One of my rituals, as a writer, like so many others, is to visit secondhand bookstores at any given opportunity. I have a few of my favourites stores around my home city of Melbourne, but I also love walking into any unknown bookstore to view its stock of discarded and abandoned “pre-loved” books.
Recently, one such visit though surprised me. I walked into an Op Shop in South Melbourne, for the window showcased a gamut of books from old volumes of Britannica and Shakespearre plays, to modern popular books such as Da Vinci code and a rather large selection of Tim Winton books. It was as if the books called out to me, greeted me and invited me inside. I wasn’t going to be rude was I? So I proceeded inside to browse.
Where to look when greeted by hundreds of books from an ecletic selection? Sometimes I look for a certain author, to see if I’m lucky enough to stumble upon a limited edition or signed copy, and steal it for a few dollars, but other times I just let my eyes wonder and see which titles they land on.
On this occassion they landed on a yellow soft-copy book titled, ‘The Poems of Lesbia Harford’. A poet I had never heard of, but now I can say, have come to much admire.
After a brief flick through the pages, the poem below is the first I landed eyes on and read. I didn’t need to read any more to know that I must have this book.
I continued browsing the book shelf to see if any other gems stood out, but I was too distracted now. Lesbia and her poetry were on my mind. I had to pay for the book immediately and hasten back to the car, where I opened the book from page one and commenced reading.
With poems, like these, I knew I was in for a treat. Written back in the early twentieth century, I felt as if they were written just last year.
The poetry is unpretensious, raw and honest. I felt like I was reading from her journal, as I’m instantly in her world. I’ve been whisked away to a time before WWI, and low and behold, after reading the first few pages of the introduction, Lesbia was from Melbourne, Australia too. Okay this is now getting exciting.
I continue to read and find poems such as these.
“Her life had always hung by a fine thread, which perhaps made her words seem all the more poignant, as if final.” (Nettie Palmer)
I’ve now finished the book and have to say how fortunate I feel to have stumbled upon this poet, previously unknown to me. It is so rewarding discovering books and authors this way. Stacked up in unkept bookstores, down alley ways and over counters that still accept only paper money.
I am now even more motivated to find great poetry out there, from poets I’ve never known or great poets who have simply slipped through the cracks of pop culture. Thinking now of all the great poets that have come and gone in time, some published, some not, who have disappeared through time, and never given the attention they deserve.
I found Lesbia Harford, crammed in an old bookshelf, amongst even more authors I have never heard of. And though she is not totally unknown (a google search brings her up instantly), she was to me and I know she will be to many others. I hope now, she has a few more readers.