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Bookend: Scoping Out The D.C. Literary Scene With Kim Roberts

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In Metro Connection's first edition of "Bookend," D.C. poet Kim Roberts talks about what it means to be a writer in the nation's capital.
Jonathan Wilson
In Metro Connection's first edition of "Bookend," D.C. poet Kim Roberts talks about what it means to be a writer in the nation's capital.

The range of subjects Kim Roberts tackles in her poetry is vast. In her latest book, "Animal Magnetism," one can find meditations on the frailty of the human body, imaginary husbands, and golden retrievers. And sitting in her living room, Roberts says her house, her street-- places she spends her daily life--inform her poetry as much as anything else.

"I'm a poet who is very much influenced by a sense of place," she says. "So many of my poems are based here in the landscape of the city. I'm writing about the parts of the city that I've made mine."

Roberts is frank about D.C.'s reputation, or lack thereof, when it comes to being an arts capital, but she says that's not all bad.

"In a way that's been good for the literary community, because I know of no other city where people are quite so generous to one another," she says. "We go to each other's readings, we buy each other's books, we publish one another. I've got friends who live in New York and L.A., and they hear about the community we have here, and they're jealous of what we've got going."

Roberts is certainly doing her part to boost the District's reputation as an arts capital, and not just with her latest book of poetry, "Animal Magnetism." She's also the editor of Beltway Poetry Quarterly, an online literary journal that showcases emerging poets from the Mid-Atlantic.

She's also become an expert on famous authors who spent time in the nation's capital, most notably, Walt Whitman. Roberts had long been a fan of Whitman, but she says her rediscovery took place as she was caring for a friend dying of cancer.

"I was looking for texts that would help me do a better job of caring for this friend, and I remembered that Walt Whitman had written very movingly about his experiences as a volunteer nurse in Civil War hospitals," she says. "I went back and read his work, and it really did help."

Roberts' research led her to track down the locations of the boarding houses where Whitman lived during his time in D.C. It was a search that drew her to find out more about the D.C. connections of other authors, such as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Henry Adams, the project eventually turned into a website, D.C. Writers' Homes, which maps where hundreds of famous authors stayed during their time living in the nation's capital.

As for reading recommendations, not surprisingly, it's Walt Whitman that rises to the top of Roberts' list.

"I think that everyone needs to read, at least once in their life, 'Leaves of Grass,' she says. "I would recommend the very first version, the 1855, original version of 'Leaves of Grass' is just an amazing piece of literature."


[Music: "Frost Bit" by Mello Music Group from Odd Seasons / "Poetry In Motion" by Neil Sedaka from Neil Sedaka: The Definitive Collection /"Freedom 90" by Royal Philharmonic Orchestra from Plays The Hits of George Michael]


Listen to Kim Roberts recite her poem, "Bark."

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