Live Virtual Group Session: 6pm EDT July 27th 2020

Twenty-three people gathered together via Zoom to close-read Charles Simic’s 1938 poem “In the Library” and, after discussing the text, write to a prompt.

96% of participants revealed, via the NM survey, that they have participated in four or more of these NM live, virtual sessions, which, again tonight, brought together people from three continents. We love coming back together each Monday night, welcoming back our core group of veteran participants and welcoming new faces as well. Our community has grown with time, our bonds strengthened, and our eagerness to expand our narrative medicine family always growing.

After quickly reviewing the use of technology and the guidelines emanating from Narrative Medicine’s values of confidentiality and narrative humility: approaching texts with openness, welcoming diverse perspectives, and responding to each other with respect and specific references to what is “seen” and heard in each other’s writing.

As we did last week we co-constructed possible meanings in the text by offering each observation, intertextual association, or visceral reaction as “a piece of the puzzle.” The first piece of the puzzle attended to the title “In the Library” which locates the reader, as well as the speaker of the poem, in a library. (Many of us chatted our remembrances of libraries/librarians in our past or named famous librarians such as Jorge Luis Borges of Argentina’s National Library.) Later there was attention paid to being in the dictionary that was in the library where “[a]ngels and gods huddled [i]n dark unopened books” (books that are “whispering”) and how those words suggested a hallowed space. As we explored the space of the poem, we noted the how many languages come together within the library. For example, “the language of the library is silence”, but the “the language of books are words” that are being whispered to us as we browse through the space.

One person drew attention to the lines alluding to the prevalence of angels, in times past, being “as plentiful [a]s species of flies” making it necessary “to wave both arms [j]ust to keep them away.” Another person heard the speaker wishing for the special power of the librarian to hear what s(he) could hear. There was speculation about the identity of Octavio, to whom Simic had dedicated the poem. We agreed that there was not only a secret in the dictionary but also mystery in the poem to which we were not privy.  As we wondered what the books are whispering, we wondered also “what kind of deep listening is enough to hear what they are saying”. We noted that Mrs. Jones’ “head tipped as it listening” – what kind of gestures and adjustments are necessary for us to really listen to what’s around us?

We moved to the prompt: Write about what Mrs. Jones hears as she passes A Dictionary of Angels and wrote for four minutes.

Four participants read aloud. One person styled Mrs. Jones’s hair into a bun (and someone later added a pencil pushing through the bun!) and imagined her hearing an angel tell a joke. Another wrote as if she were the librarian and offered to be a witness to what the book held. One person expressed her desire for the angels to have stories. One narrative ended with a loose page of the dictionary floating down onto the surprised librarian’s feet—and left the reader to imagine what was on the page. Another writer had Mrs. Jones hear the angels murmuring, in ancient languages, doubts, kindness, peace, and “right wisdom.”

We thank you all for your participation and contributions to our collective puzzle. See you soon!

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.

Also, we would love to learn more about your experience of these sessions, so if you’re able, please take the time to fill out a follow-up survey of one to two quick questions!

Please join us for our next session Wednesday, July 29th at 12pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.

In the Library - Charles Simic (1938)

For Octavio
There’s a book called
A Dictionary of Angels.
No one had opened it in fifty years,
I know, because when I did,
The covers creaked, the pages
Crumbled. There I discovered
The angels were as plentiful                           
As species of flies.
The sky at dusk
Used to be thick with them.
You had to wave both arms
Just to keep them away.

Now the sun is shining
Through the tall windows.
The library is a quiet place.
Angels and gods huddled
In dark unopened books.
The great secret lies
On some shelf Miss Jones
Passes every day on her rounds.
She’s very tall, so she keeps
Her head tipped as if listening.
The books are whispering.
I hear nothing, but she does.

14 thoughts on “Live Virtual Group Session: 6pm EDT July 27th 2020

  1. Kana (Kanako Kitamoto)

    A dictionary is speaking to me.
    She speaks a lot, a lot, too fast.
    She has so much to talk to me.
    I cannot follow her any more…
    But she suddenly pauses.
    “What’s the matter?” I asked.
    She says, “Yeah… I am just sorry I cannot make a story…
    You know, I am a dictionary.
    I can never be a story.”
    She looks very sad and desperate.
    I smile and say to her, “Don’t worry. I am a witness of you and your life.”

    Liked by 3 people

    • Amazing poem about the dialogue between the dictionary and the persona. Also, I like that the dictonary is like a PhD student defending their thesis, when it says that it doesn’t have a story to tell.


