05/16/1994 at 01:00 AM EDT
SAY, BELLHOP, WHERE CAN A FELLA GET a little poetry around here? Hotel service may not be what it used to be, but there is one small reason for hope. Thanks to Andrew Carroll, 24, poetry may become as available in American hotels and motels as ice cubes and Gideon Bibles. The American Poetry and Literacy Project, which Carroll founded last year with poet Joseph Brodsky, 54, has donated more than 12,000 books of verse to hospitals, homeless shelters—and several hotel chains. Carroll, in fact, is proud to say that copies of Six American Poets (an anthology that includes Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes and Robert Frost, along with Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens) are tucked in bedside drawers at two Guest Quarters and seven Doubletree hotels—and are fast disappearing.
Carroll, who was graduated from Columbia University last year, got the idea when he read about a lecture the Russian-born Brodsky, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987, gave in Washington in 1991. At the very least, Brodsky declaimed, "an anthology of American poetry should be found in the drawer in every room in every motel in the land." "It was a lightning-bolt kind of thing," says Carroll, who approached the writer about the project and became its unsalaried executive director. He used an anonymous $5,000 donation to buy the first books. Then he began approaching hotel managers, one of whom asked, "Who is this Robert Frost guy you're working for?"
Undismayed, Carroll continues lo regard a volume of verse as the perfect balm for a weary traveler—even better than Magic Fingers. "We all rush through life," he says. "Poems are stop signs that say, 'Wait, take a look at this.' "