They say there’s no money in poetry, so who would be crazy enough or brave enough to open a shop dedicated entirely to the craft? Enter Paul McMenemy, editor of Lunar Poetry and the person who is opening London’s only poetry bookshop.
Named after his magazine, the shop will open at I’klectik Art Lab — a former Buddhist centre near Lambeth North, nestled between the Poetry Library at Southbank Centre and the Poetry School.
It’s a tough climate for authors, publishers and book sellers but Paul insists there is a market for poetry, pointing to the popularity of the Free Verse Poetry Book Fair, held annually at Conway Hall. Similarly the success of Tim Well’s Stand Up and Spit Season, the popularity of spoken word and packed-out open-mic nights around the city show the appetite for poetry is strong.
But this project isn’t just about getting books into the hands of poetry appreciating people — Paul wants to dismantle the air of exclusivity which surrounds it.”Poetry has the upper hand when it comes to digital and e-readers,” he states, a two-fingers to everyone who predicted that tech would be the demise of the paperback. “It’s because formatting poetry is a nightmare.” Not to mention there’s nothing like the crumpled, tea-stained, heavily-annotated page of a well-read poem.
“We all remember having poetry dumped on us in secondary school and this is about getting rid of those unpleasant associations,” he says. “Poetry as an art form should be taken seriously and valued as any other is — poetry should live in the real world and not be consigned to high school anthologies.
“We need to get poetry to a point where all the heartless, capitalist bastards are into it.”
It’s a valid point — surely the world would be a more reflective, considerate place if they were?
Paul firmly believes “everywhere should have a poetry bookshop but if it’s going to work anywhere it’s going to work in London — for the sheer volume of people that pass through”.
London has a healthy poetry scene but you wouldn’t know it by heading to the poetry section of any bookshop. Most chains will stock a limited selection of first world war anthologies, prize winners and classics because it sells, but it’s safe. And while The Poetry Society does a great job at preservation this doesn’t leave much room for innovation.
The stock will be “truly representational of modern British poetry”. There are an abundance of independent publishers and small poetry presses which aren’t as visible to the public as they could be, for example Penned in the Margins, Ambit, Blart and SJ Fowler are all producing great work. Therefore a shop would provide both writers and publishers with visibility and new audiences.
Bookshops have to be versatile to survive — London’s last poetry bookshop closed in the 70s. Lunar Poetry Bookshop will host workshops, reading groups, book launches and events as well as the obligatory on-site café.
The shop will be run by volunteers who share Paul’s enthusiasm for poetry and will be on hand to make informed recommendations. There are also plans to take the shop to book fairs.
Paul envisions a space which sits at the heart of the community as a kind of Shakespeare & Company of the Southbank. A place not just to exchange books but ideas, knowledge and “intelligent discussion which doesn’t centre on a dead poet or one who’s coming up to it”.
So is he brave or crazy? Perhaps it’s a bit of both — and that’s what makes this so exciting.
What? The Lunar Poetry Bookshop
Where? I’klectik, 20 Carlisle Lane, London SE1 7LG (nearest tube: Lambeth North)
Tell me more: The bookshop will be open every day from 10am-7pm and will stock a mixture of published, self-published and second hand books, poetry magazines and poetry recordings. We’re waiting for an official launch date (never expect a poet to be on time) — in the meantime if you’ve got poetry to flog or want to lend your poetic wisdom by way of volunteering you can find details of how to get in touch with Lunar Poetry via their website.