A warm welcome to Lilias Fraser.
I work at the Scottish Poetry Library, in Edinburgh. We’re small but we have a national remit, so my job title of ‘Reader Development Officer’ covers a whole heap of things including, whenever possible, working with friends and colleagues in library authorities around the country, including – of course -Glasgow.
Not everybody feels comfortable about diving into poetry headfirst – or perhaps it’s more that there are so many poems out there, so many different kinds, where to start again if you haven’t read any since school? Well, give me a couple of hours with your bookgroup and I guarantee there’ll be plenty to talk about (she said, a scary gleam in her eye).
One way I’ve been discussing with Glasgow library colleagues and others is recommending poems to go with particularly books. A few years ago, I was exploring matching whole books of poems with fiction (you can see some of the results in our Reading Room site. But what if there’s just not enough time to discuss a whole extra book? So I’d been thinking about matching a single poem with a book.
You know what? It’s strangely addictive. Take a book that’s really stood out for you recently – either liked it or loathed it. Now think about what it was that seemed most important in the book; perhaps an atmosphere of fear, or an irreverent sense of humour, or a particularly swaggering narrator, or an evocative place and time, or a doomed love affair in Elizabethan England, or maybe a maverick investigator who has a dual identity as a chartered accountant. Whatever it was, there’ll be poems that encapsulate something important about the book. Not all the details of the book, but the most important thing. Maybe you remember a poem that stuck with you, because it was about that very thing. Maybe you’ll find the perfect poem by browsing through anthologies – try some of the excellent anthologies from Bloodaxe, Being Alive or Being Human for a great range of contemporary poems by theme. Refresh your memory with some of the anthologies that specialise in favourite poems and classics, as either a book or a recording. Or you can search poems on Poetry Archive and Poetry Foundation, and very soon on our new website, by theme. You could even try searching for poems including a particular word – ‘accountant’ or ‘terror’ or ‘Elizabethan’ – and see what you turn up.
Some books obligingly include a poet in them – Wolf Hall has a fleeting portrait of Sir Thomas Wyatt. But it’s more fun if you have fewer clues, somehow. I’m particularly pleased with a poem I found by John Burnside to go with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It’s about a computer operating system, and how our subconscious works, and a strange search for both of them that seems to lead to a locked door in the basement. Try your own search. But just be warned; as Salander finds, opening that door gets you drawn in deeper. I’ve just been looking further down the blog and I’m wondering what would match One Day. I’m sure I saw the perfect poem last week. Let me just go and get that collection…