In a Secondhand Bookshop

In a Secondhand Bookshop
Here’s his signature, W.S. Graham,
in tidy pencil inside a first edition
of Alanna Autumnal by George Barker. 
And he’s written the date, August
1944. And the place, Cornwall. 
Back then he was twenty-five, at war 
with the war, living in a caravan 
near Sydney Cove. Picture him there, 
sprawled on a cramped bench bed, 
feet up against the caravan window 
as he pulls this book back on its hinges 
and reads, lifting his eyes only occasionally
to the scraps of cloud above Pengersick Lane,
until the clouds become stars, 
until he moves into that next world, 
beyond Cornwall and beyond books, 
of dreams. Did it have, the caravan, 
man-made light? Don’t tell me 
it wasn’t the sun and then the moon 
that lit his way from word to word 
down Barker’s trail of young sentences. 
Maybe I buy the book in the brief belief 
that thoughts can be reciprocal 
and travel back and forth through time. 
Maybe I want to feel his hand under 
my own hand as I turn the old pages and read 
We have nothing left for us to do but sicken 
at the magnificence of our predecessors.
Mel Pryor
Copyright © Mel Pryor, 2018. All rights reserved.
Mel Pryor

Mel Pryor has won the Essex Poetry Prize, the Ware Sonnet Prize and the Philip Larkin Poetry Prize. She has published a pamphlet, Drawn on Water (Eyewear, 2014) and a full collection, Small Nuclear Family (Eyewear, 2015). Small Nuclear Family was chosen by Bel Mooney as a Christmas choice in the Daily Mail and the TLS described it as “a remarkable debut.”

Read more about this poet
About In a Secondhand Bookshop

This poem was written as part of 'The Blue Crevasse' project, which marks the centenary of W.S. Graham in 2018. The image of a blue crevasse famously appears in W.S. Graham’s poem ‘Malcolm Mooney’s Land’, and the author’s estate welcomed the idea of creating a similar metaphorical space where admirers of the poet might, in a sense, be lowered for a month’s solitary ‘residency’.