Each week the London listings pour out another jug-full of mind-boggling hand-clapping crowd-roaring heart-blazing culturally-edifying possibilities that flow out across the Thames into every back street and crooked corner, loud and glorious delights.
And then, right in the middle of it all, right under your nose, some delights barely break above a whisper.
Step out of Waterloo, beneath the bridge, round the back, between Southbank Centre and the NFT, the rooftop garden green and tempting, high ahead of you. Turn left into the Southbank Centre and immediately to your right for the Singing Lift. Step in and press 5. Let the choir serenade you up there. Turn out, turn left. Shh.
This is the Library in London’s jacket pocket. It has been nestled here since 1988, though it began in the post-War boom of the 1950s.
As of 2012, the collection itself spans 100 years, from the estimated birth of Modern Poetry, the sharp hewn lines of poets like Ezra Pound and Hilda Doolittle slicing through the remains of Romanticism in the face of the 20th Century and the oncoming Great War.
You don’t have to know the names of poetic movements to come here. You don’t even need to know any poems. You just peel a book off the shelf, part a page (or unclip a CD from its jewel-case) and go.
“You mean, there’s a whole library for poetry?!” Chrissy says. She works here. Obviously she knows there is a library for poetry. She’s just telling me what people say when she tells them where she works. She sits gently nestled by piles of poetry journals that she digitises for the online collection.
“ ‘You mean, there’s a whole library for poetry?!’,
‘How big is it?!’,
‘Over 200,000 items’,
‘What? But what’s it for?’ ”.
“And what do you tell them?” I ask
“I ask them if they’ve ever been to a wedding or funeral that hasn’t had a poem. And why is it we turn to that? Why do we turn to poetry of all things at such big life moments? Better than anything else, poetry expresses the inexpressible”.
Jon, who’s been a librarian here since before the SBC redevelopment in 2005, says that for him, poetry is a great mood-changer. “say, if I want to feel upbeat, I’ll pick Ivor Cutler, or John Hegley, or even Ted Hughes”.
Kasmyn says she loves how poetry enables you to “Look in a book and remember yourself”. I think that’s a wonderfully poetic way for her to make her point. In fact, pretty much everyone who works here is both avid reader and writer.
“I don’t think people end up here casually, saying ‘oh I may as well’”, says Chrissy (also a poet), “It seems more like somewhere that people actively want to work”.
“That’s true” says Librarian (and novelist) Mia.
Whilst some of the librarians come from backgrounds with literature running in their families, just as many had nothing but a spark of curiosity that led them to it. Same as the visitors then.
Some people say “’I don’t know poetry’, ‘I’m not into poetry’, Why is there a library for poetry?’, and then scurry away” Mia notes, “but generally, when I tell people that I work here, they say “Lucky you”.
I could never have dreamt that there were such goings-on / in the world between the covers of books / such sandstorms and ice blasts of word / such
staggering peace, such enormous laughter / such and so many blinding bright lights…
Thomas, Dylan (second bookcase on the right, third shelf down)
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