It was summer. I found myself on the top floor of the library, on the recommendation of a friend: ‘It’s where they keep the poetry.’
She did not mention it was tucked away in the furthest recess possible.
Many of the names there were predictable: Hughesheaneylarkinplath. But there were surprises too. A very complete collection of Redgrove. Poets from Ireland. Poets in translation.
You could follow the sensibility of the person who had chosen the books. For about twelve years they must have had the best fun imaginable.
It was eclectic, whimsical, untutored. Then it stops, just as the Bloodaxe explosion is about to fill the skies, the New and Next Generations a very tiny dot on an unimagined horizon.
I imagine the committee meeting which approved the cut-backs, a day like today, hot, slightly end of termish, people faithfully showing up and committing to the task in hand.
(I don’t believe in agendas or conspiracy theories. I believe people follow their lights, talking and pausing and wondering and influenced by other people, for good or ill).
Or perhaps there were no cut-backs. Perhaps the person left. Or fell ill.
The poetry stops.
Except it doesn’t stop.
You can still climb those stairs to that recess and you can still find gems like this. It’s an unremarkable looking book called Ends and Beginnings. You can still turn the pages.
There it is, on page 1, set apart from the rest of the collection, a kind of statement, wrapped up in a surprising lyric poem of thirteen lines that is like opening a window with a view onto the sea.
It is poetry and it is in your hands. The committee did not win.
Poetry has nothing to do with who we are.
It cannot be explained by biography,
e.g. sickness, unhappiness.
Poetry is a swart planet
with which we are in touch, from which
we receive at certain times messages.
Nor is it a black or emerald clock –
I think it is a voice which speaks to us
at night, as unquiet trembling, or maybe
a curious arrangement of stones,
poorly random and yet sonorous,
a packet of crisps beside a Greek vase
on a day with the breeze flowing from the South.
Iain Crichton-Smith, from Ends and Beginnings (Carcanet, 1994)