I have been conversing, in the comments section beneath "I Know, I Know, I Know", with Australian uber-poet Glenn Cooper about bookshops. He works in one. I occasionally visit one when I'm cold and I have a few moments to spare. But I don't go in often; and I never go in with the expectation of finding something good to read, unless I'm on Charing Cross Road in London(and even then I don't hold my breath.)
Why? Listen, most of the readers who pass through these pages are in the writing/ publishing game in one way or another. We all know poets, even if we never write a line ourselves. And consequently we all know that there is a remarkable, dynamic, global poetry scene that is just not being represented in the bookshops--maybe it is in other countries, but it certainly isn't in the UK. It makes me sick, sending and receiving emails from poets like Glenn and then going into a bookshop and seeing the same old stuff, year after year after year, with a notable shrinkage of the more esoteric or hip writing from the past as well--e.e.cummings is everywhere, but can you find Bunting or Hart Crane? or Harry Fainlight? The bigger presses occasionally throw out supposed new waves or next generations of poetry stars, but when you read 'em it's the same post-Ted Hughes/ post-Douglas Dunn lifeless, boring old verse; I've read hundreds of these books, albeit from the Library, but I can't remember one poem or the name of one author from the bunch--they are as substantial as an uninteresting rumour half-heard by a deaf man in a noisy crowd.
It's time something was done about it!
So my plan this weekend is to write a letter to Waterstone's, my local coffee franchise--uh, bookshop chain--alerting them to the existence of a living poetry scene, naming twenty authors whose works should be on their shelves, and offering to put the bookshop managers in touch with the poets. I'll publish the letter when I write it and post any response I get from them.
This righteous action probably won't change anything, since local managers have to work within company policy, I presume, and the bookshop chains are megaliths who exist--like Tesco or Costa Coffee--to make ££££. These places will probably always be repositories for horrible, bland poetry shunted in by the publishing houses with the biggest financial clout. But at least we'll be smuggling the names of some of the world's finest living poets through their doors at last. And we'll have a little fun at the expense of the Big Boys.
The Twenty, of course, will be my list, skewed to suit my taste. But most of you will agree with some of it.