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National Poetry Month, Random Lines

April is the coolest month for poetry, as officially designated even for those of us who mark the spirit of NPM on other calendars: National Poetry Year, National Poetry Decade, National Poetry Lifetime, National Poetry Century, National Poetry Era. Whew! For the moment, I'll restrain myself to sharing a few random lines from #NPM2016:

Bill Murray reads to construction workers at Poets House.

Bill Murray loves Lucille Clifton's poetry. Bill Murray also shared some of his favorite poems with Leigh Haber, O, the Oprah Magazine's books editor, in his room at Manhattan's Carlyle Hotel. "It was so funny," Haber said. "He had scraps of paper on which he'd scribbled notes and Xeroxes of poems. His love of poetry was obvious from how much pleasure he took in reading the poems aloud to us."

"And it is National Poetry Month!" the Twig Bookshop, San Antonio, Tex., noted in its e-newsletter last week. "As I gathered the poetry books for a display and decided to feature our local poets, I was surprised but proud that we have so many!" Also on display: City Lit Books, Chicago, Ill. ("National Poetry Month #truth #bookstore #bookstagram); Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, Mich. ("Happy National Poetry Month!"); and Diesel, A Bookstore, Oakland, Calif. ("#NationalPoetryMonth #ExclamationMark").

Diesel's Poetry Month display

Speaking of Diesel, co-manager Brad Johnson described NPM as "a sort of 'High Holy Month' " at the bookstore. "For the past several years now we've been doing our Video-Poem of the Day project during the month of April. We're always pretty proud to hear our friends and colleagues at Diesel reading. This year we've also solicited some original pieces from 5th graders at a local writing program in downtown Oakland, Chapter 510. Those have yet to debut, but they are so very good. Looking forward to their debut to the world."  

Most Likely to Succeed... at Poetry: Powell's Books, Portland, Ore., is hosting its annual Poetry Madness celebration, and this year "we're asking you, fellow poetry scholars, to take part in Powell's own yearbook superlative-style competition."

"April is National Poetry Month. Why should you care?" asked McLean & Eakin Bookstore, Petoskey, Mich. "1. Poetry improves your vocabulary and communication skills. 2. Poetry gives you new ideas and expands your imagination. 3. It's a small time investment for a large payoff. 4. Jim Morrison loved poetry, and everybody loves Jim Morrison."  

Celebrate #NPM April 25 with MashReads and NYC's the Strand bookstore, which will host "Writing and Resistance, a night of poetry readings and conversation featuring a bevy of talented New York poets.... Throughout the night, poets will read poems and discuss themes of resistance, struggle and the forces both internal and external that would prevent poetry," Mashable noted.

In Scientific American magazine, Evelyn Lamb wrote that as she celebrated Math Poetry Month, she "stumbled on an early example of mathematical poetry in the solution to the cubic equation." In terza rima, no less. A sample:

When the cube with the cose beside it
Equates itself to some other whole number,
Find two others, of which it is the difference.

For the first time, Canada will be part of Poem in Your Pocket Day April 21, Quillblog reported. Jennifer Benka, executive director of the Academy of American Poets, said, "We're thrilled to be working with the League of Canadian Poets this April to promote contemporary poets and poetry in both our countries and across borders. Seeing as we both introduced and organize National Poetry Month, collaboration makes sense."

Mrs. Dalloway's Literary & Garden Arts, Berkeley, Calif., is also sharing "pocket poems." Mary McCulloch Fox, the poetry buyer and poetry events coordinator, told Bookselling This Week she handles the formatting of each poem for printing, which is done by Minuteman Press in Berkeley. "The poems go out on April 1 and stay out on the floor for the whole month of April." she noted, adding that there were about 1,800 pocket poems placed around the store.

From the Red Balloon Bookshop, St. Paul, Minn.: "In honor of #NationalPoetryMonth we'll be tweeting haiku written by our staff for the month of April. Stay tuned!"

"I love National Poetry Month," wrote Sarah Bagby of Watermark Books, Wichita, Kans.: "This year marks the 20th anniversary of the initiative. Publishers and literary arts organizations are pulling out the stops this year in celebration. I love the Borzoi Reader newsletter. This one features Kevin Young, one of the best American poets at work today. Originally from Topeka, Kansas, educated at Stanford, He is heavily influenced by the poets Langston Hughes, John Berryman, and Emily Dickinson and by the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Here is the link to the Walt Whitman poem I tried to share last week. It's one of my favorites."

