National Poetry Day Blog

Books Are My Bag – poets pick their favourite bookshops

Books Are My Bag is a nationwide campaign to celebrate bookshops. We asked 7 poets to choose their favourite bookshop, and to let us know what’s in their bag today.

Ian Duhig‘s favourite bookshop is ‘Waterstones in Leeds, really because of all the events they’ve put on over the years that I have so mch enjoyed.’

His favourite book: ‘Tristram Shandy, which I would recommend because it makes you slow down in your reading, see patterns and hear echoes rather than follow plot mechanics, and in this is more like poetry: you have to give both a chance.’

The book in his bag? ‘Jibanananda Das’ selected poems Naked Lonely Hand translated from the Bengali by Joe Winter. For the last couple of years I’ve been involved with the local RadhaRaman Folk Festival and came to understand poetry is as highly-esteemed in Bengali culture as it is in Irish. Jibanananda Das was recommended to me and after reading Naked Lonely Hand I do the same to anybody reading this.

Which bookshop will he be visiting on Bookshop Day, Saturday 6th October? ‘The Grove Bookshop in Ilkley. I will be performing at the Ilkley Festival that day with the composer Christopher Fox as well that day if you’re around.’

Marjorie Lotfi Gill’s favourite bookshop? ‘It would be a three-way tie between the Edinburgh Bookshop, Lighthouse Bookshop and Golden Hare Books, all local and independent bookshops in Edinburgh. And then I’d need to throw in EACH ONE of the terrific bookshops in Wigtown, Scotland’s book town!’

Her favourite book: ‘John Glenday’s collection Grain. His language is deceptively simple and spare, but quietly poignant and thoughtful; as a reader you’re so connected to the narrative you don’t realise how much else you’re taking on board. Every time I return to it, I learn something new.’

The book in her bag? ‘I almost always travel with a John Burnside or Adrienne Rich book in my bag.

Which bookshop will she be visiting on Bookshop Day? ‘I’ll be at my local bookshop, Edinburgh Bookshop, in the Bruntsfield area of Edinburgh.’

Henry Normal chooses Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham as his all time favourite bookshop: ‘Not only does it have a great poetry selection, it has supported local poets over many years with book launches, stock and bookstalls at events. They’re more like an extended family than booksellers, although you will still need to pay for the books, of course.’

His favourite book? ‘Gold from the Stone by Lemn Sissay. In terms of championing the humanity within us, I believe Lemn is one of the most important poets alive today.’

The book in his bag? ‘Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter published by Faber. I’m not sure if it’s in the poetry section but it should be. It is the most beautifully poetic book I’ve read in many years. It made me both laugh and shed a tear. One of the main characters is intriguingly a version of Ted Hughes’s Crow.’

Where will he be on Bookshops Saturday? ‘City Books in Brighton. I bought Poems that Make Women Cry last time I was in. This time I think I’ll buy Poems that Make Men Cry. We all love a good cry now and then. They should sell tissues with these books!’

The Emergency Poet Deborah Alma loves Wenlock Books in Much Wenlock in Shropshire. ‘As well as being

one of the most beautiful old buildings in lovely Much Wenlock, there is a delicious range of new and second-hand books all beautifully displayed. Owner Anna Dreda is the perfect mix of bookseller and host and her offering of afternoon tea to anyone who happens to be in the shop is delightful. There’s always something going on; poetry readings, book group meetings, poetry breakfasts, poetry and knitting … It’s the heart of the community of Much Wenlock’.

Her favourite book? ‘Today my choice is the Bloodaxe poetry anthology Staying Alive edited by Neil Astley, because it has such a range of outstanding, intelligent and accessible contemporary poetry from all over the world. I never tire of this book.’

What book is currently in her bag? ‘She is Fierce: Brave, Bold and Beautiful Poems by Women a poetry anthology edited by Ana Sampson. I love it! Stirring stuff and I’m proud to have a poem of my own inside . The book is a beautiful object too.’

Which bookshop will she be visiting on Bookshop Day, Saturday 6th October? ‘I’ll be in Kendal in the Lake District talking to people with a cancer diagnosis at a Macmillan discussion day about how reading and writing poetry can be a tool for living with ill-health. There’s a lovely Waterstones there.’

Emma Wright names Five Leaves Bookshop as her favourite: ‘It’s tucked up a little alley off the main shopping street in the centre Nottingham, and it’s a marvel. It has a great selection of books, a team of passionate and dedicated staff, and it runs lots of events. It is a community bookshop and a proudly radical bookshop, which I think is important.’

What is your favourite book? ‘My all-time favourite author is Diana Wynne Jones. She built worlds inside her books that were utterly absorbing and convincing, so reading any of her books is like being transported somewhere magical. I think my favourite one is Fire and Hemlock, but for beginners I’d probably recommend Archer’s Goon, Howl’s Moving Castle, A Tale of Time City or The Game.’

What book is in her bag? ‘I just bought a copy of The Best We Could Do, the graphic novel memoir by Thi Bui. It tell the story about a family escaping South Vietnam in the 1970s, which I can’t wait to read because this is my family’s story too. When I was growing up I never thought I’d be able to read about this part of my history, but now more and more people in my generation are writing about it and being published.

On Bookshop Day, Saturday Emma will be running my own pop-up bookshop. ‘Around 60 makers will be taking over spaces in the Jewellery Quarter, Birmingham, and I’ll have a bookstall. I mostly work from my home office in the Jewellery Quarter, so it will be nice to be more public-facing for the day.’

Fiona Waters, who created the anthology I Am the Seed that Grew the Tree, has chosen Heffers in Cambridge as her favourite bookshop: ‘I worked there for the happiest years of my long career and it has an unrivalled selection of poetry books. Even now, whenever I visit Cambridge it is a must stop destination.’

Her favourite book? ‘Absolutely impossible question. There isn’t a piece of paper long enough! But The Christmas Truce by Carol Ann Duffy is perfect. Beautifully subtle, heartbreaking and wondrous – all at once.

What book is currently in her bag? ‘Luck is the Hook by Imtiaz Dharker.’

Which bookshop will she be visiting on Bookshop Day? ‘Gullivers Bookshop in Wimborne, Dorset.’

And Kim Moore picks out Sutton’s Bookshop in Ulverston, her nearest independent bookshop: ‘Robert, the owner always has time for a chat about poetry and life. My other favourite bookshop is Sam Read in Grasmere – they always have an extensive selection of poetry books with lots of collections that have just been published.’

Her favourite book? ‘My most recent favourite though is Living a Feminist Life by Sara Ahmed. It’s a book that makes me feel better and more hopeful whenever I reach the point of despair and it’s beautifully written. I think some of it sounds like poetry. If I was recommending a poetry collection I would like to mention two brilliant and recently published books – Flood by Clare Shaw, which explores literal and metaphorical flooding and The AQI by David Tait, which takes a good look at climate change, homophobia and air pollution (published by Smith/Doorstop).’

The book in her bag? ‘I have a wonderful pamphlet by Liz Berry called The Republic of Motherhood and Eidolon by Sandeep Parmar.’

Which bookshop will you be visiting on Bookshop Day? ‘I’ll be at Swindon Poetry Festival on the 6th October so I expect I will be haunting the Festival book table.’

You can vote for your favourite poetry book in the Books Are My Bag Readers Awards.