Long Overdue. A Collection Of Poems From The Mole Valley Poets Celebrating 150 Years Of Public Libraries, 2000.

I'VE GOT IT TAPED Nikki Hopkins
THE AFFAIR Alison Jesson
THE LIBRARY Sylvia Herbert
LEARNING Lorna Dowell
HEAVEN Christine Newsome
DISCOVERY Jane Desmond
PASTIME Christine Newsome
FRIDGE Derek Webb
THE LAST WORD Nikki Hopkins


Battalions of books
stand in serried ranks
like soldiers on parade,
ready for inspection,
wait patiently
for their next command.

An army of words,
primed for instant action,
drilled to have their pages turned,
their every detail minutely examined,
dare-alls in the strategy of life,
bring knowledge, wisdom,
pleasure, exploration,
battle against ignorance
and resistance to progress:
fill your hours, your mind,
feed your inner cravings,
advance a thousand causes,
quietly, with no fuss.

One hundred and fifty years
of dedicated service,
having their say
in the obedience of silence.

Edward Newman


All those years of reading stories
every night before going to bed;
visit the library, choose the book,
make sure it's one we haven't read.
Carry it home in pride of place,
read it that night, (it's large typeface).

Since they're older you'd think that they'd
select and read their own books now.
They do, of course, but more often
they'll choose a tape, if I'll allow.
They'll listen, then, in bed at night.
(Not read under covers by dim torchlight!)

I'm all in favour of this conversion,
for what they're getting is just as good.
They're learning to listen - or concentration,
and saving their eyesight - (that's understood!)
They're learning the story and lots of new words,
their vocabulary's grown from what they've heard.

Nikki Hopkins


Row upon row, they clamour for attention.
The blockbuster flaunts his racy jacket,
crowding out the shy slim volume next door.
Anthologies offer intriguing suggestions,
along with novellas who pretend they are of age.
DIY manuals snigger suggestively,
while Foreign Literature whispers to me in French.
Biographies tempt me with intimate details,
competing with Travel guides, who promise me the earth.

Which of you will sweep me up into your sturdy covers,
lead me gently through your splendid paragraphs,
hold me breathless at your well thumbed pages,
and let me skip through your darker passages?

I know I won't be your first
and once this flirtation is over,
I will only be remembered
by the date I had to give you back.

Alison Jesson


On this book's inside cover,
no name, but a number and a barcode
and a list of dates that travel back
to nineteen ninety. I read them like a litany:
6 April, 3 May, 5th and 26 June.
Yes, that last is me - my scrawl.
a phone renewal, like I was here,
my contribution to the potted history
on the stamp sheet of 'The Poet's Manual'.
This book was shelved all summer long
in nineteen ninety-three, and in ninety-six
was clearly out of fashion, then came back in -
continuously borrowed since ninety-nine. By me.

Each date's a passing owner
who leaves a mental fingerprint
on sheets well-thumbed. Slightly grubby
like a 'Woman's Weekly' in the doctor's surgery
smelling, not of print - anonymous and antiseptic -
but of a musty mattress in a rented room.
Although there is no singular indent
I sense layer upon layer of past contact
pressed between these covers.

So, as I slip between the sheets
and take up a position
in which so many others must have been
in dreams and search for knowledge,
I know what others took from this
will be unique. We read alone.
Yet, despite this isolation
and our anonymity,
it seems we share implicit ground
and by our choice, this book's identity.

Lorna Dowell


Bound together by books, they all come here:
Their purposes are many - that small child
Is looking at a bedtime storybook - the cover tells it all.

Beside the reference books a young man leans
His elbow on the casing, as he peers
At navy hard-backed volumes, packed with facts.

Light fiction is the route which one young woman takes.
A holiday romance? Adventure? Psychic tales?
She skims a thickish novel's flimsy leaves;

There, at the reading room's broad lectern an old man stands
Like a vicar in his church before his bible;
Only his mind is far away from holy thought and scripture.

Patiently the assistant checks the books, collects the fines
And stamps the dates, while young trainees restack the shelves
And look up details on computer screens.

It is a quiet space for weary mind's refreshment,
A refuge from inclement weather, sometimes, too,
Where welcome pools of warmth and silence beckon.

Sylvia Herbert


'I've never seen so many books,' she said,
as she stepped into my living room,
'Except in a library.' I shook my head,
bemused that my paltry shelves had this effect.
I admit she was a first year and I a third,
but even so, the comment was absurd.

