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Sunday, 8 August 2010

Giotto and the Smell of Oranges

(The Poetry Bus)
A special medal of commendation should struck for Jeanne who not only took over the driving of the bus at short notice, but came up with a range of beautiful options from which it was exceedingly difficult to choose. Eventually, I came down in favour of my favourite summer sensory memories. Thanks Jeanne.

A summer treat,
our Charing Cross Road Pilgrimage,
my annual rummage through its shrines:
bookshops by the mile,
books by the shelf, the tray, the pile.
All mine! Collecting them
like stamps, not always
understanding them.

The musty smell
to me a form of incense
to others like old clothes
the smells of jumble sales.
The dust like snuff, that rose:
the violent sneeze;
thick papers, yellow, ribbed
like corduroy, that thumb
and finger rubbed -- once nearly
rubbed away, so friable,
erasing part of Blake's
The Keys of Calais, which I bought.

But some I'd feel
the way I'd seen my gran
feel fruit in Surrey Street,
the Croydon market. Some
were bright and shiny,
full of colour, like the fruit,
and had the same faint
tang of acid. There was one
that smelt of oranges, of pine
and maybe of vanilla -- though
I never quite made up my mind.
Its stained and wrinkled pages,
stuck together front and back,
are treasured still -- The Frescoes of
Giotto
with its gorgeous plates
(two missing) pasted in.

My mother's music bag
tucked underneath my arm
would bulge increasingly.
I'd hope for rain and turn
my face towards it if it came
to feel it on my skin
and feel the joy
of knowing that my books were dry.

So many subjects went home
in that bag and waited there,
for years sometimes, for me
to understand their meanings --
all introduced by way
of arbitrary odours
or a textured feel. To me
Giotto and the smell of oranges
are one of this world's items.



Haiku #227

Life more virtual
when Royal Mail deprives us
of our county names?

23 comments:

Rachel Cotterill said...

Ahh, I love old books. Electronic is more practical but I'll miss the feel of ancient tomes.

Gwei Mui said...

Charing Cross yes books
"A summer treat,
our Charing Cross Road Pilgrimage,"
Not that often for me, but summer holidays always included a trip to a secon hand book store.
"The musty smell
to me a form of incense" there is nothing quite like it!
"thick papers, yellow, ribbed
like corduroy, that thumb
and finger rubbed -- once nearly
rubbed away"
Paper doesn't feel the same these days - wonderful description.

steven said...

dave you've captured the intimate joys and pleasures of book lovers everywhere! superb! steven

Kass said...

This - so personal, so warm and charming. Most enjoyable, but all I smell is heated-up electronic wires and chips.

Helen said...

Dave, you have brought your memories to life for all of us ~ magic! The fragrance of freshly mowed hay on a humid, late summer afternoon ... one of my favorites.

Jim Murdoch said...

There are several used bookstores in the west end of Glasgow and I used to love to trawl through them. What I think I’ve enjoyed most about them is the cover art. I was the same with comics. It’s not the first time I’ve bought a book or comic purely because of how it looked which is why I put so much thought into my own covers; I’ve always been attracted to minimal covers. My favourite bookshop is Caledonia Books on Great Western Road. Here’s a photo of the inside too. I’ve been visiting that shop for about 35 years now. I would have gone sooner had I known about it. It was years though before I discovered the two off Otago Street and the one a street up but that one’s gone now. They all have their own . . . ambiance is probably the best word. I feel sorry for the generation to come who will not know the pleasures of spending an afternoon wandering around these stores.

... and that's all said...

"Oh, for the Vale profound / Is overflowing with the sound" - I felt that glory!

Derrick said...

Wonderful memories beautifully recorded, Dave. Although I love books I have never had any great urge to wander around secondhand book shops; new books, however, are something else!

Tabor said...

Being a former librarian I always get a quick electric start when the smell of old books is near. It is not a subject I would have picked for summer sensory, but you done good.

Gerry Snape said...

I really love the fact that you write that so often you had to wait for any understanding of the books that you had bought until later. that struck a chord with me!

Madame DeFarge said...

The invidious creep of the Royal Mail will blight our lives and make addressing letter all the more bland.

Rachel Fenton said...

Your poem made the Haiku all the more cutting - the sentiment and nostalgia in stark contrast to the changed times.

Karen said...

Wonderful work, Dave! I can see and smell and feel it all along with the young boy's knowledge that he has something wonderful, even if he isn't yet sure just what that is.

Dave King said...

Rachel
Yes, there's a place for both. I do hope we don't go completely electronic.

Gwei
I agree with you - again, like the fruit.

steven
There's nothing to compare, is there? Thanks for that.

Kass
That, as they say, puts it into a nutshell, cliche or no cliche.

Helen
MMM, I can recall that - from my time when I was evacuated during the war.

Jim
Amen to that. Nearly all the bookshops in The Charing Cross Road have closed now, and certainly all those that I remember,. Many of them were specialist book shops that didn't exist anywhere else. The last I heard there was just one shop left, the largest of them all. I agree that ambience is probably as close as you can get. Thanks for the two links.

...and that's all
Welcome to my blog and a very heartfelt than you for the apt comment.

Derrick
I, too, prefer new books now - mostly - but this was in my late childhood and early, poverty-stricken student days. It was second hand or nothing!

Tabor
It isn't a subject I've thought a lot about and don't think I would have had it not been for the prompt - though exactly why that did so, I have no idea. Thanks for the comment.

Gerry
Thanks for that Gerry. I wonder how universal - or not - that is.

Madam e DeFarge
Yes, no doubt, I fear you may be right.

Rachel
Yes, it did strike me, too - but not until after I'd posted. Good to know you spotted it too.

Karen
That says it exactly. Yes, that is just how it was. Thanks.

The Bug said...

I think you & my husband are kindred souls - I used to often come home to find "new" books on the table. Now we're out of room & he's teaching full time - he gets books on his subject & keeps them in his office at school. :(

Argent said...

Oh, yes, that smell! This poem evokes my own feelings about old books: they're just so much more interesting as objects in themselves. I've spent a happy day in Hay-on-Wye - a town of bookshops. Mmmmm!

The Weaver of Grass said...

That musty smell of books, Dave - oh yes, I remember it well.

Dave King said...

The Bug
Hi and welcome to you. Thanks for the comment. Yes indeed, the old conflict of interests - books and space! I understand very well.

Argent
I have never quite made it to Hay-on-Wye, though I've had a touch of the nears - one day, though!

Weaver of Grass
Absolutely nothing to compare!

Erratic Thoughts said...

That is one amazing poem...
I loved this line..
"My mother's music bag
tucked underneath my arm
would bulge increasingly.":D
Some of my subjects waited in my bag for months until my mom would dig them out for me...
Great composition Dave, I loved it!

Dave King said...

Erratic Thoughts
Much thanks for that comment. I love your last bit!

John Hayes said...

I love the form--the irregular rhymes--just frequent enough to bring delight & not jar. This is a wonderful appreciation of the "book."

Jeanne Iris said...

Hi Dave, I had a little trouble with my computer over the weekend. You can read my response to this wonderful poem on my blog. Thanks for hopping aboard the Bus this week! : )

Dave King said...

John
Many thanks for that John. Comment much appreciated.

Jeanne Iris
Owch! Commiserations. Hope the problem's fixed. Thanks for a great ride and for the visit.