Friday, March 26, 2010


Carter Monroe issued a dare and if I were a betting woman I could have made some money off this one. I knew it instantly.

"Go to your local big bookstore and find the poetry section. What you'll probably find is that the greatest number of books by a single author are books by Charles Bukowski."

Maybe in your South, CM, but not in mine. Remember, we are so far away from an interstate highway that nothing but Mom and Pop grocery stores want to serve our inhabitants. Our idea of a chain food store is one that also has stores in Gravel Hill, Slow Market, and Hog Level.
My guess is that the only reason we even have a big box bookstore is that the chain actually originated here. Kind of. In a way.

Always anxious to prove myself right, I drove out to our local Books-A-Million. For Florence, Alabama, this can be the highlight of the day, something to truly look forward to. The coffee guy brewed me a fresh one and I took off on my stroll around the store.

My first stop: the information desk. I buy a lot of poetry books, but I usually buy them at poetry readings and get them signed by the authors. I had never looked for poetry in the store before.

"Where is the poetry section?" I asked, in a normal voice.

Five people turned from the books they were inspecting to look to see what crazy woman had asked for the poetry section, maybe to see if they needed to call the police.

"Over there," the worker pointed. "Underneath that sign that says Poetry."

There are a lot of shelves in four foot sections in Books-A-Million. A whole lot. Even the regional section takes up maybe four or five of these 4' x 6' sections. Poetry had one. Which may sound kind of generous until you realize that the books were spread out like they were rare and delicate objects in a museum, too risky to let them touch. There were so few of them that they were not slotted onto the shelves with the spines showing. They were placed solidly against the back of the shelves, the full covers on view. And even at that, the shelves looked sparse.

But here is what you really want to know: what passes for poetry in Florence, Alabama.
Keats, Whitman, Donne, Dickinson, and the Brownings all had nice little books that would be a pleasant addition to a sick person's basket of goodies. Then there were the poems for romantic occasions: Rumi's Love Poems. There was Dante, a 'new' translation of the Bhagavad Gita,
several misplaced prose books on finance, Helen Steiner Rice's GOD'S PROMISES FROM A-Z,
Bartlett's, Yeats, Eliot, POEMS THAT LIVE FOREVER (over 300,000 copies sold, America's Favorite Poems of Love, Humor, Faith, and Inspiration), Lord Byron, Tennyson, Khalil Gibran, more Dante. The books were not listed alphabetically at all or by any other system I could fathom. Then suddenly there were about 8 titles by Maya Angelou, and interspersed around, 3 titles by Billy Collins. Tucked away on the bottom shelf were Tupac Shakur, Leonard Cohen, 2 titles by Pablo Neruda, Nikki Giovanni, Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan, and then THE FLASH OF LIGHTNING BEHIND THE MOUNTAIN by Charles Bukowski, the rest of the Bukowski books having previously flown off the shelf in an earlier mad buying frenzy, no doubt.

I sat in the aisle for quite a while sipping my coffee and looking at the covers. I got up and picked up the big thick 20 dollar Pablo Neruda and decided to buy it. Just as I was turning to leave, a slim little volume caught my eye, buried beneath two other books at the edge of the shelf, the cover turned 'just so' so that it was carefully hidden. TALES OF TRAVEL EROTICA FOR LESBIANS, Vol 2. But from the looks of it, it was a prose book.


Carter Monroe said...

I hid that book there because for some mysterious reason, I'd left my wallet at home.

Jeanie Thompson said...

The shelf you so wonderfully describe is repeated all over this country in many bookstore --- even some of the most beloved independents have "slim" poetry sections. I want to say that I was thrilled beyond measure to find a packed poetry section at Shakespeare and Company in Paris, and even more thrilled that they would accept books on consignment. When I asked if they could take a volume from an independent publisher in Alabama, the proprietor, who was busily running the show from her hub in the front of the store, took the copy in hand, looked it over and deemed it worthy, stamped a consignment sheet and told me to go put the two copies she would handle on the shelf myself. Listen up writers, ask and ye shall receive a spot on a shelf in a bookstore in Paris. Try that in the USA --see what happens! It might work here, too. Accepting the status quo is something poets never do -- they write against the grain, they write out of the grain --- let's be a little more assertive, comrades.
Thanks, Anita, for the research!

Anita Miller Garner said...

Carter, you are just flommoxed because I was right, for once :-)
And I probably did not spell that particular "f" word correctly, so you can have fun pointing that out to me at some future date.

And, JT, how ironic your book is at Shakes and Co but not at our local big box store.

Manda said...

What intrigues me most are the misplaced finance books. I can't help but wonder about the person who goes to the bookstore to look at finance books, selects some, ends up in the poetry section, discards the finance books for, what?

Anita Miller Garner said...

Manda, I wondered about that, too. Did the person stand there and ponder: poetry or finance? poetry or finance? And, yes, if it were a matter of choice, what poet served as the inspiration?? Or was the finance book simply left somewhere else and an employee mindlessly stuck it on a shelf that seemed less than full?