|Posted by Susan Shand on January 17, 2013 at 12:45 AM||comments (5)|
Isn’t it nice when you get free stuff? The first live renga I went to some people gave out printouts of their work, little booklets printed at home, containing a small collection of haiku or a previous renga, sequences or longer poems. It was a generous gift and I have kept them. Not so much simply because they were a gift but because for me at the time, that gift of poetry was symbolic of an internal acceptance that it really was Ok for me to be a poet. Poetry was something I had always done, but not something which identified me. I could, I decided, call myself a ‘poet’, I could spend time with people who were also called ‘poets’, I could take time out from other things to go away on my own and enjoy making poetry. When I look at those handouts now I can recall the feeling of pleasure and honour of that moment and renew that feeling of self-acceptance and self-definition.
In this new age of e-books and cheap or free downloads for Kindle etc, my passion for books is thwarted. Here, at my fingertips are hundreds of books ready to download and read, for nothing! Initially I thought it was wonderful and downloaded loads of stuff onto my new Kindle — only to find that most of it wasn’t on my bookshelves because it wasn’t worth buying. Great swathes of fiction never got past the first chapter before being deleted, some no farther than the first page. I struggled along with some books which I would never buy but thought I ought to read, Neitzsche was an early download from Gutenburg which is still on there, just. Its really useful for train journeys that one; because you can gaze out of the window, look as though you are pondering his torpid philosophy, and renew your faith in the beauty of the world at the same time. It doesn’t have quite the sting of wafting the book about so everyone can see the high level of your casual reading matter… but these days you are lucky if anyone is looking any further than their own electronic gadgets to even notice.
I discover that I miss the feel of holding a book, of owning new books that I can flip through for reference or snuggle up in bed with. There is nothing quite so wonderful as the smell of a library full of books. I always used to say that I was more interested in the contents than anything else; the wisdom or the poetry, the escape into other worlds, or the saunter through the adventure of other minds – but I find that is not entirely true. Occasionally there is something which is enduring, something which is so good that I want to physically own it. I want to see the words in real print and hear the pages turn, find a place for it on my shelves and take it down now and again to renew the joy and adventure of that first reading. Or to see new things which I hadn’t noticed before.
People say that the world of print books is dying. That we will all keep our reading matter in one small tablet along with our social lives, the music we like to listen to, the TV programmes we like to watch, and the games we play. They say that writing is as ephemeral as the news. I suppose in a sense that is true, if you look at the bookshelves in any charity shop you will see hundreds of books which, having been remaindered or once read, are discarded. Few of those books are worth a second read; yet there they are, with their author’s names attesting to their claim to call themselves an ‘author’ or a ‘writer’.
With the ease of electronic publishing, the e-book is becoming a popular and growing trend in the world of poetry; mostly because it is so difficult to get any publisher to even look at poetry without the title “Laureate” after your name. It is easier in the USA than in Britain, here there isn’t the same public acceptance of poetry outside of the children’s market. So e-publishing is often the only way for people to get their work in print to a wider audience. There is however, a trend which mirrors the print market. Amongst the single-read pdf’s and the trudge through the dust of someone’s infrequently visited and inadequately explored attic; there are rare examples which leap straight into my kitchen, into my heart and mind, and which I want to touch. I want to actually own and hold these works because I recognise that this is a real gift which will endure.
So I am still buying books, still planning more bookshelves, and looking forward to the revolution in publishing waking up to the enduring allure of the printed page beautifully bound; to when they return to printing the enduring and leave the ephemeral to their e-existence.