letter from David

Birmingham-based poet, friend and source of inspiration David Hart e-mailed me in response to the BBC Nightwaves debate on the future of the book, broadcast on 14th October and for the time being still accessible on iPlayer HERE . I said I'd like to quote his words on the blog and he sent me this revised version. 

Oct.15th (and revised 17th) 2010      Dear Chris

When I switched on to Nightwaves I didn't know you'd be there, as it were, it was a pleasure, good to hear you. [And then discovered it was pre-recorded, so you weren't really there then].

    I couldn't simply sit and listen, so I continued with moving my books around, which I've been doing lately, rearranging shelf space, pulling some out to take to the local Oxfam Bookshop. Which reminds me there is now no secondhand bookshop in Birmingham apart from a corridor and small back room of one in Digbeth and 3 Oxfam. The last of the traditionals, one I've been going to for at least 20 years, closed a few weeks ago. The even much older one in Lichfield closed a few weeks before that.

    My house is a small library. My son will inherit it, and it has become curious to me how different that inheritance seems year by year. When he's here from time to time he borrows books, it still works that way, but of the future I wonder.

    A few things occur to me after your discussion. I am reviewing the John Ashbury Collected Poems 1956-1987 for the Stride web site; and such individual books of his I have already from those years and more recently, are so much more variously engaging and good to handle as objects. And there's - more than an aside - the fact (I think a fact) that a poem in one format is not the poem it is in another; subtle or very obvious, there's tangible difference.

      It is of cultural interest and, one might say, measures one's life, the changing style and feel of, for example, Penguins during the past 50 and more years. I have been collecting some Virginia Woolf from their own Hogarth Press editions through to new Penguins, and I think I really do sense time passing. I have one dust cover of her sister Vanessa Bell's design, it has a presence.

    Something else that matters to me is that I can pick up a book, or even notice it on the shelves, and as it were it remembers me and I it. Here's the one book (Housman) my father gave me, here's Sylvia Plath's Ariel hb, new then when I bought it after my finals, this DADA book dated by me then (1967) tells me how early in my life it mattered to me, books signed by poets at readings, books given to me at significant moments, and there are Bibles, hymn books, books for private as well as shared occasions, here's Christopher Meade's Betty Spital, -

      I have just been told of a young poet at a book festival reading from her new pamphlet to three people and her family. I reply, 'Chris Meade would say....'

     And then I think, how does a poem via the web or an ipod connect us the way reading a poem face to face does? If the human voice, its sound, mode, mood, goes missing, hasn't something essential gone? It seems the next step or two will be - as now one way via You Tube - to connect voice and eyes electronically, reader and listener/watcher, while the speaker is at home and the reader is on a bus and can respond. Maybe it's happening already. Still, flesh goes missing, we become bodyless.

        My feeling about some books is that their physical presence provokes memories, so that even smells and particular moments 'come back' to me, and that few books are wholly neutral in this way. Some sets of books relate to poetry projects, a whole shelf, say, to an aspect of my life, many I've only dipped into but there may come a time..., some hardly opened but then I am surprised by them, and often there's a handling effect - physical contact with more than I think I remember. And there have been poetry readings, well attended or not: ah, signed books!

      There is a contrary aspect, which is when I wish I had a room with nothing in it at all except a comfortable carpet, and that my house could breathe more openly without books. 

      My daughter phones me from London walking to the tube, my son as he walks to a supermarket half way around the world. I have walked about Bloomsbury with my daughter looking for Virginia Woolf-related places. I said, when she got out her phone, Ah satnap. Satnav, she said, and it told us: up this street, cross over to that square,... It's a wonder; I'm not sure it's better, lost often though I've been.

What you said, in the broadcast, about this new generation of young people, is out of my ken really. I won't be doing this, but the fluency is there in them to be in the world quite differently, I do see that.

     I do want to say as well, though, that whereas I used to so enjoy bus and train travel, and for many years now have had no car, now this travel is a misery. And there does seem a self-consciousness about the selfishness of it, people never allow eye contact when their phone rings or they ring it, or while they are speaking. This noise (usually much louder than conversation) along with the noise of 'music' (horrible beat usually) from whatever little technos, has been a desecration of communal life. In shops, too, of course, and in the street, even along river walks and on park benches. There are little cafes where I used to sit with a pot of tea and a notebook that I would never enter now; experience has told me there is no quiet there any more.

    I've known no-one more community friendly than you, more delighting in what can happen when people come together. Even on the radio you were smiling.

Thanks all the best,



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