It's just an au revoir
This weekend the Central Library will close to the public - marking another historical chapter in the life of this second city. So I thought I'd re-print the poem that was commissioned when I was Poet Laureate of Birmingham (2000-01) when the plans for its closure were first unveiled. This is what the Central Library meant to me, means to me....
The Central Library
(The Central Library) is like a place where books are incinerated.
HRH Prince of Wales, BBC, Ominbus, May 1988
I've read that you're coming down,
marking the end of an age, the passing of time.
You stood tall throughout my youth
you, my O' level days of the seventies
you, my hideaway, my secret den
my literary construct -
a child of the sixties.
In the eighties,
you played reason in a turbulent universe
you, that was serene and quiet
the cultural oasis of contemplation,
the modest intellect
fading away like a monastery -
and their burning of books outside your door.
In the nineties,
you played the role of my reference,
my bearing, my guardian,
a poem in the making,
you, that life in a dying world,
a blighted star,
the focal point of protests and demos -
skateboarders and refugees.
In history you'd be the republican, the genius,
the constitutional architect,
the formulator of democracy,
or a document like the Magna Carta
or the Bill of Rights -
the thorn in the side of monarchy.
You acted as a symbol like a discerning belief
a sacred place, holy as the Vatican
or the Ganges
prominent as the Great Wall of China
and just as deep -
where God was dissected like a museum piece.
You were the thought,
a microcosm of my world
you, who were rich and rare,
a statement of Time personified
not the past or the present -
but a picture of tomorrow that never was
like the unforeseeable winebars and McDonalds
that emerged like cancer growing inside you.
And perhaps, today,
you were not so much a failure
but an incomplete hope in a jaundiced world
of money, aesthetics and government policies,
crumbling away like a meteorite
or an asteroid heading for earth,
a revelation defined by a scientific law.
And so you're crumbling down,
book by book at the turn of the century
rejuvenating in another world
marking the passage of Time -
Taking rubble to rubble, dust to dust
and with them, all my ashes.