06 March 2009

A Bookseller Poet

Bookseller poets are not especially scarce or rare but they seldom write about bookselling. Joan Barton was a bookseller. She was also an accomplished poet somewhat in the style of Larkin and Betjeman but with a lyric tenderness entirely her own. She was born in England in 1908 and died in 1988. When illness curtailed her studies at Bristol University she began her working life as a bookseller. Later she was employed by the BBC and by the British Council where she was a director of a department during World War 2.

In 1947 she and her partner Barbara Watson started the White Horse Bookshop in Marlborough, but after twenty years sold it and moved to Salisbury, where they issued catalogues of modern first editions and children's books from their home. She reviewed for the New Statesman and contributed poems to many magazines including WAVE. Early in her writing life she owed much to the encouragement of Walter de la Mare. In her final years she had struggled with failing sight but she gained some recognition through a feature on US radio, a published interview and in 1979 an article on her in the American Journal Women in Literature. She was also included in several anthologies including Poetry Book Society Christmas Supplement, 1974 (ed. Philip Larkin) and the Oxford Book of Twentieth Century Verse.

She published about 6 little collections of poetry some of which can be bought online for modest sums, amongst them was a poem that referred to her work. There is another about a house call, a beautiful poignant poem which I shall air at a later date--meanwhile, take it away Joan :-


There are always lives
Left between the leaves
Scattering as I dust
The honeymoon edelweiss
Pressed ferns from prayer-books
Seed lists and hints on puddings
Deprecatory letters from old cousins
Proposing to come for Easter
And always clouded negatives
The ghost dogs in the vanishing gardens:
Fading ephemera of non-events,
Whoever owned it
(Dead or cut adrift or homeless in a home)
Nothing to me, a number, or if a name
Then meaningless,
Yet always as I touch a current flows,
The poles connect, the wards latch into place,
A life extends me-
Love-hate; grief; faith; wonder;

From 'The Mistress'. Sonus Press, Hull 1972.

1 comment:

Edwin Moore said...

What a lovely wee poem - many thanks, ms Barton is completely new to me.