poetry quarterly

10th anniversary


Phyllis Armstrong



The huge latrine of my city
Flows past
Windows reflecting
A massive sunset
Shimmering yachts ride
On crests of bilgewater


Phyllis Armstrong is the author of A Witness to Washington, published in 1972 by Dragon's Teeth Press. She worked for the Library of Congress for 24 years. Born in India to a British mother, she spent most of her youth in England, and came to the US prior to World War II, setting in Washington, DC. She began work at the Library of Congress in 1938 in the Law Library. During the war, from 1941 to 1945, she took military leave to serve with the British Woman's Royal Naval Service as a cipher officer in the signals branch. Karl Shapiro hired her during his tenure as US Poet Laureate to serve as the first Special Assistant in Poetry. He remembered her in later years as "tall, military in bearing, a chain smoker" whose service to the Library of Congress was exemplary, serving "one difficult poet after another, for which she deserved the Congressional Medal of Honor." William Jay Smith, on learning of her retirement in 1970, wrote, "It is virtually impossible to think of the Poetry Room without her." She worked with fourteen US Poets Laureate in all, for which she was awarded the Amos. R. Koontz Memorial Foundation Award for Distinguished Service. She was a long-time resident of Hyattsville, MD and died at age 89 from a respiratory ailment on July 26, 1999. She left no immediate survivors, and her book, unfortunately, is long out of print.


Published in Volume 11, Number 4, Fall 2010.