Nice things to look at on my desk as I start to write today.
Sheltering underneath the petals my little happy horses (a gift from Offspringette) and a dish of stones from some special places (to me) in New Zealand.
And then a copy of Off the Shelf - A Celebration of Bookshops in Verse edited by Carol Ann Duffy and published any day now to coincide with Shore to Shore, the Poet Laureate's nationwide poetry tour of Britain which sets off from Falmouth in Cornwall this Sunday (19th).
Carol Ann Duffy's plan is to tour the country with a group of fellow poets performing in locations various whilst working in collaboration with independent bookshops and for that reason there will be a three month period of exclusivity for the book, only for sale in said bookshops, before its general release in September. Jumping on the bus (there is a real bus) will be Jackie Kay (Makar of Scotland) Imtiaz Dharker, Gillian Clarke and musician and composer John Sampson (who will be taking along his crumphorn and for that reason Carol Ann Duffy says he'll have to sit on his own) and along the way many more local guest poets joining in.
Minstrels and versifiers in the ancient tradition, it's going to be one great big party and this to my mind is what we want of a Poet Laureate. Personally I'm not worried about special poems for the big occasions, I want someone who gets out there and meets and entertains the people.
And goodness me couldn't we all do with some minstreling and versifying now that the Queen's Birthday is over, the football madness is all going to hell in a basket and ...well I'm not mentioning anything else.
So how lovely to think about independent bookshops instead, because, as Carol Ann Duffy says,
'Shore to Shore will celebrate both our national art form and our wonderful independent bookshops, so often the cultural heartbeat of their local communities.'
And elaborating on why and how...
'Independent local bookshops are here as long as continue to treasure and support them. It is my belief that there is not a writer nor a reader in the land who is not passionate about independent local bookshops... They are rooted in their immediate geography and in turn offer us the chance to travel to endless other worlds of our choosing through the books they hold. Run with boundless passion, deep knowledge, local expertise and the independent spirit, independent bookshops offer readers in their communities a service akin to pastoral care.'
The book is an absolute treasure, beautifully bound (with ribbon bookmark, you know how partial I am to those) and with poems commissioned by Carol Ann Duffy from a wide selection of poets. Inside you will find, among others...
Sean Borodale musing on a visit to the Bookbarn and if you have been there you will know of what he writes...
Michael Symmons Roberts, on the future of books, examines an imaginary core sample of our age, 'our slice has its own distinctive shade and scent...
Gillian Clarke talks of old books 'with leathery breath and freckled leaves'...
Jean Sprackland's The Girl Who Ate Books brings new meaning for those of us oft finding ourselves 'devouring' them..
Don Patterson just does something very clever with a single word..
Jackie Kay's Silver Moon will resonate with anyone (like me) who has a copy of Court and Spark or Dark Side of the Moon in their record collection and 'how you grew up reading nights to dawn.'
And the inestimable Clive James turns his poetic and humorous eye towards the rigors of the signing table, imagining himself slumping exhausted on the floor of the bookshop, his final resting place...the last lines of Apotheosis at the Signing Table are a fitting climax... wonderful. I won't spoil it.
Whilst Carol Ann Duffy herself writes In the Drowned Bookshop and I was reminded of those sorrowful pictures (maybe it was Cockermouth) of the books floating around in the flooded shop.
From Falmouth to Bath and thence on to Oxford, Chipping Norton, Monmouth, Crickhowell, Bridgnorth, Oswestry, Caernarfon, Bramhall, Carlisle, Corbridge, St Boswell's, Biggar and rolling into St Andrews for the final gig on July 2nd you can find all the information about dates and venues and ticket sales here.
This promises to be a wonderful celebration of poetry and of books and the passion we all have for buying them, so please do scroll down for Magnus and gifts (LOTS OF THEM) and enjoy more Gillian Clarke on the way..
'What stays is not the book alone
but where you took it down,
how it felt in your hands,
how she wrapped it in brown paper,
how you carried it home,
how it holds wild seas
that knock the earth apart,
how words burn, freeze,
to break and heal your heart.
(Extract: In a Cardiff Arcade 1952 ~ Gillian Clarke)