“There is no love without loss.”
When I walked into the British Library, or, later that same day, the Poetry Library, I wasn’t thinking of my sister, who’s a medical librarian. I wasn’t even thinking of my late mother, who was a children’s librarian, and the key person responsible for my love of books.
That day, last week, it was all about me, and them: those magnificent keepers of the world’s knowledge, and passion. Because what is poetry, if it isn’t full of love, and loss, and the bittersweet experience we call life?
Today, though, I feel the distance between myself, and those I love: the distance of an ocean, and air miles, in the case of my sister; and death, in the case of my mum.
Can books, and in particular, poetry, bring us closer to those we love? I believe they can.
So many books take real people as their starting point. Sometimes they’re novels, with a person – living or dead – the basis for one or more fictional characters. Other times, they take the form of biographies, or even autobiographies, where the writer’s purpose is as much to bring back lost loved ones, as to record their own accomplishments, and – if it’s a good autobiography – failures, and more memorable mess ups, too.
Last Wednesday, I made a library sandwich, visiting the British Library in the morning, and the Poetry Library in the afternoon. The filling was the meeting I went to, inbetween. Both my library visits were brief. I had breakfast in the cafe in the British Library courtyard, where I also wrote a poem, then hit the gift shop.
I’ve been to the British Library at least half a dozen times now, but this was my first visit to the Poetry Library. My gratitude goes to my friend the author Stephanie Cage, who suggested my visit.
The Poetry Library is on the fifth floor of the Royal Festival Hall, some place else I’d never been before, and which I found thanks to a friendly Londoner who was originally from Sierra Leone, and was attending his daughter’s concert at the Hall.
The library itself was much less grand than I’d expected, yet it was no less of a pleasure to visit. After a long, information packed meeting, it was good to get on the Tube, and then walk to, what was essentially a small, poetry-specific, library.
Having taken some snaps, and had a quick (Michi)gander, I decided to read some poetry by a writer who I’d previously avoided. All three were edited by her late husband, the Yorkshire poet Ted Hughes, whose festival is next month.
I’m sorry, Sylvia. I’m going to borrow one or two of your books from the local library. I’m still staying away from the “Bell Jar”, though. There’s only so much my bipolar tendency toward severe depression can take.
I like to think you’d understand.
It’s easy to misjudge people: write them off due to their mental, or physical health; or, indeed, both. To avoid them because of the way they smell, or think, or come out with inappropriate remarks from time to time.
Because they are them, and not us.
I took several photos of Nelson Mandela’s statue, as well as reading the inscription below. The older I get, the more I’m impressed by people who can move from positions of great suffering, and / or hatred, toward working with those who oppose, and opposed, them. People like Mandela, and Gandi; the Irishmen Martin McGuiness, and Ian Paisley. Which isn’t to suggest that they were all necessarily admirable people, for no one is, not all of the time.
Over the years I’ve shown a tendency to act like a record which keeps sticking, and skipping, in the same grooves, over, and over again.
It’s hard to move on, difficult to let go. And difficult to know when we should move on, and when we should stick to our metaphorical guns, and turn to our physical pens, and pencils, and keyboards.
I wish you a blessed and thoughtful Sunday, whoever, and wherever, you may be. May your thoughts be helpful ones; your library, peaceful.