Rarely have I tried to write poetry. It always seemed pompous, pretentious and prone to hyperbole. I can do that with novels and short stories of course, but poetry conjures up images of effete Victorians with flowing, rather damp locks (from the effort) and limp wrists, (although I know one or two proper poets who would punch my lights out at the idea). My wrists remain firm and my locks, although not flowing with the lengthy vigour of yesterday, are dry. But I do enjoy other people’s poems, particularly Haiku.
I came across The Bookseller website, saw a call to celebrate the independent bookseller and it brought back happy memories of many childhood hours spent in libraries and dusty bookshops, now lost to the world.
One in particular.
As I remembered Miss Carter’s bookshop, I did do with great fondness. For her, for the shop, for the books, for the experience of going to places where my parents and most of my friends had never been. It was virtual reality before the term was coined.
So, I unravelled a flap of goatskin parchment I was saving for my obituary, dusted my wig, took down my quill, dipped it into an inkwell full of Swan Indigo, then put all aside and booted up the Macbook.
The resulting poem is called “Miss Carter”. It doesn’t altogether capture the wonder I felt when entering her bookshop, or the excitement I felt when I received my pocket money and knew exactly which book I would buy, but it’s close. It doesn’t capture the awe in which I held her, either. She knew and had read every book in the shop, where they were positioned on the shelves and could give an immediate précis of specific content. At one point I believed she was a witch, but a benevolent one with an uncanny ability to point me in the right direction to the right book at exactly the right time.
Much to my surprise, The Bookseller lowered its standards and accepted my alleged poem for publication on its site, along with others. My literary triumph was somewhat muted by the description tag of me as a ‘Contemporary Romance Author’ but I forgave them the error (since corrected, thanks Tamsin!). There is a romance author who published on Amazon several years after me using the name J.D. Hughes and a very similar typeface for reasons I don’t quite understand, but hey, my next novel will be published under the pseudonym ‘Agatha Christie’ and I’ve changed my typeface, so I can’t complain.
I did get one communication from a reader asking me why I had changed from romance to unhinged and violent paranormal thrillers, but I didn’t have the heart to disabuse her of the idea and anyway I don’t write violent anymore since the world seems to have sufficient of that without my two pennorth. I might stick with unhinged, though.
So, here is ‘Miss Carter.’ Don’t all laugh at once!
It’s a bloody betting shop now
Odds evens smell of gloomy money
Miss Carter’s magic house of gold
dusted squealing stairs
full of Formica and miserable buggers
spending the rent on absent dreams shouting
as if they could be recalled to life
by rage or begging
Not quiet people lost and found
between the pages
that smell of everything but coal
as we pull back to wide angled horizons
neurons racing ragged above the worlds
Miss Carter, who used to be a big wheel
in The Smoke as we called it in Donny
until she came to a funeral and missed
the train home for twenty years
Steel strand hair miraculous grey
like a cloud she peered through
and peering down now at me
in my short trousers full of famous conkers
Green school jacket one side burned
Sulphuric acid yellow in the shape of Spain
from a mishap that lasted until I looked daft
wearing it and a coke stained birthday shilling
sweating in my Sam Spade mitt.
Then ‘You need a biscuit, boy.’
A rich tea later and a trek past
the gathered ranks of War and Peace
for the umpteenth glance of disbelief
‘Tolstoy’ she said ‘You need four years.’
She knew the bookshop had me.
I fell in love.