Steve Whitaker, Literary Editor

Poem Of The Week: Farnham Library Card By Matthew Stewart

Farnham Library Card

After decades in my wallet,
you still survive my monthly cull
of receipts and jotted numbers.

You led me round a Georgian maze,
floorboards squeaking in the silence
while I hunted Shutes and Macleans,
Bagleys and Kyles – any cover
that seemed promisingly seedy.

Your yellow edges remind me
that my need for book after book
after book is tattered and frayed

and resolute.

Matthew Stewart’s simple address – to a dog-eared library card – speaks to our sense of loyalty to an ideal. As ‘tattered’ as the frayed edges of a service under existential threat, the card is a reminder of what books mean in the abstract, how they remain on the edge of our consciousness like totems, animating our memories, reinforcing the significance of the written word to learning, to education, even to wisdom. More still, how they encourage and enable the power of transcription, giving the poet the means of discharging an emotional debt through the conduit of verse.

The precise nature of the books the narrator recalls – the ‘Shutes and Macleans’ – is secondary to the wider arc of affiliation, of the meaning of this ‘Georgian maze’ whose blandishments are sensory as much as literary. The ear hangs on to squeaking floorboards in this mausoleum where the arbiters of silence used to raise a single finger to the lips in admonishment.

Stewart’s gentle interchange of rhythm and metre, and seductive use of sibilance, draw the reader into his tableau. The relentless drum of ‘book after book / after book’ shatters the quietude, ironising purpose, yet finding a kind of salvation in the act of resolve, as though the upholding of such a flame was the only means of survival in an embattled darkness.

'Farnham Library Card’ was originally published in Next Review and now appears in Matthew Stewart’s collection, Whatever you do, just don’t, published by Happenstance Press (2023). The poem is reproduced here with the kind permission of the author.

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