The Indestructible Muse

THE ROOSEVELT for Senior Citizens, a residence on the upper reaches of 16th Street, seems unlikely terrain for poetry to sprout. There are bleak silences in its public rooms and shuffling footsteps in the halls. But the roosevelt Poetry Group has been writing poems and holding poetry workshops there every Wednesday evening since September, 1976. The sessions are led by Ed Cox, 31, a local poet, who works by day as an administrative assistant at the National Center for Urban ethnic Affairs. (Blocks, his first collection of poems, appeared here in 1972; Waking, his latest work, was published by Gay Sunshine Press in San Francisco.)

There are eight to 10 regulars in the group. They range in age from 63 to 92. Some have been writing all their lives; others are only starting now. The workshop format is a "mosaic," Cox says. They read and criticize each others' work; they discuss magazine articles, books about poetry, philosophical tracts and the work of other poets. Or sometimes they just talk about subjects that happen to come up -- like abortion, or nuclear arms, or the death of someone and the loneliness and boredom of being old.

With help from a grant from the Washington Area Fund for Life, the group has published Seeds and Leaves, a small collection -- a chapbook, Cox calls it -- of their poems. ($2 by mail from The Roosevelt Poetry Group, 2101 16th Street NW, Washington 20009.) They do readings at other centers' for older people around town and hope to work on a poetry/dance collaboration with The Dance Exchange, a group of young dancers who conduct classes at The Roosevelt.

The muse survives in other odd crannies as well -- although last year's National Endowment grant that helped spread poetry readings into places that couldn't otherwise afford them has not been renewed. (The going fee for a poet who meets the "minimum standard of professional competence," as defined by Poets and Writers, Inc. of New York, runs to $150 and beyond.) At the Writer's Center in Glen Echo -- housed in the kitchen of an abandoned snack bar, across from the ruins of the old fun rides -- local poets read their work on Sunday afternoons to an overflow crowd. There are readings at the Washington Womens Art Center at 1821 Q Street NW, and at Folio Books on 20th and P. People queue up in the cold for some of the evening readings in the Folger Library theater, and a devoted band turns out for the Thursday "Midday Muse" series there -- where four of The Roosevelt Group have appeared. The folger Poetry Office distributes a bimonthly roundup of local poetic and literary events, free to area residents. (Write to Poetry Clearing House, The Folger Library, 201 East Capitol SE, Washington 20003 to be put on the mailing list; or telephone Elysa Lebron at 546-2461 before April 15 to submit poetry for the 1978-79 series.) The China Connection

AFTER ONLY ONE year as a fledgling buyer for Kramerbooks and Afterwords, Sharlene Kranz is off to Peking with the first delegation of American book buyers and sellers ever invited to visit the Peoples Republic of China -- the only one from here to make the trip. "I spoke up early and made myself known," says Sharlene. She made herself known to the people at China Books, the San Francisco organization which distributes books from the Peoples Republic to American shops, including Kramerbooks, and which picked the delegates for the trip. She will spend 24 days in April and May scrutinizing the Chinese foreign language press. And she'll be expected to criticize what she sees and hears, from Peking to Soochow and Shanghai to Canton, about the export book business. "I think the reason we've been invited now," she says, "is that the Chinese want to sell more books in this country and they want us to tell them how to do it."

Which is where Sharlene's experience at Kramerbooks and Afterwords, the Connecticut Avenue bookshop/cafe, comes in. For 12 months, back there by the cappuccinos and the quiches, Sharlene has been stocking the shelves with paperbacks on art, travel, children and politics from Communist China -- by her reckoning, among the fast movers in the store. Revolutionary Thought from Marx to Mao (10 volumes, boxed: $4.95) will never overtake The Book of Running as a Washington best seller, but it and other titles from China are steadily in demand -- some for their dazzling color reproductions and all for price tags guaranteed to quicken a bargain-hunter's pulse. Quotations from Chairman Mao, otherwise known as "The Little Red Book," sports its own red jacket and sells for 74 cents. (Bantam Books charges $1.95 for a plain-Jane version of the same quotations.)

Little Sisters of the Grasslands (89 color illustrations: $1.50) describes the heroic struggle of two little girls of Inner Mongolia who, "remembering what Chairman Mao says about overcoming difficulties to win victory," save the commune sheep by battling a blizzard "for a whole day and night with the temperature at 37 degrees C below zero" -- and, according to the illustrations, without any mittens.

When Sharlene gets back, more wonders may unfold.