Poetry Friday: The Feral Cat And The Phone Booth Library

Dec 6, 2019

Little Free Libraries are popping up in neighborhoods all over the country. Some are simple repurposed cabinets, others are elaborate custom-made creations. Arizona Daily Sun photographer Jake Bacon has taken the concept to the next level. He’s converted two antique English phone booths into tiny libraries. Jake hauled them 5,000 miles from the East Coast to Flagstaff where he set them up in front of his house. In this week’s Poetry Friday segment, he shares Rudyard Kipling’s poem, If, which is printed on the back of the giant, red booths. On an editorial note, Jake’s tenacious feral cat, Potter – as in Harry Potter - makes his public radio debut this week.

Credit Jake Bacon


JB: It was kind of a fool’s dream to have one of them here and to see if it was even possible. But in the same sense, I wanted to do something a little larger than the normal tiny library. Instead of it being a lending library, the idea was to have it be a literacy project to inject books into the community and to have people be excited to come see where they’re getting the books from. Having something as big and as obvious as this gives them an experience when they come to pick out a book.

Credit Jake Bacon

There’s two of them: one has grown-up books, one has children’s books, and so often you’ll have a parent in one and a kid in the other, and they’ll be looking across from each other and picking books. It’s amazingly fun to see how people come and interact with the phone booths. They’re experiencing them as if they’re theirs, which they are. People don’t come and grab a book and go…they come and have an experience.

So, the back of these phone booths face the front door of my house. They are monumental slabs: 8’ tall, by 3’ wide of red cast iron. And I started thinking about, ‘every day I’m going to open my door and see these two red slabs of cast iron. What can I do with them?’ And I thought, ‘Wow! I should put a poem up there.’

For me, when I came to America 30 years ago from England, a good friend of mine gave me a copy of this poem, of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, If. It’s an incredibly powerful poem. For me, it’s been a touchstone throughout my life, through triumphs and tragedies.

Credit Jake Bacon

If— by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

If you can keep your head when all about you

   Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

   But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

   Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,

Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,

   And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

   If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with triumph and disaster

   And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken

   Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,

   And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;

Jake Bacon and his feral cat Potter
Credit Gillian Ferris / KNAU

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

   And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

   And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

   To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

   Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

   Or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch;

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;

   If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds' worth of distance run—

   Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,

And—which is more—you'll be a Man, my son!

Poetry Friday is produced by KNAU's Gillian Ferris. If you have an idea for a segment, drop her an email at Gillian.Ferris@nau.edu.