I've always preferred owning books to borrowing.
I like to feel them in my hand.
But, when the money's tight, I can just go in
to the library and quench my desire on spines,
and overdose on shelves and shelves of printing -
devour those books I long for - without stinting.

Nikki Hopkins

(adult libraries circa 1967)

The library was like a court building:
we entered under sentence of silence,
approaching the dock - a lofty bench of panelled oak.
Oh the other side a woman, hair ridged
as a grey wig, looked down upon us.
Glasses hung from her breast like chain of office.
'Overdue' she would proclaim and fine my father
to my shame.

He was always late,
kept us waiting as he stood engrossed in texts
about astronomy and electronics. Boring,
these black-bound books were banned -
closed worlds to all but adults.
We crept around the tower blocks of learning
as if they might fall down.
Even seats, like china antiques, were untouchable.
In the silence notices of Quiet Please were screaming.
Dust span in a skylight shaft of sun
like atoms in a panic to get out.
Whip-crack of parquet snapped, Get back!
And all the while I could feel the librarian's eye
like a heavy hand poised, just waiting
to slap on, Not allowed!

I knew we belonged in the children's library -
a building where light beckoned in. Here
seats were our height, floors didn't squeak
and the Cat in the Hat was loud and madcap
in a world where colours sang brightly.
But we couldn't go there unaccompanied
and my father - yes, well...

Overdue now at Gran's - these forays always
overran -
first we had to get past the check-point
check-out where the woman, tight-lipped
seized a manilla ticket, and a stamp, sounding clipped,
scored the white sheet with black marks. Then
on the brink of release I started to breathe,
walking the wainscoted tunnel towards the sunlight,
passing the double glass doors on our right -
the reference bit, through which I'd glimpse men
entrenched in seats, behind shields of newsprint.
Just like Grandad would be back at Gran's,
all but his nicotined bits - bald patch and fingertips -
blocked by a broad sheet facade.
My father joined forces and sat opposite,
trousers uniform-edged, the camouflaged colour
of oak table legs, his tome now erect
like a tombstone parapet.

Men never spoke, they just dug themselves in,
reading such grim, incomprehensible things,
the crackle of paper Morse code for something
I didn't know.

Meanwhile we children, with nothing to read,
sat holding silence on the settee,
Gran keeping watch like a National Trustee
in her parlour dim-lit, as if to preserve
her bone china cups and statuettes
that we weren't to touch - glimpsed
behind double glass cabinet doors.
In the dark, like her prim figurines. Outside,
the sun danced in trees tapping the window for laughs,
whist the slow hand of the grandfather clock
reluctantly slipped down
a notch,
with a click
like the snap of a book being closed.

Lorna Dowell


Some days I want a fast read,
a fish and chip munchie to scoff.
Battered cover
showing it's a gabfest.
A red-eyed
cut spud guzzle fresh fried.

And then I read standing up
in a library,
tearing the story from its wrapping,
champing at chapters.

Reading to go
feeds a pan
of feelings at the boil
but some days
on a gobsmacking burger
or on a pizza
yakking with cheesy passion,
I taste herbs,
fresh leaved,
a more delicate flavour.

C P Crowther


What is this eerie light which falls
On dusky shelves and shadowed walls?
Through western windows comes a glow
Upon the volumes, row on row.

Can Wordsworth be brought back to life
Or Ruskin. Shelley, Browning's wife?
Can Shakespeare, warmed by evening sun,
Re-enact the plays he spun?

Will Science, Music, Craft and Art
Through writers' skills to me impart
Their secrets, ready to be shed
On fertile mind which here is fed

Miraculously, by some fluke.
Through information in a book?
A talking book, a small cassette,
And Laurie Lee speaks, even yet.

Alone beneath the library's spell
I catch that inner light as well
That brightens words before my eyes
And lends a glimpse of paradise.

Sylvia Herbert


the pages are turned and I rummage in books
hardbacks paperbacks chapter and verse
spell binding images written to tease
novels and Classics biographies plays
curled up edges under the sheets
torchlight adventures too gripping to leave
shaking with fright as the monster roams
solving a murder with Sherlock Holmes
discovering languages I may not use
learning to master the twelve bar blues
the swing doors fly open as I approach
and private engrossment allows me a look
inside heaven

Christine Newsome


I wandered through the vast rooms
of knowledge and fiction
watched students bent over
heavy books of reference
an elderly man engrossed in a book
about World War two
children -
silenced by fantastic picture books
a spinster
scanning romantic novels
searching for one she had not yet read

by chance I stumbled into the Poetry section
began reading
and my
heart danced.