      • Kana (Kanako Kitamoto)

        Thank you very much, Swati! I really love your description of the dictionary in my piece, like a PhD student! Exactlly she (he) is 🙂


  2. Imprisoned Dictionaries

    Shelves covered with impeccable plastic sheets.
    Each pile of dictionaries (various volumes, editions, etc.) hidden in a box locked tightly with the iron locks.
    Sometimes Miss Jones hears these dictionaries banging the walls of the box, crying out their narratives of suffocation.
    She turns a deaf ear to these bangings and cries, while sitting quietly on her chair, chewing the keys to the locks.
    She doesn’t want anyone else to hear the meanings these dictionaries wish to convey….

    Liked by 2 people

    • al3793

      I see prisoners whose stories need to be told such that they rattle their chains to alarm a passerby, “listen, please…hear my story.” What does Miss Jones know of the suffocation they bear, fearing that someone else might hear them?

      Your imagination and way with words always gives my right brain a twirl. Thank you.


  3. Bee

    What Miss Jones hears……from the Dictionary of angels

    Listen to me Miss Jones
    Pay attention to the world now
    Our numbers are about to be swelled
    Over the next few years 60 million will perish
    Take heed and do anything you can to stop or reduce the loss
    Tag numbers like classifications
    A-Z the shelves will be full of us …..and you will never get any peace.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. “Three Four times a day, five times a week,
    she passes the shelves in reverence.
    Her head tipped and
    eyes sharp in the dusty dark.
    One evening right after the last ‘return’,
    to accompany her that night,
    she picked a leather clad mystery,
    sitting next to The Dictionary nobody knows of.
    She heard a rustle of yellow pages,
    like people, (tiny winged people)
    talking in the dark-
    ‘She should go out in the world and play’,

    ‘She isn’t a kid, is she!’

    ‘I would have brought her friends!’

    ‘you mean real friends? long term friends?’


    ‘We did, didn’t we…’ ”

    Thanks a lot for another great session.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What Miss Jones hears as she passes by~~~

    We see you, Miss Jones, our trusted friend.
    You are the caretaker of the lives that are stored within the pages of our book.
    You hear what others simply ignore, or if they hear our whispers
    they move off in denial, thinking they are possessed.
    If only they, too, would pause and tilt their heads to hear our whispers, our giggles, our secrets of life.
    We tell of the treasures found in our existence, of the life beyond this realm of earth.
    Oh, the expansiveness of it all. The glory of it all.
    We see you smile, Miss Jones, as you pass by us,
    just pausing long enough to wish you blessings for the day.
    Have a good day, Miss Jones!
    Friends forever!

    Liked by 1 person

    • al3793

      Michele, “…denial, thinking they are possessed,” but failing to hear and see what they might possess if they paid attention to the whispers – the secrets of life. It reminds me of out tour guide at the Holy Places in Israel who each day reminded us to don our “Whispers” so he could broadcast to us to wonder of the places we visited. Special stories whether tucked away in the stacks of Martin on Market Street or a quarter way around the world on the shores of Galilee. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

      • michele348

        Came across this quote in my email box this morning
        , quite fitting~~ “Human beings must always be on the watch for the coming of wonders.”
        E.B. White


  6. Kristin Graziano

    Discovery is what I love,
    When the children come and must stifle a squeal from pure joy at something new
    When the faces get lost in the pages, surrendering to the knowledge or the story or the parable within
    When time passes quickly, and you are surprised by the advancement of the clock.
    The whispers are what drew me to the library, first as a patron, now as a guardian
    To the magic of what lives there.
    You too can hear the whispers and see the discoveries,
    Just tilt your head and let your gaze wander
    Your imagination will be released, and the characters will come to life
    Angels and trees and frogs and butterflies,
    All whispering.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. al3793

    I want to give you a piece of my mind.
    No, I’m not upset, it’s
    just that I’ve given something of my mind to
    each of these pages and
    I want you to have it.
    I’m never quite sure if I’ve got it right,
    I’ll leave that for you to decide,
    If you will.

    While am pure spirit I am much older than 50, and
    I’ve resided in this space nearly three score, you know.
    It should be good to hear an angel sing
    even if I’m whispering.
    It’s not polite to disturb the other readers.
    If you please, open this book and accept whatever piece of my mind
    that moves yours and
    revisit me often
    if you will.


    Liked by 2 people

  8. Dinah Ryan

    What Miss Jones Hears
    A bedlam of voices, more shrill and profuse than the competitive chatter of a flock of birds who, having landed in a tree, keep up their incessant chirping. Single notes shriek above the din, short passages ring clear, but it’s a jumble of sound without coordination. No one conducts this band, no one asks for dimenuendo, crescendo, harmony, or solos. It’s just very voice for itself. Raving angels.

    Liked by 1 person

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