And, to close with perspective, here are a few not-so-random lines from "Plot Points" by Clive James as a little #NPM2016 reality check:

While you were reading this
Millions of stars moved closer
Towards their own extinction
So many years ago--
But let's believe our eyes:
They say it's all here now.

Happy National Poetry Eon!

Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2733


BA Releases Bookselling Manifesto

Earlier this week, the Booksellers Association of the U.K. & Ireland launched a lobbying campaign with the release of a manifesto, "Bookselling for Britain," which is designed to "emphasize the resilience of many bookshops in the face of great pressure, the importance of the sector to cultural life in the U.K. and the need for action to address the unfair anti-competitive advantage of multinational companies over U.K. high street bookshops."

Since booksellers speak an international language, I thought the BA's manifesto was worth sharing. Some of the demands may be region-specific, but many others are universal. The BA proposed a number of measures for consideration by the government, noting: "We believe they will help ensure we maintain a strong, prosperous book industry, capable of working with all interested parties in delivering a highly literate and skilled workforce, a well-supported academic and scientific research base, and globally recognized innovative businesses able to compete for Britain in the global race in the 21st Century." Here's a brief summary of the BA's proposals:

  • The government should initiate an inquiry into the online physical and e-book sectors in the U.K.
  • There must be No Tax On Reading.
  • Business Rates must be reviewed and made more competitive so they are fairer to businesses across the U.K. and flexible enough to respond to the economic cycle.
  • Booksellers support the development of our High Streets and Town Centres so that they further develop as attractive retail locations.
  • Government must support intellectual property in the public interest and give the Intellectual Property Office a statutory duty to support IP businesses and demonstrate the effects of its policies upon their--and the economy's--growth.
  • The Department of Education should look at ways in which more state-funded schools can enjoy the benefits of a school library with a library in every school.
  • As a country we need to invest in learning resources and encourage schools to maintain a minimum set percentage of expenditure on teaching and learning resources.
  • Booksellers believe in boosting reading for pleasure to help create a happier and more content society.
  • We believe in public libraries for all.
  • We must take the right steps forward for the Digital Single Market in the EU.

I'll just highlight two sections from the manifesto here. In "Developing Our High Streets and Town Centres," the BA noted that bookshops "are havens for everyone, building community character and contributing to the distinct flavor of a neighborhood as literary and cultural hubs. Booksellers give substantial support to local and national causes and events, including reading groups, schools, libraries, arts organizations, festivals and charities. Bookshop events are well known to attract consumers to the High Street, especially families, and they increase 'dwell time.' If we wish to retain vibrant High Streets, that are not mere 'clone towns' but act as the true heart of a community, then we need outlets that promote art, literacy and entertainment."

The BA suggested to the government that the following areas be addressed:

  • Action on parking charges (some free parking for an hour or two would help, as would a cap on charges).
  • More subsidized public transport and more park & ride schemes.
  • Development of partnerships with local authorities to plan a mixed use of cultural and leisure activities as well as just pure retail.
  • Use of empty shops to promote arts activities and artisan crafts--booksellers would be more than willing to offer support.
  • Local people to have a say in what kind of retailers they would like to have on their High Street.
  • Simply--less red tape.

Under the "Boost Reading for Pleasure" category, the BA noted that there "is a growing understanding among researchers and social scientists that reading for pleasure has a significant and positive impact on a range of measures, from literacy acquisition and cognitive development through to social mobility and employment prospects. In short, the more people in society who not only read but read for pleasure, the better off that society will be.... Booksellers have decades of strong engagement with the various literacy and reading for pleasure charities operating in the U.K., providing financial, material and in-kind support to their programs in schools, libraries, prisons and the wider community.... These efforts could be enhanced by even stronger engagement with government and public bodies and an improved understanding of the positive impacts of reading for pleasure--for example, since 2010, the Office for National Statistics has been collecting data in order to measure National Well Being, and yet does not measure levels of reading for pleasure."

In the introduction to its manifesto, the BA summed up its position succinctly: "Bookselling helps underpin excellence in education and research, promotes literacy and reading for pleasure, develops present and future authors and writers, while preserving those of the past, and helps drive innovation and excellence in new forms of reading. Books enrich our culture, and help inspire other creative sectors--like theatre, cinema, television and music.... Given the range of its impact across so many lives, the book industry is well placed to help government deliver its aims across a range of areas."

