Thursday, 3 July 2014

On not being a Faber poet

I visited the new Foyles bookshop in the Charing Cross Road recently, a few yards away from the old Foyles, now relocated to the former St. Martin's School of Art. All very bright and spiffy, and encouragingly bustling. But something was missing.

In the old store one entered through the usual clutter of new fiction and celebrity cookbooks and postcards and magazines and Moleskine notebooks and almost immediately, on the left, arrived in the poetry section, which was quite large and prominent yet tucked away in a quiet backwater, away from the bustle of the ground floor crowds. There were chairs.

In the new store the much-reduced poetry section (it's perhaps a quarter of the size it was) is in an easily-overlooked upstairs  corner, and hemmed in by graphic novels, and the sort of browsers who prefer graphic novels to poetry. (As it happens I admire many graphic novels, but found the juxtaposition unsettling.) There are no chairs.

Shouldn't bookstores follow the example of department stores. which invariably welcome the customer with the fragrant delights of the cosmetics counters? I'm not saying poetry is the same thing as perfume, or even soap, or moisturisers, but it's undeniable that one's first impression on entering (say) John Lewis or Selfridges or Harrods is of glamour, prestige, allure and elegance. Also pleasant smells and youthful vitality and freshness. You wouldn't expect pots and pans or lawnmowers and dustbins. High value luxury items have an inherent attraction: if books are cosmetics then poetry is perfume, and I mean Guerlain's Vol de Nuit (see blogs passim)

Which reminds me of a daydream since adolescence, prompted by the gift of Ted Hughes's Wodwo when I was fifteen. The dream was not merely to become a poet (we all dream of that at some point), but to become a Faber poet. My never-to-be-written debut volume (entitled Fungoids as a tribute to Max Beerbohm's Enoch Soames) would appear in bright yellow cloth binding, with a dust jacket designed by Berthold Wolpe, the title in his noble Albertus typeface, and on the back my name would appear between John Berryman and e. e. cummings. Fungoids would cost 12s 6d net (three weeks' pocket money), the same price as Auden's Homage to Clio, which I hadn't read but liked the sound of. It's a dream still, though Faber sans Wolpe is salad without the dressing.

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