Friday, August 31, 2012

Summer Library Series: From Branch to Main and Back by David Hadbawnik

It's the end of the second month but not the end of the summer, and so the Summer Library Series continues here at What She Might Think. Every Friday, authors have been sharing their childhood experiences at the public library.  This week's author is poet David Hadbawnik whose life as a reader and writer has unfolded in libraries across the country.


by David Hadbawnik

The aisles were an isle of solitude, a place to get away from my 
self and get in touch with a deeper Self. 

Like so many other nascent readers, I have my mother to thank for first taking me to the library. We were quite young, my sister and I, when we rode in the car to Warren Public Library, a few miles from our home in suburban Detroit. The small, nondescript building nevertheless had all the charms of the local branch, most notably a generous children’s section, with a dedicated librarian who taught us how to use it, and tiny tables with tiny chairs for our little bodies. And at that time, of course, everything was searched by card catalogue; I still remember the pleasure and mystery of sliding open those long, narrow drawers, leafing through the cards 'til I found the author I wanted, inevitably finding something else along the way.

The first books I discovered were Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey—though of course, I wasn’treading Greek, let alone an “adult” translation, but a version for young adults. From that time, I was hooked, and a trip to the library meant a further excursion into the world of Judy Blume, or The Great Brain, or Madeleine L'Engle and her great series starting with A Wrinkle in Time. I was a sci-fi and fantasy nut, but I also craved anything with a good story in it, anything that was honest and painful and true.

Most of  all—this will ring a bell with just about every lifelong reader and writer—the library was a place to be alone. With books. Aisle upon aisle of good-smelling books, with names and titles blazing out from their spines. The aisles were an isle of solitude, a place to get away from my self and get in touch with a deeper Self. Just running my finger along the spines was like touching a tuning fork that made my own spine vibrate.

Not that I had a difficult or “troubled” childhood—far from it; mine was a normal suburban household, middle class, stable, solid. If anything, it was too normal, too quiet. The library was a place to find out about things like wet dreams, bloody noses, what happened to kids who were left on their own or abused; what it felt like to fall in love so hard it hurt to the core of one’s being; suffering and triumph, magic and despair. As I came out of the confusion of puberty and middle school, the library again became a sanctuary as I discovered the books and authors that would inspire me to pursue journalism and creative writing myself—F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, a return to classical and medieval folklore and legend.

San Francisco Main Library, photograph by David Yuused under CC license
In fact, I must credit the library with my eventually “putting it all together” as a mature writer, though I was scarcely aware of achieving creative equilibrium at the time. My haunting of libraries in great cities—first Detroit, during my undergraduate years at Wayne State; later Chicago, New York, and most of all San Francisco—has always been a way of finding my bearings, getting back in touch with the rhythm of solitude and language. Being in a main library, with its many levels and millions of books and separate intensities of hundreds of people, somehow feels like being in the very heart of a city, whose dangers and noises and romance continue to thrum just outside that stillness. When I first moved to San Francisco, I spent many hours in the library, browsing, working, dreaming. It was there I got serious about scribbling in the little notebooks I’d always carried around with me, which eventually formed the raw material of my first published work. And it was there I found the books that showed me the final bit of the way, such as Peter Handke’s The Weight of the World and Franz Kafka’s Notebooks.

Some of my love of the library was tarnished a bit when I eventually worked there, taking a job as a page at a couple of branches in San Francisco. I spent hours pushing around that metal cart, shelving books, dealing with unruly patrons, and wiping my hands off from the grime on the books in the children’s section, the same section I’d cut my teeth in many years ago. But sometimes I’d find the sweet spot of that old rhythm. Alone in an aisle, I’d light on a new book in an unfamiliar section, and have that old feeling once again.

David Hadbawnik

David Hadbawnik lives and writes in Buffalo, NY where he runs Habenicht Press, the literary journal Kadar Koli, and the Buffalo Poets Theatre. Hadbawnik is the author of these books of poetry SF Spleen (Skanky Possum Press, 2006), Ovid in Exile (Interbirth Books, 2007), Translations from Creeley (Sardines Press, 2008), and Fieldwork: Notes, Songs, and Poems 1997-2010 (BlazeVox, 2011).

To find books by Hadbawnik at your local library, check out, or click here.