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2728


March Madness: A Bookish Sweet 16

Now is the time to desperately look for signs of spring. Consider, if you will, a rabbit hole I tumbled down connecting the Easter bunny to the March Hare to basketball layup shots (sometimes called "bunnies") to March Madness, aka the NCAA College Basketball Tournament, which will have pared the remaining 16 teams in the bracket down to eight by tonight. This has all inspired me to create a bookish March Madness Sweet 16:

1. Staff Picks: When I was a bookseller, there were only a couple of years during which a serious effort was mounted to get the staff involved in the subtle art of bracketology. That's probably not a bad thing, given that a recent report "estimates that more than 50.5 million American workers, or 20%, could participate in March Madness office pools this year... time wasted on building brackets and watching games will add up to $1.3 billion."

2. #MagersandQuinnMadness: At Magers and Quinn Bookstore, Minneapolis, Minn., this week "the moment a lot of you have been waiting for" arrived in #MagersandQuinnMadness: a showdown between Harry Potter and A Wrinkle in Time.

3. Tournament of Books: We hope you've been heeding the sage Twitter advice of Wellesley Books, Wellesley, Mass.: "If you are not following The Tournament of Books we encourage you to start now! #tob16 @themorningnews. https://tmblr.co/ZchVfw23NUibM."

4. Pizza Madness: It's not all about basketball and books. In New York City, McNally Jackson recently highlighted March Madness at Frannys in Brooklyn, where "the restaurants regular menu will be replaced with a special staff-crafted Pizza Madness menu with fifteen pies (and a calzone) that customers can vote on."

5. Book Harvest: "March Madness, you say? Here are OUR big winners this month!" noted Book Harvest. Among the highlights were Winning Strategy ("Babies need books to learn!"), Parents ("babies first and best teachers") and Winning Score ("Thank you for helping our kids achieve victory all year long!")

6. Tournament of Fictional Places: Half-Price Books is hosting a Tournament of Fictional Places, featuring "64 of our favorite fictional spots from books, myth, movies, music and TV."

7. "Mad Rush to Bookstore": This comes under the category of "headlines we'd like to see every day," though it's from a news report on University of Hawaii fans celebrating a win over California by purchasing apparel at the college bookstore.

8. Catawumpus: Nigel Hayes is back in the Sweet 16. Last year, the University of Wisconsin player tested an NCAA stenographer by introducing a number of words into his post-game interview sessions, including catawampus, onomatopoeia and syzygy. On March 9 this year, Dictionary.com's Word of the Day was catawampus. "I take full credit for that," Hayes said.

9. Giorgio Vasari: Although they didn't reach the Sweet 16, Holy Cross did make a literary impression last week when the New York Times reported that "Coach Bill Carmody took a book with him to read on the long bus and plane rides home after games: The Lives of the Artists, one of the foremost pieces of literature on art history, written by the Italian artist Giorgio Vasari in the 16th century."

10. March Book Madness: Students and classrooms are participating in March Book Madness using the hashtag #2016MBM.

11. Suvudu Cage Match: Penguin Random House's Suvudu.com is running its March Madness-style original fiction tournament Cage Match. This year's theme is Dynamic Duos and features famous pairs from the sci-fi and fantasy canon in head-to-head battles written by acclaimed authors.
12. HCC March Madness: HarperCollins Canada's March Madness is an annual event that features "64 beloved books--one of which readers will crown as this year's champion."

13. Cooking the Books: The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook by Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez & Julia Turshen won Food52's annual Tournament of Cookbooks.

14. Meanwhile, in other March Madness News: Booksactually in Singapore held a Lewis Carroll- rather than basketball-inspired March Madness sale, noting: "We encourage book-buying frenzies."

15. These Guys Can Play... & Read: Three-time Academic All-American Marcus Paige, who is a key player for the University of North Carolina in tonight's Sweet 16 game against Indiana, is a "double major in journalism and history, with a 3.43 grade point average."

Pat Conroy playing for Beaufort High School in Beaufort, S.C., in 1963. (via)

16. My Losing Season: It seems only fitting to have the last words come from Pat Conroy, who died earlier this month. In My Losing Season, he wrote: "I have loved nothing on this earth as I did the sport of basketball.... I would not sell my soul to be playing college ball somewhere in this country tonight, but I would give it long and serious consideration. It was only when I had to give up basketball that I began to attract the unfavorable attention of the rest of the world. Basketball provided a legitimate physical outlet for all the violence and rage and sadness I later brought to the writing table. The game kept me from facing the ruined boy who played basketball instead of killing his father. It was also the main language that allowed father and son to talk to each other. If not for sports, I do not think my father ever would have talked to me."

