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Our Book Brethren by Paula Nicolson (Libraries Week x National Poetry Day)

Category: Blog, Libraries Week, Libraries Week 2022

Libraries Week 2022 - never stop learning, with a woman listening to a laptop wearing headphones.

As I flicked through the yellow stained and creased pages of Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss, whispering the rhythm and rhymes as I did so, I felt a terse tap on my shoulder.

‘Don’t forget to pick a poetry book,’ my mum said.

That was the requisite for my ten year old self when borrowing books from our local library. I could borrow eight books, but my mum always insisted that one must be a poetry book. And the Dewey Decimal System of the non-fiction section offered up a reassuring consistency of order, especially when I searched for a Spike Milligan or a Roger McGough – all down to the efficiency of a librarian who smelt of freshly picked roses.

And so my library loans became my brethren in times when I needed to escape from the arguments, the cold and loneliness. They also charmed the corners of my brain that seemed to function akin to a Roald Dahl novel, took me to countries I never knew existed, and most of all, made me laugh.

And the poetry? Their succinctness satisfied my short attention span and became equivalent to the sugar high from a couple of ounces of coconut teacakes from the sweet shop. I penned my own teenage angst-ridden poetry, and then after the birth of my daughter, songs to entertain her in the bath. As she grew, so did my own poetry. I studied books on how to write poetry, how to present poetry and even how to perform poetry. I learned how to dither over synonyms and syllables until every word, on each line, was the right and only word I could use to convey that emotion – and hopefully evoke the same in someone else.

But every writer will tell you that a large part of their inspiration comes from real life: a sign on an aviary that says that the word budgie means ‘good food’ in Aborigine; commuters aggressively pushed and shoved onto trains; and what if the children’s author, Jacqueline Wilson, lived under my bed? I’ve had poetry published on a fly in a fridge to a second world war conscientious objector – the world of poetry is that big and wonderful.

But without libraries, I wouldn’t have had access to any of the authors or books I mention above, nor developed my love and skill of poetry. The concept of borrowing any book from a shelf, FOR FREE, still snaps my synapses. But a library’s social commodity is still underestimated. I often see the elderly snooze in a warm armchair with a book on their lap, students catching up on homework in a quiet corner with a bunch of books, and a mum enjoying the sight of their toddler giggling to a story read to them by a librarian (smelling of freshly picked roses).

As my poem, “Our Book Brethren” says: ‘They’re family, our book brethren … for it’s your best buddy’. So go to a library and ‘Open a book. Let stories steep your soul.’

Thank you so much to Paula for sharing such beautiful insights into how libraries have and continue to shape her lifelong learning as a poet – perfect for National Poetry Day!

Read Paula’s inspiring poem “Our Book Brethren” in full here in our #LibrariesAreEssential – Creative Contributions or discover more about CILIP Scotland and Libraries Week.

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