Even as you read this, a very librarian process is going on. Under the leadership of the Denver Public Library's director of marketing, Pat Hodapp, a corps of assistants is transcribing the entries to the "Words for All Time" contest. "Each will be the same," explains Hodapp. "Typed, so that the judges can see them cold and blind. We've already had an entry come in on a nine-foot banner. But even if Mayor Webb submits an entry, it will be transcribed, without his name on it."
About eighty entries have poured in since the contest began on June 11 of this year. What Hodapp hopes to find among them is "a smashing quote" to be inscribed above the west entrance to the new addition to the Central Library. The quote must be verifiable as having come from somewhere in printed literature and must consist of sixty words or less. The lucky winner will receive a duplicate of the plaque, as well as the chance to hobnob with Mayor Webb and "other dignitaries" at the addition's opening in fall 1994. "I've read some of the entries," Hodapp says, "but I can't say there's been a trend so far."
What--no outpouring of support for Denver authors, living and dead? No rush to immortalize the literature of the West? And as for Weldon Kees--oh, never mind. I'll enter the contest on his behalf.
How about a truly depressing piece of the poem "The Situation Clarified," in which a librarian commits suicide?
The frightened male librarian,
Young, though no longer so very young,
Exhibiting signs of incipient baldness,
Gyrated most considerably
Through all the latest books; was hung
By wire, pulled from the rafters by a man
Who wore a striking wig and gave his name
(When sternly questioned by the police)
Nah, I didn't think so. But here is a perfectly skewering comment on the state of literature in the 1930s--not that it isn't true today:
...it is a commonplace of our time that on one hand our mass reading sinks lower and lower (both in style and matter), while the "new writing" veers more and more toward private concerns and unintelligibility.
And here is Kees focusing his mean, accurate eye on book publishers:
I find myself kind of speechless before the ways of publishers; like two-headed calves, they inspire in me a degree of disgust, but never any intelligent comment.
But I suppose the inscription should deal directly with the subject of libraries. Fine. Here's a quote from "The Sign":
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In her mind, her own library grew, perfect and beautiful.
Very uplifting, I'd say, and it's never been easy to find optimism in anything by Kees, not even a grocery list. But wait--here's something even better. It's an off-the-cuff comment written to a friend:
I still have much hope for the book.
That will do nicely, won't it? One last thing, Ms. Hodapp. Make sure the quote's attributed. I don't care one way or another about rubbing shoulders with dignitaries, but I would like to see the name WELDON KEES carved into stone. Would you see if you can get them to use big, big letters?