Reading in Bed with… Joyce Caplan

March 9, 2010

I once counted 87 books by my bedside.

This ‘cordon-literature’ had of course collapsed and the tally was done during the slow, serendipitous reassembling. I have now found shelving for the dispersal, but still near my bedside for when I feel bereft during the night and need their pages to raft me over into sleep. There is also a deep litter system of TLS and LRB for when a sudden urge prompts a need for re-reading an article about books I know I will never read or dead poets I have happily forgotten.

Upon my immediate bedside table I have always the inevitable poetry, a strong reading light and emergency peppermints (the chocolate is hidden behind the alarm clock). At the moment I am reading a book about cricket, Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, a subject in which I have no interest, but it is set in New York, in which I do, and I am finding it riveting and am almost tempted to watch the Test Match but this feeling soon subsides to a mild twitch when the scores come on the news.

I read Ashes for Breakfast by Durs Grünbein, accompanied by the morning birdsong, and inhabit his surreal, harsh world before my morning coffee brings me into this one. He is an East German poet of startling originality. Another book, also given to me by my stepson, is Zbigniew Herbert’s Collected Poems, a satisfyingly fat volume that gives many delights and surprises. Compared often to Bishop or Auden, his verse combines the political and the personal with great lyricism and humour.

There are of course the unopened books I ought to read that gather dust; the well-worn thrillers (Sarah Paretsky and Henning Mankell) for 3am reading, and books given as borrowings by friends and looked forward to as a future shared pleasure. Recently my bedroom was redecorated and the painter, a pragmatic, phlegmatic Scot, queried the need for ‘all this shelving’. On seeing my stricken look of panic, he stoically painted around the empty shelves. ‘You’ll be keeping the books then.’ For once I didn’t reply.

In November 2009, the ineffable Joyce Caplan stood down after six years as Chairman of our Board, and many more years of sterling service to the SPL cause. This piece first appeared in our Poetry Reader Issue 5.

2 Responses to “Reading in Bed with… Joyce Caplan”

  1. Sophia Says:

    This was a great wee read. 87 – that sure beats my record of around 20. Must get some Durs Grünbein poetry.


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