The Anthologist

By | 1 April 2011

Of course, it is a work of love —
and has the smell of dust about it,
the love that settles from the air

on everything unread.
It has the whiff of toner, too,
the creak of books split newly open,

face down into the light,
poets’ names attached in biro,
a note for reference also.

We almost hear the cut-and-paste,
the metal edge, the mucilage.
Of course, there will be borders too —

space and time and native tongue.
The publisher will always want
her clean subtitle, not

the vagrant tastes of just one man
let loose among his intuitions.
And, as with all librarians,

his book will be arranged:
alphabetically perhaps
or poets by their date of birth

or sectioned into themes maybe,
the generations and their schools.
He’s read the Greek progenitor,

indifferently translated,
the original a template
inside the Palatine.

Sometimes it will be search-and-rescue,
helicopter, dangled ropes,
a poem flailing in the swell

against its third and final time.
And, yes, he feels the shove of others,
their sense of how things ought-to-be,

the by-lines that they’ve always known,
the names which cannot be be left out —
and, no less so, the what-ought-not,

the ones too cheap and glitzy,
indecorous perhaps
or much too modish in their time.

He’s tweaking still the Introduction,
his ars poetica,
the rationale that might explain

a teenage love to doubtful parents.
He sees the book in both its forms:
the hardback, leather-bound,

distinguished on a thousand shelves;
the paperback the young will relish
sprawling on their lawns.

He’s not untalented himself,
a man of (is it?) six collections,
but probably he won’t include

a sample of his own —
although the first anthologist,
sixty years BC,

was not beyond such self-absorption.
His book will have its own coherence,
its own necessity.

It’s in the closing stages now —
late inclusions, slow deletions,
ready almost for the scanner,

the unifying discipline
of one sweet serif font.
There’ll be the business of permissions,

the correspondence with the living
and those not so long dead —
the heirs at least, so hard to please.

He even conjures up the launch,
the song to send it on its way
given by the last great voice

remaining from her generation.
He’s seeing, too, the first reviews,
the listing of his strange omissions,

the talk of what they would have done.
And yet his book will find its readers,
the ones who’ll make it last for months,

the chosen poems, two or three,
they’ll slip into their sleep each night,
the few whose love is long and real —

among them the anthologists
who’ll murmur quietly to themselves,
inserting stickers here and there

and dreaming of their own.

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