Saturday, June 11, 2005

Oxfam Bookshops and a heron

I walked to Chorlton along the Mersey today, and saw a heron on the riverbank. It flew across from one side to the next and then stood there, like an elegant and rather old-fashioned lady. Then, when I got to Chorlton, I couldn't resist the lure of the Oxfam bookshop.

It had three books that I should probably read: two Robert Duncan's and an Ed Dorn. However, they still remain on the bookshop. One day I'll get round to them, as I probably ought to. I like Ed Dorn's Gunslinger, so I ought to like his other poetry; but Robert Duncan has always seemed rather too oracular for my taste. So I left those on the shelf.

And bought instead a book by Venus Khoury-Gatta called She Says, for the princely sum of £2.99. I've read some of her elegant, long lined and often sequential poems in magazines like PN Review and Banipal before and always admired their easy-seeming grace, their flights of reality rather than fantasy, and - well, I had to use it - their heron-like qualities. All her poems are rooted in her experience as an Arabic Francophone writer who's mother tongue is Arabic but who always writes in French. In an essay at the back of the book, she talks about her native tongue as the language that people die in, reflecting the terrible experiences of Lebanon in the '70's perhaps. These two sequences, Words and She Says, are, I feel, going to stay in my mind for awhile. There are French influences (how could there not be? She's lived in Paris 30 years) and a kind of very subtle surrealism in the poems; but there's also a very deep sense of her own Arabic culture in the poems.

I love finding these discoveries in bookshops, and Oxfam bookshops can be particularly rich: I discovered Appollinaire's The Poet Assassinated in Lancaster, and Lorca's Barbarous Nights in Didsbury. That's what second-hand books are for, I feel, and it's also great to feel that your obsession with books is also helping someone else.

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