a letter to infinity is a series on poet vagabonds, a scrapbook of how one wanders through the weekend, taste-testing the literary resonances of a city, treating the heart that went missing and rediscovering the place where eventually it can land.
This series invites a collaboration between myself and poet Rebecca Foust, highlighting women poets renewing lost loves in their discovery of new places.
In this series you will find photographs of the historic bookshops of London – including Cecil Court, a haven thoroughfare of storefronts selling literary prints, maps, antiques, and first editions. You will find photographs of the residences of poets who passed by London through the ages. You will find photographs of poems lost and found, nomads of a city of fog and unexpected light. And most of all, you will find our poems, in conversation with other poems like letters to an ever-approaching dawn.
This series was inspired in part by Writers’ London: A Guide to Literary People and Places by Carrie Kania and Alan Oliver, ACC Art Books (2019).
Each of our letters will be archived here and on Rebecca’s site, respectively.
The Putney Underground Station is my go-to when I’m in the mood of avoiding the bus and overground (one of my colleagues likes to joke that alternative transport has grown on me ever since we started trekking to exhibitions together from the Uni, but I beg to differ…the tube is still my favorite). I pass Hurlingham Books every time I take the District Line to Central London, its windows stacked high and wide with books like a layer cake. When you walk in it’s like a compressed attic, dusty but desirable. Hurlingham is possibly the oldest independent bookshop in South West London. No reader will ever leave this place lonely.
From The Tide Table by Ruth Valentine (1998). Its publisher, Slow Dancer Poetry, says that Valentine “writes with equal authority about the landscapes of the heart and the mind, about extreme emotional states and situations, hauntingly and with breadth of vision.”
find love songs in the moment – streets darken too quickly, the memory of a hand like a crystalizing winter in the twilight, and the hour arrives to steal back forgiveness and to open a door that couldn’t quite close all the way.
This book actually came from my landlady’s library. On the day of the Festing Road street party, she gave it to me knowing only that I was a poet…little did she know I would take this hybrid autobiopic everywhere in my first cell-service-free week in London. Coincidentally, upon my moving out months later, she gifted me the other Smith book, Woolgathering, which I quickly devoured at the theater waiting for a West End show to start. I took Devotion with me in my further expedition down Cecil Lane, whereupon discovering Tindley & Everett, a small shop and large basement filled with first editions of 20th century literature.
“Siberian Flowers” is from Devotion by Patti Smith (2017). Its publisher, Yalebooks, says that “whether writing in a café or a train, Smith generously opens her notebooks and lets us glimpse the alchemy of her art and craft in this arresting and original book on writing.”
I left the poem in the face of love – it falls swiftly like snow drifts, unseen, a child whispering it loves you before disappearing. while loss blankets a forest, through sunrise it softens the wound.
There is no way to avoid the rain in London. This bookshop on the West End, Henry Pordes Books, was my temporary refuge one Saturday. They are a seller of antiquarian and second-hand books and remainders. I bought a Trafalgar Square postcard there for a whopping £3, which I later sent off to an English friend back in the States. I eventually settled for the multi-story Foyles Bookshop up the road, for the purpose of perusing, which of course did nothing to match the charm of this one, but its assortment of poetry was more substantial.
“All She Desires, Refreshment Kiosk, Battersea Park, Summer, 1895” is from London Undercurrents by Joolz Sparks & Hillaire, Holland Park Press (2019)
I left the poem thinking about how a girl can dream – every subway mile seems walkable, round a riverbend that aches from bicycles and teatimes. in the day it’s so easy to imagine riding forever like a long sentence into a night where movement doesn’t grow weary anymore.
On this same Sunday, a further walk up Broadway Market is Donlon Books, a bookshop with an esoteric collection of the latest art, photography, cultural theory, independent publications and zines. William Carlos Williams said “it is the poet, Allen Ginsberg, who has gone, in his own body, through the horrifying experiences described from life in these pages.”
“Song” is from HOWL and Other Poems by Allen Ginsburg, City Lights Books (1996).
I left the poem feeling like love had fallen down an eastern-facing staircase, san franciscan and beat, the waiting like a soft burden that sunk toward basement level, a cushioned sadness, leaving me weightless yet floored.
I spent my first UK Sunday in London Fields, by a strip of bohemian riverside house boats and marketplace food vendors. With thick helvetica fonts and colorful boards binding pages and text mosaics from floor to ceiling, Artwords Bookshop is a bookseller of magazines on contemporary visual culture. In it, I found this year’s Spring edition of the Berlin Quarterly, a European review of narrative journalism, literature and the arts.
“Hull” is from Xandria Phillips’ poetry series, For a Burial Free of Sharks.
I left the poem breathless, thinking how the ocean often takes the journey out of us. And we drown inside the bottle we pitch, hoping on the other side it will fill up with air.