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the library of t-shirts

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in order to upgrade the communitys appreciation of poetry during the international year of cultural enrichment stage 2, members of the state’s library progress committee decided to establish a small library of t-shirts on which would be printed quality verse in vivid, bold colours and lettering. the poems would be selected on the basis of one of three qualities: is the poem poignant, perspicacious, or pithy.
given the respectably researched fact that the wearing of words on t-shirts expresses a deep psychic desire for an intimate union of word and flesh, (and bear in mind the way logo nudges towards logos) it is not surprising that this library of t-shirts has been a great success. no one seems to mind borrowing pre-worn clothing. of course the librarys washing and ironing staff maintain the t-shirts in excellent condition. even after ten borrowings the shirts look brand new. and considering the phenomenal success of andrew lloyd webber’s “cats” it is no shock revelation that t.s. eliots hollow men has proved to be the librarys most popular t-shirt so far. in fact there are now eight copies of this shirt on loan, most in metallic or fluoro colours.
a couple of the more entrepreneurial of the library’s progress committee members are leading the push for diversification of the library’s poetry program, into neck to knee anti-uv swimwear, with maybe slessor, shelly and stevie smith prints for starters; and into underpants, with their multiple attractions.
while the committee feels both these garments could increase poetry’s appeal, they are worried about the practicability of adding these garments to the t-shirt poetry collection. would many members want to borrow preworn underpants, however compelling the poems’ cadences and metaphors; while the wear and tear on the swimming costume fabric via chlorine and salt water would perhaps be too great. however they are interested in marketing and selling these articles from a stall in the library’s foyer. the only committee member unenthusiastic regarding this proposal is an optometrist who has raised the issue of eye damage if the typeface of the lines of verse on the underpants were too small. a solution in the form of large print haikus is being considered.

joanne burns, “library of t-shirts” text from penelope’s knees, University of Queensland Press, 1996; audio from kept busy, Audio CD, River Road Press, 2007: by permission of River Road Press and the poet. Copyright © 1996, 2007 by joanne burns.
Source: penelope’s knees (University of Queensland Press, 1996)
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the library of t-shirts

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  • joanne burns was born in Sydney, Australia. She graduated from the University of Sydney in 1966 and taught English in London and New South Wales. A writer of monologues and short fiction, she explores the boundaries of genre in her work and frequently writes in prose poem form. Surreal and ironic, her work observes and comments on contemporary society and mores. burns is the author of a dozen collections of poetry, including Snatch (1972), Ratz (1973), Ventriloquy: Monologues 1977–80 (1981), blowing bubbles in the 7th lane: small stories (1988), penelope’s knees (1996), aerial photography (1999), footnotes of a hammock (2004), the audio CD kept busy (2007), and an illustrated history of dairies (2007).
    burns has received grants from the Literature Board of the Australian Council for the Arts and the 2005 ACT Arts Judith Wright Prize. She lives in Sydney and has been a member of the Sydney Women Writers Workshop.

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