Let me introduce my shelf: Kitya Mark

Image credit: Kitya Mark

 ‘The year’s doors open

Like those of language,

Toward the unknown.

Last night you told me:


We shall have to think up signs,

Sketch a landscape, fabricate a plan

On the double page

Of day and paper.

Tomorrow, we shall have to invent,

Once more,

The reality of this world’.

Elizabeth Bishop, Translation of January First by Octavio Paz

When we choose role models we are choosing the people that we want to emulate, we are seeking comfort in the idea of an ideal. The different role models that a person has at different moments in their lives act as markers for those moments, for what we needed at that time. I think that the books on our shelves (I use the generic term ‘books’ to mean all of it – poems and plays and prose and zines and those scraps of paper that you passed as notes in school and now keep stapled together inside a pencil case) offer a similar path of milestones. On coming to Cambridge I filled a cardboard box with ‘friendly’ books that I jokingly remarked would make me remember ‘why I chose this degree’. These are the selection of four of my ‘friendly’ books, they are an eclectic mix of familiar faces and strange acquirements but they have formed the blueprint of my year and I would highly recommend them all.

Simon Armitage, Paper Aeroplane

Bought from the bookshop local to my school. The whole collection is an assorted and often fierce testament to the importance of feelings. The poem ‘It Ain’t What You Do It’s What it Does To You’ (page six) paints the image of an Ordinary Hero. I think it is a poem crucial to an environment like Cambridge when everyone is trying to assume the title of Best At Academics/Socialising/Extra-Curricular/Leadership/Always On/Always Engaged. It is a poem that confirms the fact that you are allowed to simply be and relax into familiarity without your experiences being undermined or second-rate. It’s a poem that seems to be simultaneously a didactic manual for how to live and the good friend that will validate you even if you have spent the whole day in bed. A collection I would suggest for slumping afternoons and journeys on the tube.

Hualing Nieh, Mulberry and Peach

My English teacher gave it to me on my last day of school. It is a book I would recommend for train rides where no time can be wasted time and daydreaming is also allowed. The physical book is an annotated-pages-falling-out-dog-eared-Manchester-Public-Library copy. It has the red stamp of ‘CANCELLED’ on the inner cover and the lamination on the front has peeled off. It also has a letter folded inside that a friend of my teacher once wrote to him. The opening title page has a dedication written by my teacher to me on my final day, I will let him properly introduce this book:

 ‘You’ve made it to your final day of secondary school! Congratulations.

As you can see, this book has had quite a journey too. Now it goes to you. Its beautifully written, very artistic, and a great evocation of entrapment, China at a certain point in history, identity, gender etc. I think you’ll appreciate it.

Best Wishes always’ -

Ylva Sundgren, No One Can Love Like We Do

A collection of polaroid’s printed and stapled by artist (and I would argue poet) Ylva Sundgren. They are snapshots of friends and strangers that document the time in-between, the space when we must unravel the homes we have made out of people. Solitary times of waiting that can be both vulnerable and empowering. A book I would recommend for the sleepy grey moment before you have fully decided on the course of the day.

Elizabeth Bishop, Poems

Ordered second-hand off amazon and arriving white and big and fat, swaddled in brown paper. There is a deeply personal (almost confessional) element to the collection as the written manuscripts are delicately printed next to their twin in type, giving the poems a sense of human immediacy. January First was a poem I read when I needed a voice that was hopeful yet understood. There is a line in the poem where the speaker observes ‘the double page/ of day and paper’. This ‘double page’ is full of the anticipation and opportunity of all that a blank sheet and a new day can promise. I often find that books can help to sketch a landscape within displacement, to fabricate a sense of self which one can slip into and become grounded in text. ‘January First’ grants the reader an imaginative access to a self that is full of possibility. It is a poem that builds the reader up, plotting a draught to follow from word to word and line to patterned line. A book for blue mornings and for autumn.

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