ArtWorks Fellowship: Site Specific Poetry
Wall to wall, floor to ceiling books. Bunting made of books. Book towers, book blocks, book doors. Dusty, musty, earthy, magical misty, memories of autumn leaves, Nanna’s house, Auntie Phyllis cooking cabbage and meat. Interbooks is my little haven of heaven.
Ponty, once described as the Wild West, birth place of the Welsh national anthem and Tom Jones, has a market that is over 150 years old. Originally an agricultural market, and is still covered by a covenant that permits cattle to be driven through. The bookshop has been at the market for fifty years, and the current owner, Simon, has been there since 2000, expanding one unit to two.
Back in the day, as a much younger student, when visiting Ponty town, no matter what my errands were, I’d always pay a visit to:
* The bookshop in the market:
* The music shop hidden in the decaying precinct and;
* My bank to check on my student overdraft (life wasn’t as online then).
Over the years, I have bought and acquired many books. There have also been occasions when I’ve had to give up books, due to house moves, space issues, or more recently making way for a baby and the tremendous tool kits they rock up with. Whittling down books is a painful process, even more so than cleaning the bathroom, or worse, cleaning the oven! All other cleaning I can cope with. Whittling down books is even more agonising than getting rid of the clothes you love but can no longer love you back, without suffocating you or causing public humiliation. I genuinely care about where my books end up. So I always brought them to the bookshop. It’s like an animal rescue centre for books.
Seriously, I know a fair few bibliophiles, but nobody’s duty of care is as finely tuned as Simons. His responsibility as Book Master Guardian is both a full time job and lifeline, turned from avid reader and book collector, to turning his back on a senior management position with the NHS.
“I don’t think I chose books, they chose me. I remember my grandfather reading Westerns, and James Bond, and I remember reading Tin Tin and Asterix. I remember reading Papillon when I was 16”.
I asked him what is the first thing he does when he gets to work in the morning.
“I say good morning to the books”.
This is so beautiful. He’s my kind of guy. In a world where everything is so electronic and lacking actuality, and not enough care or consequence is given for tree graveyards and lack of gratitude for the materials we use and abuse, we truly need a book godfather.
“There are fourteen charity shops in Pontypridd. They recycle books, or controversially, pulp them, due to lack of fast sellability, or lack of space. Some charity shops have even stopped accepting books, and many will end up in landfills. This is wrong, books have so much power, they talk to you, like tuning into a radio. They are not only a necessity for this shop, they are a vital social source. The written word will never go, you can’t kill it off. Books exist, through physicality, they tap into your senses; you’ll never forget where you read a book. It will stay with you a lifetime. You can’t say the same about electronic readers. There is a definite shift, moving away from this technology to the traditional hard copy. Waterstones stopped selling kindles and last year there was a 5% increase in paperback sales across the U.K”.
I do appreciate that not everyone shares Simon and my love for books (their smells, their captivating covers, their hypnotic alluring ability to suck you in to another dimension, and filling our shelves, tables and windowsills) but our need to safeguard and rehome should not be ridiculed. Simon has great responsibility and insight, as a custodian of social interaction and as a purveyor of memories.
“I know so much about people, people I’ve never met; it’s sometimes a difficult feeling. I often find photographs, postcards, notes, lists, letters, love letters, apologies interleaved in my stock. I once found a pocket Bible from the 1920’s, dedicated to a wife on her wedding day from her husband, possibly the only thing they could afford. It really touched me. So many books are dedication, to our children, lovers, passed down through generations, heirlooms, history, that nobody wants, or it gets misplaced, caught up in the clutter that gets culled”.
They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but Simon could read you by the covers of your books.
“You can tell so much about a person by their book collection. I don’t see people, I see books. I know if their books have given them pleasure, or if the books were for reference or study. Books should always be “inspirators”. They can change your life, perspective, path, potential. I have a photographic memory for book covers. You can ask me for a book title, and I see colours, my brain metamorphosis’s book text into images. The face to face interaction is significantly important. Recommendations go both ways, idea sharing, and a personal touch that a computer can’t offer. It gets you out the house, opens up conversation, and a lot of emotional moments happen here. I’ve got my regulars, and worldwide returning visitors, as well as selling online globally. I’m constantly sourcing and rescuing books”.
