For some years Rack Press has been producing quality content poetry pamphlets. Two bookshops stock them – the London Review Bookshop and Five Leaves (not that we are boasting or anything). With this title Rack takes a step forward, with a spine, a barcode and a title guaranteed to sell well in Bloomsbury bookshops at any rate.
The book is short – 52 pages – but packs in a lot of information for people who want to know more about that interesting area ten minutes from St Pancras. An area that Christopher Reid described as “a district of literary ghosts/that walk in broad daylight”.Ian Nairn was pretty dismissive though, saying that “As anything more than an area on a map, Bloomsbury is dead. Town planners and London University have killed it between them – a notably academic victory”. Maimed, but not killed, in my opinion. You can still buy hardware, books and wholefoods in Marchmont Street, sit for free in most of the parks, but the houses that literary Bloomsbury used to inhabit have long become university departments, pack ’em in lodgings, or upmarket hotels. And everywhere is under pressure from the landlords who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
There’s some proletarians over at Somers Town and odd patches of Council housing, but if a poetry bookshop was to open – like the Poetry Bookshop of Harold Monro of a hundred years ago there would not be many places in the modern Bloomsbury where “The shop was located in a rough area where the policemen preferred to patrol in pairs and the street urchins ran along behind Rupert Brooke when he arrived in his characteristic broad-brimmed hat chanting ‘Buffalo Bill! Bufallo Bill!'” Brooke was only one major figure who read in the dingy back room of the Poetry Bookshop, but the area has many links with good (and some delightfully awful) poets of the past, including the room where Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath spent their wedding night in a single bed and the house where Andrew Marvell died.