Designed to appeal to those who might not necessarily go to a poetry reading, favorite recurring themes are "Love Poems" for Valentine’s Day and the celebration of Shakespeare's birthday with readings from the Bard’s works. Off the beaten track topics have included "Blossoms and Sensuous Delights," "School Days," "Things My Parents Never Told Me" and "Power and Peace."
Beginning in late May, the center sends out a national call for participating poets. Past greats have included Linda Pastan, Marie Howe, Tom Sleigh, Pattiann Rogers, Gregory Orr, John Lee, Coleman Barks (the Rumi translator), Michael Collier and Robert Pinsky. Guest poets have come from as near as Washington, D.C., and as far away as Cambridge, England.
The first Poetry at Noon presentation featured a "Love Poems" reading in February 1994. Patricia Gray, who started the series, invited Linda McCarriston, the 1993-1994 Jenny McKean Moore Visiting Writer-in-Residence from George Washington University, along with Poet Lore’s 1992 Narrative Poetry Award recipient, Martin Galvin, and Maryland fabulist poet Nan Fry for a one-time reading. As that event was deemed a success, Gray set up two more that spring and found that people "seemed hungry" for the readings. “As far as I know it is the only noontime poetry reading in the city," she said. “We all blinked and 15 years zipped by.”
Audiences vary greatly for each reading. In February 2009, Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) and his wife came to the reading. One of the guest poets was Edwin Zimmerman, a member of the Covington & Burling law firm—the same firm at which current U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder practiced law prior to his appointment.
In the past three years, state poets laureate have been invited to bring with them two to three representative poets from their states to give a reading. Thanks to this practice, the Library received its first Poetry at Noon grant from the Kentucky Arts Council in 2008. In all, state poets have been featured from South Carolina, Florida, Virginia, the District of Columbia, Kentucky and Indiana.