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2718


'Pay with a Poem' at World Poetry Day Cafe

It was afternoon tea, with tea foods spread out
Like in the books, except that it was coffee.

                       --from "Coffee in the Afternoon" by Alberto Ríos

Monday is UNESCO World Poetry Day. "The voices that carry poetry help to promote linguistic diversity and freedom of expression. They participate in the global effort towards artistic education and the dissemination of culture," said UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova. "The first word of a poem sometimes suffices to regain confidence in the face of adversity, to find the path of hope in the face of barbarity. In the age of automation and the immediacy of modern life, poetry also opens a space for the freedom and adventure inherent in human dignity.... I applaud the practitioners, actors, storytellers and all those anonymous voices committed to and through poetry, giving readings in the shadows or in the spotlights, in gardens or streets."

But let's talk about coffee, and what we might call a Cool Idea of the World Poetry Day.

Pay with a Poem is sponsored by Julius Meinl coffees and teas, which notes on its website: "Poetry can make a better world. On March 21st, World Poetry Day, we let our imagination wonder. We dream of a place where money is replaced by emotions. A better world. For one day, we're changing the currency in coffeehouses around the globe. And Julius Meinl coffees or teas will be paid with your poems. Pay with a Poem is a global initiative from Julius Meinl happening every year, wider and wider with every edition. An initiative getting famous poets and everyday poets together.... Sharpen your pencils and join us... in more than 30 countries and more than 1,000 participating locations serving Julius Meinl. #PoetryForChange #PayWithAPoem."

For 2016, artist and poet Robert Montgomery is Meinl's global ambassador. "Just like us, he's making poetry relevant to everyday life. Using new media, his work appears as unexpected large-scale billboards, light sculptures and fire poems," the company noted.

"I did a piece this year that ends with the statement: Money is a superstition," Montgomery recalled. "The longer poem says: Eagles live on the rooftops/ Not as symbols/ Just as eagles/ They remember the sky/ Money is a superstition.... So I love the idea that we can make our own currency of diverse statements. And people can bring a piece of paper, the same as a piece of money, but they can write their own message, their own fantasy, their own poem, and they can pay with that. I think every person is a poet. It's not like inside every person is a secret poet. I think every person has the ability to be a poet."

The Guardian noted that Montgomery "will mark the occasion by collecting up all the public contributions and turning them into an art installation in a secret London location."

Last year, the Guardian cautioned "it's not clear if cashiers will be exercising their critical judgment ('This comparison between your girlfriend and a red, red rose is a little overfamiliar--I'll have to insist on a rewrite'), whether they'll be focusing on quality or quantity ('This haiku is very nicely turned, but I don't think it'll stretch to a skinny frappucino extra-grande with the extra slice of melon'), or what kind of rights your barista will acquire over your work."

In any case, on Monday people can "Pay with a Poem" in Croatia, Austria, Portugal, Australia and many more countries, but what if you don't live near a participating location (the U.S., except for Chicago)? Well, you could be like Devdan Chaudhuri and just create your own "Pay with a Poem" option.

In a piece headlined "Let poetry pay for your cuppa," the Times of India reported that thanks to the efforts of Chaudhuri (author of Anatomy of Life and executive member of Poetry Paradigm), tomorrow "three coffee joints in [Kolkata] will be accepting a poem as a mode of payment for a cuppa" to encourage the habit of reading and writing poetry. Since "some Kolkata cafes are shut on Monday, we decided to host the event on Saturday," he said.

Malavika Banerjee, who owns the Byloom Cafe, plans to display the poems on her bulletin board: "I run a literature festival in the city. There is a connection between poetry, cafe and literature. So, I decided to be a part of this initiative." Partha Sarathi Bose, owner of Delices, said: "I liked this initiative. If a person comes up to me and offers an original poem, I will be happy to serve a black coffee or cup of Darjeeling tea." And Cafe Sienna's Shuili Ghosh noted that poetry criticism will be muted: "One can't be harsh with people if they don't submit something that's good enough."

