restored it? What if, in my Will, I left the pittance I’ve accumulated to the Binghamton University Library to create a Secret Poetry Room? A tiny room, inside the stacks, with a comfortable chair, a little desk, a bookshelf… a place where a first-generation, working-class, brand-new-to-the-university-experience young poet, as I was, could slip in and write a poem.
When I told the Dean of Libraries my idea, he said, “Let’s do it right now!” But my pittance isn’t available till after I die, I didn't say. Then he shouted, “I have the perfect tiny room!”
Of course he showed it to me. A ratty carpet and an old brown desk… But I saw the possibilities…
Then I decided this is just too splendid an idea to hold till after I pass away. So I offered to contribute a bit of what it would cost, then help those lovely librarians raise the rest. To my happy amazement, friends and relatives, both Canadians and Americans, plus friends from abroad, started giving time, their imaginative skills and a bit of money to this project.
Thank you to: my dear poet friends and students, plus: a designer, a novelist, a filmmaker, two visual artists, a podcaster (& my cousin!), not to mention some library-loving alums for early Valentines to The Secret Poetry Room.
I’m sending this Valentine because I never thought that making a Will could be so creative an act, and every single person I’ve told about The Secret Poetry Room loves it. It's time to get the word out, and what better day than today?
Even a small donation (the price of a box of chocolates) is good for a diminutive room…
*FYI Canadians, Binghamton University is also a registered charity in Canada.
A comfy chair, a tiny desk, a wee bookshelf, a mural on the wall, a modest goal for a refuge.
The Secret Poetry Room
Binghamton University is home to The Molly Peacock Collection, an archive of drafts of poetry and prose with photographs, audio, video, broadsides, the original Poetry in Motion posters from the New York City subways, and even clothes, all pertaining to the writing life.
They would love to acknowledge your gift, to attach your name to our efforts, or maybe you just want it to be secret? Let them know here.