When President James B. Conant '14 sought to appoint a curator for the new college poetry room in 1932, he personally offered the post to Robert Frost, then at the height of his fame. Frost, who had won the Pulitzer prize the year before for his new Selected Poems, wished the room well but politely said that he preferred to remain at his home in Amherst, Mass.
When the room opened in 1939 with Jack Sweeney at the helm, it quickly became a center of literary life in Cambridge. Regular literary salons-- part poetry reading, part workshop--were held for an elite circle invited to the third-floor room in Widener. The collection moved to the room's present quarters in Lamont Library in the '50's, but the wooden sign saying "Poetry Room" remains on the door of the old Widener quarters to this day.
In 1974 the leadership went to a most unusual candidate: Stratis Haviaras, an administrative worker at Widener Library, who had quit school at age 12 during the Greek Civil War to work in construction.
But Haviaras wasn't a typical manual laborer, publishing three volumes of poetry during the twenty years he worked in the construction business. And he was as familiar with the Harvard poetry collections as anyone, having spent much time in the room while working at Widener--a qualification he cited when he applied for the post.
On June 30, after 26 years as curator of the Poetry and Farnsworth Rooms in the Harvard College Library, Haviaras retired to devote more time to his writing.
But as no replacement has been chosen, Haviaras has been working in the poetry room--without pay--almost every weekday since.
He says that if he were to leave, the room would miss out on acquiring an entire season of new work. And there is the business of accepting donations of new manuscripts, editing the room's poetry journal and arranging its fall lecture series. Haviaras feels an intense sense of duty to the room, he says, which keeps him coming back each day.