Category: shop

27 Oct

Alan Halsey 1949-2022

It is with sadness we write of the deaths of both Anne Stevenson, the founder of the Poetry Bookshop, & now Alan Halsey, its proprietor from 1981-1997. Anne’s “mad-cap idea” to set up the shop back in 1978 has, ever since, allowed its customers the rare thrill of finding themselves stood in a room entirely surrounded by poetry books you can browse & purchase. In addition to writing the first book on Elizabeth Bishop & her ground-breaking book on Sylvia Plath she was awarded both the Queen’s Medal for Poetry & the Neglected Masters’ Award in the US for her own work. Here is a poem she wrote during her brief, heady time in Hay

Spring comes little, a little. All April it rains.
The new leaves stick in their fists; new ferns still fiddleheads.
But one day the swifts are back. Face to the sun like a child
You shout, ‘The swifts are back!’

Sure enough, bolt nocks bow to carry one sky-scyther
Two hundred miles an hour across fullblown windfields.
Swereee swereee. Another. And another.
It’s the cut air falling in shrieks on our chimneys and roofs.

The next day, a fleet of high crosses cruises in ether.
These are the air pilgrims, pilots of air rivers.
But a shift of wing, and they’re earth-skimmers, daggers
Skilful in guiding the throw of themselves away from themselves.

Quick flutter, a scimitar upsweep, out of danger of touch, for
Earth is forbidden to them, water’s forbidden to them,
All air and fire, little owlish ascetics, they outfly storms,
They rush to the pillars of altitude, the thermal fountains.

Here is a legend of swifts, a parable —
When the Great Raven bent over earth to create the birds,
The swifts were ungrateful. They were small muddy things
Like shoes, with long legs and short wings,

So they took themselves off to the mountains to sulk.
And they stayed there. ‘Well,’ said the Raven, after years of this,
‘I will give you the sky. You can have the whole sky
On condition that you give up rest.’

‘Yes, yes,’ screamed the swifts, ‘We abhor rest.
We detest the filth of growth, the sweat of sleep,
Soft nests in the wet fields, slimehold of worms.
Let us be free, be air!’

So the Raven took their legs and bound them into their bodies.
He bent their wings like boomerangs, honed them like knives.
He streamlined their feathers and stripped them of velvet.
Then he released them, Never to Return

Inscribed on their feet and wings. And so
We have swifts, though in reality, not parables but
Bolts in the world’s need: swift
Swifts, not in punishment, not in ecstasy, simply

Sleepers over oceans in the mill of the world’s breathing.
The grace to say they live in another firmament.
A way to say the miracle will not occur,
And watch the miracle.

Anne Stevenson 1933 – 2020

However, it was the remains of Alan’s carefully curated stock that we “inherited” back in 1998. As is made evident by his own extensive work both as poet & editor his interest seemed boundless, whether in terms of modern innovative poetry or its most arcane 18th & 19th century practitioners. Even after all this time, that knowledge (all garnered in pre-internet times) remains an impossible act to follow! We leave the books to do their magic… Here is the second of two poems published in the Hereford Poems series of Five Seasons Press by Alan’s great friend & collaborator, Glenn Storhaug.

Song of the Rowan
Beam-branch bent down with berries
Hen-berries, witch-berries, dog-berry me.
Blown leaves pale-face the sun
My love has gone.

Quickbeam berry, summer’s curse
Blood-moon berry, woman’s care
Salve me. Curst the day
My love’s away.

Caretree berry, eye’s delight
Whose flowers were clear at twilight
Were clear and bright as moons:
Return her soon.

The year is quick as beauty lasts
Is quick, cut twig, leaf-silver’s cast
In berry-red. Heavy as berries night weighs
While she’s away.