Copper Canyon Press, 2020.
128 pages. $18.00.
Bookstores, alongside libraries, have always been places of refuge for me—both sites of exploration and harbors. “There is no Frigate like a Book / To take us Lands away / Nor any Coursers like a Page / Of prancing Poetry,” as Emily Dickinson once wrote. I remember, more than a few times, standing in bookstores scattered across the world—entranced, transported, my eyes full of tears, as I read something that seemed to rock the very ground I stood on, as if I were at sea, or helped me find anchor and calm mooring.
Right now, I’m thinking about three booksellers and one librarian. Nearby, Suzanne DeGaetano, the manager of Mac’s Backs Books in Cleveland Heights, has been at the bookselling business for close to forty years. With giant portraits of local poets like Daniel Thompson and da levy on the walls, Mac’s declares its allegiance to poetry. Down in the narrow basement of Mac’s where the book events and readings happen, Suzanne will stand in the back, her eyes sometimes close and head moving as she rocks to the rhythm of poetry. She makes space for poetry and makes poets feel at home.
Farther off, I think of the poet Danny Caine, a former student at John Carroll University who, upon graduating from the MFA program at the University of Kansas, took over The Raven Book Store in Lawrence and began fighting the good fight against Amazon with his Tweets and zine. For Danny, the aforementioned online giant is crushing bookstores, and publishers agree with him. Danny reminds us that culture takes struggle.
When I was in Beirut in 2019, I met Adib Rahhal, the owner of The Little Bookshop, a tiny (12 foot x 12 foot?) box of a bookstore, lined with shelves of the most beautiful volumes—both classics and contemporary. In the hustle and bustle of the Hamra neighborhood in Beirut, this space—with its quiet lighting and meditative shop owner reading a book whenever I entered—seemed like another world, a space of wakeful dreaming, a wardrobe space that leads to another world.
Finally, I’ve recently been emailing Mosab Abu Toha, the founder of the Edward Said Library in Gaza. During the 2014 bombing, Mosab went to the university and rescued out of the rubble The Norton Anthology of American Literature, a book, he told me, “one of the instructors had used in his lectures.” He decided to create “a safe haven for books in the form of a public library that aspires to find good readers, writers who would make use of its books and the place.” In a place that others have called an open-air prison, Mosab Abu Toha created a site of freedom.
Harbor. Struggle. Space of Wakeful Dreaming. Freedom.
Philip Metres is the author of ten books, including Shrapnel Maps (2020). Working with documentary flyers, vintage postcards, travelogues, cartographic language, and first person testimonies, Shrapnel Maps ranges from monologue sonnets to prose vignettes, polyphonics to blackouts, indices to simultaneities, as Palestinians and Israelis long for justice and peace, for understanding and survival.
Metres’ work has garnered fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ohio Arts Council, and the Watson Foundation. He has been awarded the Adrienne Rich Award, three Arab American Book Awards, the Cleveland Arts Prize, and the Hunt Prize. Metres has been called “one of the essential poets of our time,” whose work is “beautiful, powerful, magnetically original.” He is professor of English and director of the Peace, Justice, and Human Rights program at John Carroll University, and lives in Cleveland, Ohio.
Photo credit: Heidi M. Rolf.