Angela Topping

December 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Mean Librarian

The mean librarian
gives us dirty looks
Makes us wash our hands
before we touch the books.
Hates us coming in,
says we make a noise.
thinks we can’t read
says ‘Books are not toys’.
She stamps out our books
like she’s stamping on our toes.
Always says, as if we wouldn’t,
‘Take good care of those’.

The mean librarian
checks in our returns.
Looks inside them carefully
for crumbs and stains and burns.
Slaps them on the counter
as if she’s slapping faces
then takes care to put them
In proper numbered spaces.
The mean librarian
will be satisfied when
all the books are safe on shelves
and never borrowed again!


Angela Topping

December 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

Why We Need Libraries

I was born to working class parents in 1954. There wasn’t much money for books, though there was a rich oral tradition in our house, with my mum and dad and older siblings all telling me stories. There was also Listen with Mother on the radio, and when I was five, Watch with Mother on TV. But this wasn’t enough. I had an insatiable appetite for stories. My oldest brother used to tease me saying ‘I’ll tell you a story/ about Jackanory’. As soon as he reached the second phrase I knew I was cheated, as it went on ‘and now my story’s begun./ I’ll tell you another about his brother/ and now my story’s done’. I would squeal in frustration.

And so my mum took me to the library and let me get some books out. There was a small bookcase of little children’s books and once they had been read to me I could remember the story by looking at the words. Pretty soon I had taught myself to read. So from an appetite for stories I developed an appetite for books.

Once I was at school, more books were in the classroom. I ignored the teacher who said I couldn’t read because I hadn’t been to school, and read silently whenever I wasn’t expected to do things with numbers, paints or skipping ropes. I used to go to the library after school twice a week with my friends, to change our books and enjoy Storytime when a librarian would read to us from a book and show us the pictures. I could hardly breathe until I knew the Elephant’s Child was safe from the crocodile. It was here I discovered The Hobbit and took it out in a fit of pique because my class teacher had said blue and green did not go together. I had disagreed and now here was a book with blue and green on the cover. And the inside of it was just as wonderful.

During my years in the children’s library I think I read every book they had, including a shelf almost the length of the room of Tales from Other Lands, all the Andrew Lang Fairy books, and many more. The children’s librarians always made us welcome and knew our names. It was a home from home.

This is an excerpt from a longer piece published in The Robin Hood Book 2012

Angela Topping

November 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

Translate This      

For Anne Stevenson

All language is the translation of hungers into sounds
Michele Roberts

Language lies on the tongue.
Its babble rises from hungers
in the dark; in a need for answers;
in black water, stiff with ice.

Fire, food, warmth, water – words
of people finding sounds can signify.
Rhythms of words beaten out
in dancing feet or echoing drums,
words – the first ordering of sense.

‘I see’ is amazement,
‘No’ is power, and calling for things
brings them magically to hand. Words
too few to lie. Feel them in your mouth,
come to know their texture after the tongue
tires of rattles and spoons of slop.

Signs on the page that can speak
in the private mind mean stories
whenever they are wanted,
soothing a whining child to silence,
make a world to crawl inside, to travel time
and spin the galaxy like a roundabout.

Language on the page whispers ‘I’m here’,
when the writer’s formless dust.
Take Catullus’ hendecasyllables –
insinuating hate, sharp insults centuries old,
to fit live tongues though his is dead.

From dead empires disseminated words
infect the air. In libraries
words sleep, waiting for readers’ eyes
to wake them with a glance. Listen,
as soon as books open voices command,
babbling of hungers lying in the dark.

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