Except the Americans


As I said recently, I have been moving. Not away, not abroad. But here, within the space that already exists, seeing it differently, living out of boxes and suitcases. Here, but elsewhere, too. It has not always been easy (‘Where are the keys?’ ‘Where you left them.’ ‘Where did I leave them?’ ‘I don’t know.’) But it has been refreshing. A corrective. Necessary, even.

Nowhere has this been more challenging in the domain of my poetry books. This has brought about two realisations, both as painful as the other: that I have far too many books of poetry than is sensible (and, possibly, legal); and, that I find parting with them harder than losing my hands.

Something has had to give. Books have left the house, never to return. Others have moved to shelves that might not be adjacent to my furrowed brow as I sit in the new space of my desk. In another room, if you can imagine it. Close family members choose this moment to remind me that I am experiencing ‘First World Problems’. With the late Robert Rehder comparing the loss of his diary with the Balkan crisis, I choose to think of it as trauma.

Decisions have had to be made about which poets to lose, which to keep, and which to consign to the downstairs quarters. (I do not name names. Sorry.) It has been immensely draining and hard. And oddly easy, too, like a laboratory practical of The North’s ‘Poets I Go Back To’ column. Remembering that I try to invite writing tutees to make their edits as quickly as possible, I broke the habit of a lifetime and followed my own advice. The Augean Stables were spick and span in no time.

I will relay one state secret to you. Very early on in the move I realised that everything was up for grabs except the Americans. Nobody on that team has budged. How could I part with the estimable K’s: Kenyon, Kinnell, Kleinzahler, Koch and Kooser? Or that glorious run of H’s: Halliday, Hass, Hoagland and Howe? (OK, so I named some Names.)

It wasn’t going to happen. Given my predilection for living out of a box, it probably never will. The Poets I Go Back To are back, alphabetically arranged, looking new somehow. Most of all, they are within reach.


  1. Poets have been lost here too, this week (no Americans, though). I have been going through my bookshelves (an annual event) and having a poetry clear out. However, as always, I tend to take a book off the shelf, turn a few pages, feeling sure that I don’t engage with a particular poet any longer and then something catches my eye and I start reading. Then, after a long pause, the book is back on the shelf. I have managed to find about five inches of shelf space this year. Room enough to welcome a couple of collected works or several slim volumes of new work…..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Welcome to your new space, Anthony. You wrote my heart this morning. Moving in March to a tiny new place but leaving behind a terrible personal situation meant choosing the books. Like you, I knew which ones had to come. I sometimes regret one or another I didn’t bring, but I remind myself of psychologist Rollo May’s wise words (for all occasions): “To the best of my lights, this is what I choose to do although I may know more and choose differently tomorrow.”
    Yours, Molly

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for this Molly. The new space is actually an old space that I sit in, but new to me. Now other people have space because I have moved, and that is good. As ever with good wishes to you, Anthony


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