Poems for Library Campaigners

VftL are pleased to have permission from Alan Gibbons and Chrissie Gittins to republish their ‘Poems for library campaigners’, published here with Alan’s introduction:

All over the country communities are holding Read ins this Saturday, February 5th as part of a Save Our Libraries Day to protest at local authorities’ withdrawal of funds from 450 libraries.
Campaign for the Book organizer Alan Gibbons said:
“I hope these poems from myself and Chrissie Gittins can be used to support the library protests. Libraries are at the heart of our communities. If we allow dogmatic cost-cutting policies to devastate the library network we will suffer through poor literacy levels and social dislocation. Already the UK has fallen from 7th to 25th in international reading rankings (PISA). South Korea, which stands top of the standings, is building 180 libraries. We are looking at the closure of 450. Reading is at the heart of social and academic success. We must not allow these disproportionate cuts to go unopposed.”

Poems for libraries
Two poems for library campaigners

I wonder, do we need
Another boarded-up building
In the High Street,
Another plywood or shuttered cataract
Bearing blind, sclerotic witness
To ignorance, wordlessness, decline?
I wonder, do we need
Another abandoned recess
For the tide of crisp packets and Styrofoam trays
To lap and rustle and slap
Against another closed door,
Another back turned
Against the tired, poor, excluded
Yearning to be free?
I wonder, do we need
More rows of empty bookshelves
To make way, one day
For the commodities to define you,
Tell you that if you fill your eyes with purchases
And stuff your ears with products
you can shut out your own humanity?
I wonder, can we still speak and sing,
I wonder, can we turn the page and bring
To all our new generations
A sense that to be human
Is to talk, debate and argue,
Discuss, discover and yearn?
So many questions-
But if they lock this door for good
Who will provide the answers?

By Alan Gibbons


‘Longing To be Heard’

A sound becomes a syllable,
A syllable becomes a word,
A word becomes a book
Longing to be heard.
A child speaks the word,
Mouthing every sound,
The child seeks the book,
Will the book be found?
Will the book be in the library?
Will a library be in the town?
Will a van deliver riches
The child cannot put down?
Or will the child be halted
On paths which are not there
Which would’ve given wealth,
In books they cannot share?

By Chrissie Gittins

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2 thoughts on “Poems for Library Campaigners

  1. Lesli Good

    Love all the poetry and thought I would send this one in by the fantastic Bernard Kops who honoured the Idea Store, Whitechapel at its opening by reading us his poem – powerful stuff.

    Whitechapel Library, Aldgate East

    How often I went in for warmth and a doze
    The newspaper room whilst my world outside froze
    And I took out my sardine sandwich feast.
    Whitechapel Library, Aldgate East.
    And the tramps and the madman and the
    chattering crone.
    The smell of their farts could turn you to stone
    But anywhere, anywhere was better than home.

    The joy to escape from family and war.
    But how can you have dreams?
    you’ll end up on the floor.
    Be like your brothers, what else is life for?

    You’re lost and you’re drifting, settle down, get a job.
    Meet a nice Jewish girl, work hard, earn a few bob.
    Get married, have kids; a nice home on the never
    and save up for the future and days of rough weather.

    Come back down to earth, there is nothing more.
    I listened and nodded, like I knew the score.
    And early next morning I crept out the door.

    Outside it was pouring
    I was leaving forever.

    I was finally, irrevocably done with this scene,
    The trap of my world in Stepney Green.
    With nowhere to go and nothing to dream

    A loner in love with words, but so lost
    and wandering the streets, not counting the cost.
    I emerged out of childhood with nowhere to hide
    when a door called my name
    and pulled me inside.

    And being so hungry I fell on the feast.
    Whitechapel Library, Aldgate East.

    And my brain explodes when I suddenly find,
    an orchard within for the heart and the mind.
    The past was a mirage I’d left far behind

    And I am a locust and I’m at a feast.
    Whitechapel Library, Aldgate East.

    And Rosenberg also came to get out of the cold
    To write poems of fire, but he never grew old.
    And here I met Chekhov, Tolstoy, Meyerhold.
    I read all their worlds, their dark visions of gold.

    The reference library, where my thoughts were to rage.
    I ate book after book, page after page.
    I scoffed poetry for breakfast and novels for tea.
    And plays for my supper. No more poverty.
    Welcome young poet, in here you are free
    to follow your star to where you should be.

    That door of the library was the door into me
    And Lorca and Shelley said “Come to the feast.”
    Whitechapel Library, Aldgate East.

    Bernard Kops

    Libraries were called universities of the poor.

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