Tag Archives: poetry

Books and What They Know

There’s a place in a bookstore, a spot where you can stand and hear the books. It’s the focal point of a multitude of lenses, the single point in the store where the projection of all their secret bookish knowledge is in perfect convergence, allowing you to receive everything. It’s hard to find this spot during the day, because all the people in the store throw off the geometry of the information flow, creating eddies around their perspectives and beliefs, futzing the reception. With all those people the bookstore becomes a strangely quieter place.

I’ve worked at various bookshops, in various countries, for a while now and what I’ve learned is that there is rarely a more beautiful thing than finding that secret spot (it forever changes as books migrate in and out of the store, altering ratios and alchemy) and sitting there. Smoking. And you just listen – listen to all the quiet tumult of books calling across the spaces to each other (because they’re not speaking to you, not yet). You can’t make anything out because it’s like those voices in your head that all go on and on at once, a susurrus of pitch and meaning that is almost impossible to decipher for more than a snatch of a second.

Maybe libraries have it, too. I don’t know. But bookstores do, the good ones. If you can find that space, that nomadic area, it will fix your head, it will cleanse your acne and it will pop that slipped disc back into your spine, afterwards bringing you cake. It will make everything okay again.

I recommend it strongly.

People claim reading as a process, a whole process, they condemn books like Harry Potter and The Da Vinci Code as being unworthy of being printed, or being destructive as a thing to read. It’s laying claim to brain function rather than taste. Shoot the shitty, mediocre books down as examples of whatever stylistic aesthetic you’re devoted to, colonised by or trying to get laid with, but don’t condemn the books. They’re just words on pages, doing whatever it is that words do on pages when we’re not paying attention. And don’t condemn those that enjoy reading these lesser tomes – mock them, if it appeals, draw disparaging conclusions about their taste and cerebral proclivities as much as you like, whatever intellectual eugenics bandwagon you want to jump on, but don’t condemn them. Because the books will hear you and they’re not a forgiving bunch. Remember when you read that book? That one that your friends were reading? And you were all talking about it? And there was that bit they were all talking about, the bit that they loved above all the other bits? And you thought, Sheesh, I wasn’t all up in that, I thought it was just a bit, y’know, a space, a thing that wasn’t that great. I thought that other bit was the real deal, the crux of the whole  shebang. Well it was that great, the book was punishing you for that thing you said about Don Delillo being a literary fraud whose books should be taken out of Contemporary Fiction courses all around the world. And for calling Dan Brown a cunt. The books don’t like that. So it hid that bit from you, it warped its narrative around itself so you wouldn’t understand. Then it sniggered.

I’ve spent many nights, after finishing some overflow of work, alone, wandering around bookstores. A couple of years ago I was the buyer for a particular store, beautiful Unity. A job that means I was the filter for all the books that made it through the door from the publishing houses monthly migrations, and, after I had been doing it for a while, I had a night. This night I was staying late, catching up on a thing that was running ahead of me, and I went for a wander, looking for the spot. As I was edging around the biography table, past a display on the central support column of the store, listening intently, I had a thought.

It was all me.

Everything in that store, all the books and all their surreptitious whisperings, were me. Because I chose them.

I’m aware that you never really own a book, you can never possess it beyond it’s papery body, though you sometimes think it. In that spot in a bookstore, where you stand and hear them talking, often they’re laughing at you. Laughing, in good humour, without rancour, because you think you understand. You don’t. You’re just a reader. You’re usually not even a writer (though I think they, writers, poets most of all, sometimes know; they have some conduit, some covert correspondence with the books that they can’t ever fully describe, though the trying must be part of the point, but they can’t hold it in their heads, because it’s the night sky, all full up with stars and expanse).

But I chose them, you see, all these books. All that knowledge stacked and pressed into the shelves and cupboards and displays. I was fucking Moses. I led them to this milk and honey. This whole pantheon of scholarship and erudition was an expression of me. Fucking me. That made me one of them.

I shone, for a moment, like a sun. Head back and arms held up, hard and straight.

The books were quiet, like they were allowing me that moment of incandescence, possibly feeding me a little of their energy. They were quiet, maybe drawing breath inaudibly. Then they chuckled at me, shaking their pages. Because I thought I knew. I didn’t.

But they gave me that moment. So I love them. All of them.

The Fight (Me vs Poetry II)

The Press Conference:

Poetry: “Getting ready to grumble?”

Me: “What? You’re gonna alliterate me to death? What rhymes with orange, old timer? Answer me that!”

The Weigh In:

Me: “…look you guys know that while I have the utmost respect for Poetry’s record, and obvious amounts of admiration for it’s abilities, I can’t help but think it’s time is over. Modern convention has convoluted Poetry’s overall technique making it vulnerable to my superior reach and hand speed.”

Poetry: “Bring it, Fatty.”

The Post Fight Interview:

Me: “No there won’t be a bloody rematch. Get that camera out of my fucking face!”

Poetry: “He floated like a butterfly… because that’s what big girl’s blouses do. Rhyme that asshole.”

Me vs Poetry

I always reckoned that, if it came down to it, I could totally take poetry out. I mean, seriously, as much as one can respect poetry’s mind, poise and philosophies, it has to be observed that it wears glasses and is a little weedy. So I figure I’d totally kick it’s ass.

Which, sadly, in a fight or flight kind of way, is a normal response to a thing that one fundamentally doesn’t understand. Which I don’t, though I’ve tried. Just kind of figured it was one of those things… my wiring or something.

Anyway, recently I’ve ventured into the domain of poetry under the scrupulous and benevolent gaze of One Who Knows and have been surprised at the delight of it. The impact and the strength of it. I certainly couldn’t claim any particular knowledge or understanding, having only read from two particular authors, but I seem to have been talked through the door and into a comfy chair. There’s a power to it I wasn’t expecting, a concentration by way of dilution that leverages meaning, both personal and from the poet, through no intention of my own. While I remain baffled, I’m suddenly curious about it in ways I never was and couldn’t fake.

Poetry doesn’t box, it does one of those weird martial arts from the elevated, remote mountainous regions of Asia, where Mums & Dads pass on to their children the secret of extracting, using just their left earlobe and breathing techniques, people’s appendix through their elbow. I have a friend who spent many years learning a thing called Zen Do Kai – it’s one of those martial arts that takes the most violent parts of other martial arts and, through a process of dehydration and using the hot wash cycle, concentrates them into an evolutionary beast that would terrify anyone with the brain kinetics fast enough to appreciate what just happened to them. This friend of mine, Broad of Shoulder, used to come around and say things like, ‘Dude, I’ve gotta show you this move, it’s awesome. Try and punch me really hard in the face.” And, after some false starts and argument, I would. Because I’m stupid. The next thing I knew I would be face down on the carpet with his foot on the back of my neck and my right arm at a distinctly uncomfortable angle, wondering what the fuck just happened.

Poetry has a result like that.  In that you end up on the ground, staring at the ceiling, wondering how the fuck you ended up there. There are two basic forms of martial arts, as I understand: hard forms and soft forms. Hard forms are all about the application of force, direct and precise, while soft forms are about the redistribution of the force, the redirection and absorption of it. The soft form is strangely intimate. Poetry is kind of like that, a soft form. It’s pretty cool. And totally preferable to Broad of Shoulder’s process. I mean, staring at the ceiling unexpectedly can be fun but the process of getting there really makes a difference.

So I’ll get back to you about that ass kicking.