Jennifer Tseng began her reading at Wednesday’s night’s Speakeasy benefit for the West Tisbury Library held at State Road restaurant with an apology for being morbid. Her poem, When You Are Gone, was in honor of Andrew Jephcote, a “beloved regular and friend” who leaves little found-object sculptures around the library.

“Who will wait in the dark by the pond to witness phosphorescence? / Who will cheer summer’s end if only for that light?” Ms. Tseng read. Mr. Jephcote, who was in attendance, said with a chuckle that hearing the poem was “traumatic,” then added, “It’s nice to be an inspiration for someone.”

Jennifer Tswng
Jennifer Tseng found refuge at the West Tisbury library. — Ivy Ashe

Wednesday was the third and final night in this installment of the Speakeasy series, sponsored by the library foundation and hosted by State Road restaurant owners Mary and Jackson Kenworth. The series is part of the library’s fund-raising campaign to finance renovations; previous evenings featured Island authors Geraldine Brooks and Tony Horwitz. Ms. Tseng, an award-winning poet who also works at the West Tisbury library, was joined by Fanny Howe, a novelist, essayist, and poet who won the Poetry Foundation’s prestigious 2009 Ruth Lilly poetry prize. She also happens to be Ms. Tseng’s mother-in-law.

Both women revealed what inspires them as poets: places like Ireland and the library itself, family and friends, and Emily Dickinson. Each wore a visible tribute to Ms. Dickinson, necklaces, “that all woman poets should wear,” Ms. Howe said. Both necklaces were in the style Ms. Dickinson was wearing in the only known image of her; Ms. Tseng’s featured a Wampanoag shell.

Ms. Tseng talked about “making a connection between the world of childhood and the world of writing,” and reading stories with her daughter, Xing, 5, before reading her poem, In Defense of a Lifetime of Careful and Solitary Reading. Other poems were about strangers, loved ones, library patrons, and Ms. Howe.

After Ms. Tseng’s reading, Ms. Howe took the stage, sitting in front of the fire. She read from her series of poems, The Lyrics, most of which were written in Ireland. When she visits that country to stay in a monastery in Limerick, she experiences “the strangest phenomenon . . . gravity and me are agreeing for the first time.”

Her poem began, “It’s the summer solstice / the day the darkening begins / If I keep walking west / I can precede this time again / In a year . . . ”

The event was “so warm and cozy,” Ms. Howe said afterward, praising the collaboration between the restaurant and the library and the sense of community it has fostered.

The series is an example of how the library has “reached into the cultural roots of the Island,” said library trustee Dan Waters. Musicians and artists have helped to fund-raise for the library, and the Speakeasy series is an example of a fruitful partnership between the culinary and literary communities.

The Speakeasy series is part of the library’s larger capital campaign to fund an expansion and renovation. After receiving a $2.98 million grant from the state last summer, the library foundation has pushed to raise $1.5 million by the end of January. West Tisbury will be asked to contribute another $1.5 million.

“Events like this tend to have reverberations,” Mr. Waters continued, by raising the profile of the library and creating connections between sometimes disparate groups.

The series has also had generous hosts in the Kenworths, Mr. Waters said. The State Road proprietors and library supporters came up with the idea to host the series.

“For us, it’s a really perfect way to help support the library,” Ms. Kenworth said. The library, she said, is “the heart and soul of the town,” especially with West Tisbury lacking a downtown. It needs all of our support.”

The series has been so successful that it will return for a second installment this spring. Alexandra Styron is already scheduled as one of the speakers.

During the relaxed discussion after the reading Ms. Tseng talked about her own personal connection to the library. During her first visits to the Vineyard, she recalled the Island felt like “an alien ship.”

The library was her “first refuge on this Island,” she said. “A library is a library wherever you go . . . there’s something stable and intimate about a library.”