They say that behind every good man is a good woman, and this endeavour surely is a family affair. Simon’s wife, Kathy, has a sweetshop right next to the bookshop, wall to wall, floor to ceiling of enticing, nostalgic treats, in beautiful buoyant bold glass jars that catch in the overhead lighting and glisten like stars, or the magical spotty film the sun creates on water. Kathy helps run the bookshop and speaks so beautifully of their relationship, together, and with their family ties to the stalls at the market, cemented by a sense of play and ease that makes it so easy to get up for work in the mornings.
“I sometimes get tingly toes, and a cold nose, but apart from that it’s perfect. When our dog was a puppy we’d bring him with us”.
And it would be criminal to not mention Simon’s other dedicated assistant, his Dad, Alan.
“I’m here every day, it keeps me busy, and I see my family. I sometimes take books home, detective books are my favourite, by Peter Robinson, or Peter James”.
He remembers the market’s history well and tells me about the silent films played here in the ‘20’s and the gigantic batteries used, and live bands like Bill Haley and the Comets that played here in the ‘60’s.
“I once passed Roger Moore in the corridor upstairs. There’s a two tier theatre upstairs. It’s where I proposed to my wife (Simon’s mother)”.
He plays down the importance of his commitment and engagement, but he truly is an asset to the team. I could have chatted to him all day, like getting lost in an enthralling book, but he has to leave.
“I’m the postman! Today’s book orders are going to the U.K, Jersey and Israel”.
I ask Simon, the Book Master Guardian, where does he see the future of our books and what needs to happen.
“Reading is safeguarding, and a new generation and passion is key. We need a younger driven force, to create book environments, promoting physicality. Also, so much art is being created with old books; we really need to embrace their beauty. As a species, we are socially decreasing, and futuristically we will become an upper torso, without a need to leave the house. Evolution will adapt our design”.
So I ponder, on the deepness, and of how many words are in this safe house, and I collect some books for my poetry, my research, my ‘just because’, and I gather up a big block of beauties until my arms can’t stretch out any further, and even when the bag is full, I clock vintage Dylan Thomas covers that beg me to buy, and I agree with ease despite having DT for days back at HQ.
When I get home, and drool over my luscious loot, I notice a vintage Penguin, and despite age still boast outrageous orange, and I’m certain it’s familiar. Upon inspection I find my step fathers name in the corner of the cover. My Little House on the Prairie found its way back home, where it belongs. Simon had safeguarded my moment of decluttering madness. Please safeguard yours.
How many words in this house?
Ghosts, spirits, Greek classics, magic
Takes my mind back to my roots, Auntie Phyllis cooking cabbage
The whole of our world wars replayed in comic
Beautiful battered skylines, both cosmic and clouded.
Legacy of Love, blocks, rows, banana boxes
Earthy colour, autumnal leaves, captains held captive
Left, right, up, down, side streets, secret passage
War, peace, strip trees, relentless romancing.
Safeguarded erotica, a maze laced in madness
My mind’s eye remains dry, help to bury the hatchet
Childs mind, curiously divine, nothing can match it
Lip licking liquorice, Mami dressed as Bertie Bassett.
Blue eyed boy and wide eyed girl like magpies for shinny wrapping
Woke up one day, amazed, how did this happen?
Good wives don’t cry, their smiles lie, perfect a pattern
The crying game has had its day, I do beg my pardon.
Pond life, infertility
Ghosts, spirits, good wives
The crying game, Greek classics
My mother’s house, city life
Murder a day, Bible
Sunflower, random acts
Wild cherry tree, doorstep twins
Sons and lovers, the ant’s guards
Shiny wrapping, snowy jazzies
Jelly beans, sherbet dips
Lollypops and smarties
Juicy cherries, sugared shrimps.
The cognitive toolbox
In our parallel evolution
Boosts our billions of neurons.
Instinct is quite different from learned intelligence
And the wild winds cement nostalgia
For ancestry, outside of me
Recalled for ritual
At this elephant graveyard
That pressurises participation
Using my cognitive toolbox
Grief, learning, mimicry
If you were me, then who would I be?
Hedge rows of readers that will never write
Has every writer read?
Disbelief driven by Willy’s plagiarism
In their literature ignorance he captured a market.
Our music commercially conceptualised
Our books remain personal
Writers’ personality disorders
Breathe life making musical.
I summon up new driving forces
Cutting keys for our youth
Mile high banana boxes
I hope they feast on the fruits.
My physicality giving gratitude
Indian insight for the sacrifice
Drug free pharmaceutical counter
I have just the book to change your life.