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Staff Pick: Information Desk: An Epic

After graduating college, poet Robyn Schiff took a job at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where she worked at the famous octagonal information desk in the entrance hall. This dazzling, book-length poem takes us through the galleries and back offices of the Met and gives a new perspective on the museum’s inhabitants—both the art and the people who work there.

Information Desk: An Epic

As a graduate student, I spent a lot of time at the Watson Library, the Met’s main research library, and Information Desk does a brilliant job of recreating the sensation of winding one’s way through the museum and the crowds. As someone who now spends a lot of time working a reference desk, I appreciated Schiff’s evocation of the humor as well as the frustration that can sometimes come with the job. For visitors, it is often too easy to overlook the staff who keep these huge institutions running smoothly; here, Schiff shines a light on the assistants, guards, couriers, and art handlers who can so often be invisible to outsiders.

The parts of the book that I found most powerful may be the close connections Schiff makes between art and nature. The poem is divided into three main sections, each preceded by an “invocation” to a different species of parasitic wasp. The same beauty, brutality, and creativity in the description of the insects are also present in humanity and our creation and consumption of art. There is also a meditation on the sources of various pigments used in paints and dyes that is stunning in its detail and language.

Finally, I must note that I was positively delighted that Schiff included a works cited list at the end of the poem, noting all the art that she references!

Feature photo by Chad Keffer/Courtesy of the Department of Education.

Staff photo of Kate Goldkamp.

About the Author

Kate Goldkamp
Job Title
Reference Supervisor