Jane Desmond


I'm looking for a book by Pevsner
Its subject's architecture,
But I'm pausing by biography
because my passion's literature
And literary lives.
That is my special weakness
To be side-tracked all the time,
I pass from stack to stack to stack
And end up with the history of pantomime
And Harlequin and Columbine.
The library's a treasure house
That's filled to overflowing
With unknown jewels of writing
Just waiting for the knowing.
I'm a beggar at a banquet
So much richness I can choose
That I'm already satiated
Before I start to use
My tastebuds for selection
To judiciously take one;
I go back to look for Pevsner
and find that he has gone!

Sylvia Herbert


Up five floors of pages print
to the archives department
focusing on the fiche machine
on ancestors
deeds and manuscripts
written in Olde English
in ink on parchment
seals hanging from them
dated sixteen fifty-nine

in this horde of facts
I can trace my family tree
work on genealogy
in pencil only
records kept for posterity
for the likes of me
to find where I came from

Christine Newsome


Pedagogy - the science (or art) of teaching.
I'm a parent, not a teacher,
But I need to know how these people
Apply their learning to my darling's brain
And twist him into something I would not have him be
And make him theirs for five whole days a week
Then toss him back, impossible, to me!

Sylvia Herbert


Squeezed into these few shelves we take our stand,
While flabby giant FICTION overflows
And dull BIOGRAPHY spreads name by name.
We're not afraid! Slim volumes of new verse,
Proud essays, books on books, great Shakespeare's
Shoulder to shoulder, here we represent
A thousand years of English! How we jeer
As last year's novel's cast aside to sell
For fifty pence or less. But we remain.
For literature is something you read twice.
In that re-reading true enjoyment lies.

Michael Lane


Here you'll discover the dark secret that
Lies behind the quiet facade
Of that unobtrusive shop in the high street.

People, personalities, legends and customs,
As much as brick and stone, iron or glass.
Have left an indelible mark in the margin.

Delve into these shelves and
You'll be astonished at what you unearth;
Buried beneath a cardboard cover.

Derek Webb


Here you'll also find the topography,
Geology and demography
Of your particular area of interest.

We have mountainous volumes
offering varied points of view
And oceans of knowledge to dive into.

It's all mapped out for you.
Follow any path you like
And you'll never be lost for words.

Derek Webb


Such a cheap. poorly printed book
In its shoddy municipal binding.
Once it was sold in thousands,
Its Victorian author a household name -
Now quite forgotten.
But the County Library has saved this last copy.

For this is a Surrey romance
That has left us legends
In its dog-eared pages;
Of bad King John at the Silent Pool
(Which you will find at a junction of the A25)
Of the deep mysterious Barons' Cave
(Which is under the castle at Reigate)
And the tale of a great medieval priest
Who was probably not born at Friday Street.

Though the author is dead and his book forgotten
His fantasies have been transmuted
into unreliable history.

If you ask at the desk, they will order it for you
(The fee is 80 pence, at the time of writing)
Unless they too have thrown it away.

Michael Lane


You could easily miss the heavy oak door
on your way in to the library.
It's round the corner, behind the stairs.
When creaked open, treads spiral down
to the mythical beast section
where, clustered together in the gloom and dank,
are tomes on the minotaur, centaur, unicorn -
the gryphon, Pegasus and dragons of yore.
Be careful, descending to their lair -
(take a light with you)
for in the dark, if you turn too fast,
you might glimpse the kick of a hoof
as it disappears between the covers.

Nikki Hopkins


In 150 years we've lent the most
Entertaining, educating,
Elucidating, elevating,
Elaborating, exhilarating,
And excruciating books of all time.

Derek Webb


1850. Now there was a year.
Britain opened its first public lending library.
And simultaneously, in America and Australia,
The refrigerator was being invented.
Who's to say which was the most warmly received?

Derek Webb


It's like being bereaved,
this feeling of loss.
Emptiness. The end.
I have come to the close of the book.

My mind no longer peopled
in an orbit removed.
The last word has left me hanging
between worlds; not yet returned.

Where next? Whose imagination
will grasp mine.
carry me, a willing voyeur,
to another reality?

Ask me tomorrow -
when I return from the Library.

Nikki Hopkins