My World Poetry Day Café plan this year involves a chair on the sunny deck of our house, a steaming mug of java and three recently purchased poetry collections: Voyage of the Sable Venus by Robin Coste Lewis, The Late Poems of Wang An-shih (trans. by David Hinton) and Sor Juana Juana Inés de la Cruz: Selected Works (trans. by Edith Grossman).

For many, many years, I have "measured out my life with coffee spoons," and poems. Monday I'll celebrate both with the world. --Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2713


Retail Mourning: 'I Sell Dead People'

"Death doesn't lend to easy commercialization. Which isn't to say that it can't, or isn't, harnessed in the commercial realm to great effect, but those who treat the dead without respect can do great harm to the living. How do we booksellers deal with the death of a prominent figure? There have been many conversations behind the counter (and everywhere else) with the deaths of David Bowie and Alan Rickman, which raised the specter of retail and death in my mind." --New Zealand bookseller Marcus Greville in a January post at the Booksellers NZ blog titled "I Sell Dead People"

At Sundog Books, Seaside, Fla.

I've been thinking about Greville's column a lot since I first read it. Every week there seems to be another reason or two or three to stoke this contemplative fire: Michel Tournier, Margaret Forster, Nigel McDowell, Harper Lee, Umberto Eco, Rosario Ferré, Louise Rennison, Pat Conroy and more.

Perhaps it also has something to do with some of the books I've been reading in recent months, including Paul Kalanthi's When Breath Becomes Air, Diane Rehm's On My Own, Atul Gawande's Being Mortal, Clive James's Sentenced to Life, Katie Roiphe's The Violet Hour and several essays by Jenny Diski, whose new book, In Gratitude, will be released in May.

Most authors outlive their books and watch them vanish from print (even if digital ghosts remain to haunt) long before the writers themselves have been shipped back to that great remainder house in the sky. Sometimes, however, books outlive their authors. When that happens, a phenomenon known as retail mourning occurs. NPR, newspapers and other media (including Shelf Awareness) run high-profile obituaries and follow-up pieces.

I remember scowling many years ago the first time I noticed one of those headline links on the news section of a distributor's books-in-print site: "[Writer's name] has died. Here is a list of some of this author's books."

Cold, man.

Memorial displays at Quail Ridge Books.

And yet, a sales floor wake is traditionally held. Bookstore buyers react to the news by immediately casting their lines into the murky waters of the biblio-Styx, ordering multiple copies of the author's backlist, including early titles from small and university presses that the shop might not have carried for years. Bookshop merchandisers build display memorials with whatever stock they have and appropriate signage. Everybody sells out, literally and figuratively, but in a nice way, I think.

"I have felt dirty displaying the books of a recently departed author; tainted by the commercial act," Greville wrote. "I was quite cynical when Terry Pratchett died, hoarding remaindered copies of his books in advance and waiting for his death. Yet in other instances I have reverently displayed the books of the dead, alongside photos and quotes. When Jose Saramago died in 2010, or Maurice Sendak in 2012, I went to great lengths to promote their books, because I loved them and wanted others to read them and love them too. I also loved Pratchett's work but felt guilty that I prepared for his death. Is it premise or practice that makes the act one of respect or disrespect?"

Upon learning that an author has passed, many readers head to bookstores because they feel compelled to seek out "books by that writer who just died. I never heard of him, but he sounds interesting." Or because they can't find the copies they bought years ago (which they know are hiding somewhere on their bookshelves or in boxes in that dry crawlspace in the cellar or were loaned to friends/relatives and never returned).  

This blend of mortality and marketing may seem like a summer stock production of Death and a Salesman, but it does have a proper ceremonial air. Booksellers honor living writers by finding readers for their work. Wouldn't they honor recently deceased writers the same way?

Reading helps us deal with adversity, so it makes sense that when authors die, particularly those who once deeply touched our mind and soul, a need to seek out their books again is a natural reaction. And isn't reading a traditional and essential part of memorial services? I once saw a list of tips for friends and relatives who would be reading at a funeral service. It included these two recommendations: 1) Readings are proclaimed from a suitable book. 2) Remember to read more slowly and deliberately than you would in normal conversation. Sound advice.

"Drawing attention to the works of an author, or a biography of a recently deceased person, rarely has a profitable aspect to it," Greville wrote. "It could well be argued that by making space for such displays one is taking prime space away from other more commercial titles. So what is being accomplished? A store is simply telling the world what it cares about, what it respects and loves. It's not about premise and/or practice, as a bookseller your premise is your practice; just keep it in alignment."

Read in Peace. --Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2708