April Diary 11: you may already be obsolete

This entry is part 11 of 31 in the series April Diary


on the porch reading Elaine Equi (from near the end of her New and Selected which i just retrieved from the bottom of a pile) and i’m brushing goddamn snowflakes off the pages

i love Equi’s wit and regular nods toward surrealism, mainly at the level of metaphor but sometimes going further. she’s an absolute master of the craft. I was nudged to re-read the book by my online attendance of a reading she gave in a North Jersey bookshop last month

(she read a bit too quickly i thought but i was charmed by her Chicago Italian accent and now i can’t help reading the poems in that accent (in my head, not out loud—i’m a terrible mimic))

“Trenton Local” captures the pleasure and wonder of seeing the world from a train window as a series of brief, vivid tableaux—something i also love

that poem and a couple more until my tea is done and it’s time to compose an entry for the Morning Porch, which naturally comes out sounding a bit like Equi

and i am completely unconflicted about that kind of influence on my work

(saying ‘my work’ sounds a little off though. it’s play)

Dear April do your worst. it’s my day of rest. i’ll probably end up taking a walk anyway but who knows

glancing at Facebook on my laptop during a break in composing an erasure poem (i take lots of breaks; they help me come back to the text with fresh eyes) i click on a 2016 article from LitHub shared by novelist and poet Rachel Dacus: The Man Who Invented Bookselling As We Know It: On James Lackington’s Temple of the Muses, “The Cheapest Bookstore in the World”

One of 11 children, [James] Lackington was apprenticed to a cobbler as a boy. He had no formal education, but at an early age he recognized the value of books, and he and his friends scoured the markets for cheap editions of poetry, plays, and classical literature in translation in order to teach themselves to read and expand their understanding of the world. Later, as a shoemaker, he moved to London with his wife, Nancy, and years later in his memoirs he describes how, upon arriving in the city, he spent their last half-crown on a book of poems, Edward Young’s Night Thoughts: “For had I bought a dinner, we should have eaten it tomorrow, and the pleasure would have been soon over, but should we live fifty years longer, we shall have the Night Thoughts to feast upon.” Shortly thereafter, in 1774, Lackington was able to rent his own shop, and he began selling both shoes and books together.

of course it took someone born in poverty who loved reading for its own sake to realize that there was a huge need for affordable books to fill the shelves of a growing middle class:

The standard practice was for booksellers to buy large quantities of remaindered titles and then destroy as many as three-quarters of the books in order to drive up prices. But Lackington bought huge lots—sometimes entire libraries—and then drastically reduced the prices of all the books in order to sell them at high volume. In this way he kept books in circulation, made them affordable to a wider range of buyers, and turned a substantial profit all at the same time. […]

By 1794, he had amassed a large enough inventory to move into a massive shop on Finsbury Square with his partner Robert Allen. He named the shop The Temple of the Muses, and above the entrance a plaque boldly announced: Cheapest Bookstore in the World. The Temple of the Muses became a tourist attraction, and this was Lackington’s fourth innovation: the sheer size of his bookstore—a spectacle that dwarfed all other bookshops of the time—made it a destination in itself. With a shop front 140 feet long, the cavernous lobby featured a circular counter with space for a mail coach and six horses to pass through. Above this counter, a staircase led up to “lounging rooms” where patrons could read beneath galleries lined with book-filled shelves, four floors in all. The higher patrons climbed, the cheaper and more tattered the books became. The poet John Keats spent many hours reading for free in the lounging rooms, and it was here that he met his first publishers, Taylor and Hessy, who worked in the shop.

never heard of this guy until now but he’s my new hero. i love the idea of Keats hanging out in the equivalent of Barnes and Noble but of course this was long before free public libraries were a thing

as for Edward Young, he seems as keen on the YOLO philosophy as any modern social media influencer. i can see why his stuff would resonate with an ambitious young businessman in late 18th-century London:

Of man’s miraculous mistakes, this bears
The palm, “That all men are about to live,”
For ever on the brink of being born:
All pay themselves the compliment to think
They, one day, shall not drivel; and their pride
On this reversion takes up ready praise;
At least, their own; their future selves applauds;
How excellent that life they ne’er will lead?

Edward Young, “The Complaint: or Night Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality

because it was my day of rest i decided to work insanely hard and make a videopoem in addition to the blog roundup and an erasure poem

this was the first videopoem i’ve made in months and i’m afraid it’s not at all sophisticated, just a single stationary shot with a haibun cobbled together from spare parts i found in my files (the haiku is from last week)

i did get out for a quick, four-mile walk after supper to enjoy as much of the late-in-the-day ridgetop sunshine as possible after a very cold and gloomy day

i also just needed to warm the hell up after a sedentary day

it was the opposite of my usual slow contemplative ramble but who cares—it’s my day of rest

i’m told that most members of Gen Z, at least here in the US, don’t like or even get irony, which freaks me out. we Gen Xers are all about irony

but it’s a great example of why that literary immortality writers are taught to strive for is such a complete will o’ the wisp: if your writing leans heavily on irony for its effect, congratulations, you may already be obsolete