Friday, 12 November 2010

Lochinver Library Swoop

Norman MacCaig was an avowed 'two-fag' poet. I wonder whether The Itinerant Poetry Librarian would have let him smoke even one while browsing her collections. One of the Bye Bye-Laws of the Itinerant Poetry Library states, with characteristic precision, 'No person shall smoke or strike a light in any part of the library set apart for the use of the public without the permission of the library officer, and except in any part thereof which is for the time being used as a smoking den or in which, when it is being used for an educational, cultural or other event under Section 20 of the Act, the Library Authority allows smoking.'

Such are the curious legalities that have been preoccupying the Librarian since 2006, when the Itinerant Poetry Library began 'travelling the world with a library of "lost & forgotten" poetry, installing the library and librarian and archiving the sound, poems and poetry of the cities, peoples and countries we meet'. No wonder the Librarian's back is a little stooped, or that her brow displays more lines than Milton's Paradise Lost.

Last Friday found the Library sharing the premises of the Highland Mobile Library Service, itself somewhat itinerant, but temporarily parked opposite the SPAR on Lochinver's main street. It was raining. As if taking a fashion cue from the gung-ho shooting parties in less metropolitan parts of Assynt, the Librarian's grey pin-stripe suit provided camouflage against the damp tarmac of the parking lot.

The rain-streaked doors slid open silently at my approach with institutional rectitude. I found myself signing up to the Library Bye Bye-Laws, without having read them, and then committing several infringements while perusing the day's display of books on the theme of 'Poetry In Languages That Trip Off The Tongue.' Did I dare to confess to not speaking Hungarian? I did not. Volumes of Modern Russian Poetry lay alongside Ancient Greek Love Poems. The Librarian looked a little flushed, having just delivered an impromptu educational session based on the latter to three young visitors.

While the books laid out to trip the tongues of Lochinver were relatively conventional in format, I was intrigued to read in the Bye Bye-Laws that the Library defines 'book' as 'any and every book, poem, journal, pamphlet, music score, manuscript, picture, print, poet, photograph, engraving, etching, deed, map, chart, plan, cheese sandwich, gramophone record, cassette, compact disc, mini disc, web page, pre-recorded tape, floozies, film and any other article of like nature.' What did the Librarian have in her suitcase?

The Library website details in full the complex and worthy aims behind its existence, the essence of which is 'the idea of poetry as a unique form of human communication, and thus a unique form of knowledge; and the idea of the public library as both recycling-knowledge space and civic space – concepts which we believe can also be used as models for sustainable growth in order to oust ourselves from the current cul de sac that is consumer-led, maximum profit-centred culture.' Hear, hear!

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