Rickaro Books, of Horbury, is one of our most distinguished independent bookshops and, like all distinguished independent booksellers, Richard Knowles knows that events don’t just happen: you have to work at them. Therefore, although World Book Day – and, by extension, World Book Week – is getting a huge amount of support from the Booksellers Association and individual publishers, with lots of media coverage, whether or not a bookseller succeeds in making it work is down in the end to himself or herself.
Richard has arranged events for almost every day of this week, leading up to World Book Day itself, which is tomorrow, Thursday March 6th. (If you’re interested in finding out more, please click here.) Tomorrow, he is entertaining a group of schoolchildren in the shop, all wearing fancy dress, and is even going to dress up himself! (I find this amusing: Richard has obviously mellowed since I worked with him all those years ago, when, if not exactly child-unfriendly, he was certainly selective about the children that he liked!)
However, when I read about Richard’s celebrations for World Book Week, the Rickaro Books event that most intrigued me was the one that took place yesterday. I made plans to attend it immediately. It was a live poetry evening, with Ralph Dartford and Matthew Hedley Stoppard (who refers to himself on Twitter as ‘the poor man’s Benedict Cumberbatch’, a soubriquet that immediately endeared him to me). The shop has an excellent track record at organising poetry readings (I’ve written about them on this blog before) and I knew that yesterday’s would not disappoint.
The two poets recited alternately with the fluency and skill which comes from complete command of the material. Both were consummate performance artists, but what really impressed me was the quality of the poetry itself. It is my experience that many live poets are performers first, poets second, but both Ralph and Matthew are exceptional poets as well as being brilliant at engaging with a bookshop audience. The latter was pretty special, too, and included a small boy named George who was dressed as Peter Pan.
If you are not familiar with Ralph’s and Matthew’s work and you like poetry, I recommend that you invest in the two books (AND Matthew’s lovely green vinyl record!) that I bought last night. Cigarettes, Beer and Love, by Ralph, takes the form of a chapbook that has been beautifully produced by the Ossett Observer on hand-made paper. Matthew’s A Family Behind Glass, published by Valley Press, has all the elegance of a classic ‘slim volume’. Which poems did I enjoy most last night?
Well, the Co-op store in Ossett will never be quite the same to me again, now that Ralph has given me ‘Co-op Live Art Fiasco’, which describes his effort to show the individuals in the checkout queue that their investment in the Lottery pays for art (and his wages)… by stripping stark naked and doing some ‘live art’ with a Lucozade bottle. The constable summoned to the event says: “I once saw something like this in Berlin. A scratch card paid for the trip. I quite liked it.” (Ralph was led away at 08.46.) As readers of this blog know well, I’m game for a laugh, but there’s serious stuff behind Ralph’s humour.
Ralph describes Matthew as the ‘cerebral’ one of the pair (but all their poems last night were ‘thinky’, even the most superficially frivolous of them!). In fact, one poem of Matthew’s touched me a lot and spoke to me very clearly from my own past in our first rented marital flat in Leeds.
He set the context of a rented house in Rothwell, his and his wife’s first home, at a time when, he said, they weren’t really ready to be adults, yet. I’ll give you the first stanza, so that you may be touched as well:
Now that the streetlamps have stolen the stars
From the afternoon sky, sleep, content
And lovely as custard, pours over us. We sit
With winter on the settee, arm in arm –
Our legs interlaced like denim snakes,
Bedlam pressed between our palms. [From ‘The Wendy House’]
Matthew is about to take up a post with Leeds City Libraries: I’d like to wish him well with this. Ralph works for the Arts Council, and knows Chris and Jen Hamilton-Emery of Salt Publishing. He observed, unsurprisingly, that they are both ‘lovely people’. He kindly bought In the Family before he left the shop, which gave what had already been a very enjoyable evening a considerable extra fillip for me!
I wish Richard every success with World Book Day. (I’d love to be a fly on the wall when he receives the schoolchildren tomorrow, but unfortunately I have to travel to London instead.) And I hope very much indeed that I shall meet Matthew and Ralph again. In the meantime, I shall enjoy reading their poetry for myself. Thanks to them for introducing me so beautifully to it.
Precious poetry pack
How to get a book signed by two priceless poets
Happily my visit to Barcelona coincided with the celebration of St. George’s Day (on Tuesday 23rd April); ‘Sant Jordi’ is big in this city, which honours him with a much higher profile than we extend to him as our national patron saint. It was, of course, also World Book Day. I’m not sure whether it was owing to Spanish influence that the UK and the USA have chosen this date for their annual bookfest, but I am certain that the people of Catalonia got there first. In Barcelona, it is an ancient tradition to celebrate St George’s role as the patron saint of books. Booksellers bring book stalls out on to the pavements and everyone enters into the spirit of celebrating the book. Sales throughout the day are brisk; almost everyone I saw travelling on the Metro in the evening was carrying a bag of books. There is a carnival atmosphere. St George is remembered by a rose and an ear of corn, symbolising the damsel that he rescued and himself as her rescuer. Traditionally, the Spanish man of honour presented his lady with a rose accompanied by a corn stalk, to which she responded by giving him a book. Christina James, I am proud to say, received her rose (well, three, in fact!) and, for pleasure’s sake, not duty’s, gave her man a book. (For the romantics amongst you – and to the smiles of Catalan onlookers – kisses were exchanged…)
To walk the streets, roses in hand, amid the throng of local people intent on having a good time, was to share in a general joie-de-vivre and to have a precious opportunity to talk to enthusiastic lovers of books. Beautiful displays of roses and red and yellow striped ribbons and flags adorned street corners and pavements everywhere. Music filled the air and the sun shone.
On a more business-like level, I feel that there may be something for us to learn from this. It did strike me at the time that Catalan booksellers are fortunate in being able to place such confidence in the weather; I could imagine a similar event in London or Leeds being suddenly dampened (in every sense of the word) by a sharp shower. And World Book Day is a remarkable achievement, a miracle of co-operation and generosity between all the elements of the book industry and a huge army of volunteers. Nevertheless, no-one was being given anything in Barcelona: roses came at €3 each; books were sold at full price. In a sense, it was all about celebrating the skills of booksellers themselves and the pleasures that they bring… and showing that they are worth paying for. We in the UK should honour our booksellers more and they should learn to expect and accept our homage gracefully and with attitude.