‘Something looks different,’ the book says. ‘Have you been shaving again?’
‘You can talk,’ I say. ‘As it happens, you’re right. I’ve had a clear out.’
‘Let me guess, that disgusting cardigan you bought off eBay a year ago?’
‘The less said about that the better. But it did go in a bin liner, yes. With a whole ton of poetry.’
The book looks at me for a moment. I notice, not for the first time, that it has stolen my favourite jacket.
‘Poetry?’ it says. ‘You got rid of poetry?’
‘You heard me. I got rid of some poetry. Oxfam. Every little helps.’
‘Wrong shop,’ the book says, shaking its head.
‘In pedant mood again, I see.’
The book sits for a moment, taking in my news. I notice that my jacket looks rather better on the book than it does me.
‘Go on then. Who? Who d’you get rid of?’
‘You know I don’t do names,’ I say, shaking my head.
‘Simon Armitage? Don Paterson? What about that Lithuanian you keep going on about but never read. Did you get rid of him?’
‘And she is Estonian.’
‘You’re welcome.’ There is a silence. ‘So go on then. Who? Rilke? C.K. Williams? Dana Gioia?’
‘None of the above. You may as well stop now. I’m not going to tell you.’ There is another silence. The book and I look at each other.
‘Men,’ I say, finally.
‘Men. Everyone you mentioned was a man.’
‘I need to work on that,’ the book says. ‘I’m going to work on it.’
There is another silence. I notice the book is also wearing my favourite hat.
‘Who, then? Elizabeth Bishop?’
‘Don’t be absurd. You are not listening. I am not going to do the names.’
‘I saw The Names once,’ the book says. ‘Supporting Kevin Hewick, if memory serves. Under a pub in West Hampstead.’
‘I may have got rid of too much,’ I say. ‘It’s hard to say. There was one Irish poet…’
‘Not Tom Paulin? You love Tom Paulin. Even I like Tom Paulin.’
‘It was not Tom Paulin. But there was one…’
‘Do mind if you let me finish? I was just saying, there was one that I put in the bin liner, that I sort of feel guilty about, not because of the actual poems, I haven’t read them or felt the urge to in years, but because of their reputation. It felt a bit like getting rid of one of my hands, you know, something, someone that’s always been there. I still don’t know how I feel about it.’
‘Sounds like you’re confused. That you might be making a trip up to Oxfam to buy them back.’
‘Look. Just answer me this. Were you keeping them because you loved their work or because they made you look well-read?’
‘The latter. I said goodbye to them a long time ago. I just hadn’t realised it.’
‘Well there you are then,’ says the book. ‘Look at all that space you have now. For books you actually like.’