We went up to Hertfordshire to visit Val’s parents yesterday. On the way to our train in King’s Cross station, we passed a bricked-in archway with half a luggage trolley stuck into it, as if passing straight through the wall. Above the trolley, a standard train station placard announced: “Platform 9 3/4”. That’s right — the magic portal to Hogwarts from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. England has a history of celebrating the blurred boundary between fiction and reality. In Old Hatfield, when we arrived, Val’s mother pointed out the Eight Bells pub — where Bill Sikes ostensibly sheltered after killing Nancy in Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist.Val was also delighted some years ago to discover a plaque inside The Church of St. George The Martyr in Southwark purporting that Little Dorrit sheltered there one famous night in the Dickens novel by the same name. Clearly, the English have a long and continuing tradition of literature informing life. I was hard pressed to find analogous American examples.
After lunch in Covent Garden, we went into the bookstore district of London today and had a look around Foyles. While the poetry section was not as physically large as Powell’s Books, it was well appointed with contemporary poets, including several feet of Ashberry. It also had all the old warhorses on the shelves, and Stephen Fry’s book on becoming a poet, which, on brief skim, seems to set the cause of non-metrical poetry back by a hundred years. Overall, there seemed to be a strong focus on verse and intricate lyric — though they did feature a number of free verse American poets, and prominently displayed Allan Ginsberg’s Howl. Still, the selection was noticeably different from independent bookstores I have perused in the U.S. — and certainly better equipped to meet the needs of a literate, poetry-loving people than your strip-mall Barnes & Noble or Borders chain store.
Off to visit Cambridge tomorrow.