Librarian appears in local park, bar

David Taber

Courtesy Photo Sara Wingate Gray, the “itinerant poetry librarian,” at the Footlight Club at 7 Eliot St. Aug. 28.

For four years, Sara Wingate Gray has been traveling the globe carrying a library of “lost and forgotten poetry” with her wherever she goes, and last week she is brought the books to Jamaica Plain.

Through a character known as “the itinerant poetry librarian,” she has devoted most of her days to finding bars, parks, pizza parlors and coffee shops in diverse locales—Romania, Washington DC, the Czech Republic, San Francisco—where she can set up shop.

Last week, Wingate Gray’s traveling library was open in the Greater Boston Area, including three appearances in Jamaica Plain. On Aug. 28 she was at the Footlight Club, on Sept. 1 she was at Forest Hills Cemetery and on Sept. 3 she was at the Brendan Behan Pub in Hyde Square.

The selections at Forest Hills were focused on the theme of “dead poets,” Wingate Gray told the Gazette in an Aug. 31 interview at the Gazette offices. At the time, she was not sure what the theme of the Behan library would be, “I can guess it will have something to do with drunkenness and rock & roll,” she said.

The poetry library “is a real library,” Wingate Gray said. “The point is to remind people of the importance of free public libraries.”

That means patrons can sign up for memberships and receive library cards. “The circulation policy is: Borrowing is limited to the present moment, or as long as you and I are in the same place at the same time,” she said.

The library is also always accepting donations, but it does not
accept just any old doggerel. Submissions are judged based on responses to a list of criteria, including: “The work will be unique in the collection…The creator of the work is forgotten…The creator has forgotten the work…The work may be considered by the general…masses to consist of an eccentric or eclectic nature.”

Wingate Gray told the Gazette an affirmative response to around 12 of the criteria usually qualifies a work for inclusion in the collection.

The full collection consists of an attic full of books at Windgate Gray’s mother’s house, in the librarian’s native England, and whatever she is carrying on her back and in two trunks.

Wingate Gray told the Gazette that between her travels, she is studying for her doctorate in library sciences at University College London. She recently completed a fellowship with the International Research and Exchanges Board, a Washington DC-based non-profit focused on independent media, education and civil society development, she said.

Over the years, Wingate Gray said the character of the itinerant poetry librarian has taken on personality of its own. The librarian is “not human, [she is] a lean mean library machine,” Wingate Gray said.

The library was open at various locations throughout Greater Boston through Sept. 4. For updates, including upcoming library dates, see

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