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With Every Good Wish

June 21, 2010

My fetish is a strange one. It probably doesn’t even count as a fetish. More something I just like…a lot. Anyway.

Moving on from that somewhat inarticulate beginning to my point. I love having books signed. Of course, everybody loves autographs; that little inked ribbon that ties one, however tenuously, to a celebrity or hero. I myself have a few half-envelopes and scraps of paper grafitti’d by musicians I have met after gigs. They’re squirrelled away in drawers at home, to be taken out every now and then and pawed at with reminiscences of breathless encounters with idols. But with books it’s a bit different.

I have a habit of compulsively purchasing collections and anthologies of contemporary poetry. As anyone who shares this compulsion will know, these books don’t come cheap. However, I am slowly but surely stocking up my own little library of modern poets, and the prized pieces of my collection will always be the signed editions. I’m up to six now, which doesn’t sound like many, but poets are elusive creatures, and I’ve made a point of having my books autographed personally, rather than shelling out extra cash for a signed copy of a book without actually meeting the author.

Some of my signed collections

Festivals like StAnza cater to my kind of addiction very well. At most of their events — and certainly the well-attended ones — there is a signing table with a queue of poetry enthusiasts snaking away from it. It gives people like me a five-second opportunity to put a book down and cough up a lame compliment to the pen- (or pint-) wielding poet. Okay, so this may be a little tedious for the poets (hence the pint), but I think it’s important to allow the readership some opportunity to engage, though briefly, with the human being lurking between the stanzas. There may not be very many people like me who get butterflies at the thought of approaching Seamus Heaney or Carol Ann Duffy, clutching a copy of their latest collection with trembling hands, but it can’t be a bad thing to encourage some kind of dialogue between writer and reader. And there must be a degree of fun to sitting back and basking in the admiration of the poetry-reading public…at least, I know I would enjoy that.

This may all sound like fluttery poetry fan-boying, and there’s a good reason for that: it is. But I fail to see what’s wrong with that. Most people probably wouldn’t get as excited about seeing Don Paterson walking down the street as they would David Beckham (especially not if they lived in St Andrews), but if it’s wrong to bestow hero-worship on the finest poets of the times, then I don’t really want to be right.

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