I don’t get it. I never have.
It seems simple at first. Pocket money. Coins trickling through your fingers. Save them up. Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.
But it isn’t what it is. Money isn’t those coins. Money’s something else.
When you start working, and they pay you, money is what you’re worth. The more you get paid the more you’re worth, it appears. Some people are worth a lot.
So you save it up. The more you save, the safer you are.
Or you borrow it and spend it. The more you spend, the richer people think you are. The more you spend, the more panicked you get inside.
How much of it do you think you should have? Do you watch the Lottery adverts? That’s how much you should have. Money makes people delirious with happiness. Money is banknotes like confetti.
I don’t like it.
Somewhere in my upbringing I got the idea that money was a bad thing. Land and property and horses were good, but actual money was bad. Money was the bad root of envy and double-dealing. Money made you cheap and it was best never to mention it out loud. It is a secret thing. It belongs in the bank, or under the bed.
In the UK, you tell your friends you got a new job, but not what you get paid. You tell your friends you’re retiring, but not what your pension will be. You tell your friends you’re depressed, but not that you’re in debt. You never tell anybody that you haven’t got enough money for the heating bill. People kill themselves because of money. People kill for money.
But sometimes it’s lovely, isn’t it? If you can get some, it lets you go places. It gets you tickets. With money, you can fly. With money, you can give some to people who haven’t got any. Except there’s never enough.
I don’t even like writing about money. Nevertheless, I’ve been thinking about it all week. Why? Because the Scottish Poetry Library is involved in a rebuilding and extension project. And the Scottish Poetry Library (SPL) has been fund-raising for some time (successfully) but it still needs more money. Money!
I don’t think of the SPL in terms of money. I do think of it in terms of riches. When I first discovered it, tucked away at the bottom of the Canongate on the way to Holyrood Palace, I was gob-smacked. I didn’t know back then there could be such as thing as a library for poetry. A building FULL of poetry!
But there was, and there is. It was thirty years old last year. Its creaking shelves contain aeons of poetry books, ancient and modern. And corners to sit and read. And light soaring through the high windows. It’s a happy place. When you go in, an unmistakable feeling of welcome and cheerfulness greets you. There’s a coat rack. You take off your coat and you stay as long as you want.
It’s a beautiful building, no question. The plans for the new development will make it lovelier and bigger. It will do more for more people; it will have space for more books; it will have a sound studio! So to make something more beautiful, to make it better, it’s back to that other thing: money. Such a lot of money is needed to do anything like this. Where is it to come from?
Well, mainly not from poets. Poets, as we know, live in garrets and can’t afford to buy books (another reason why the library is crucial). But other organisations, and national arts funding, will help. The ‘Friends’ of the library help. The SPL Director must have been making funding applications in her sleep for the last year. She is a human being, of course. I haven’t mentioned the human component of the library yet, but there is one, and it is remarkable.
Books are made by people, and looked after by people, and so is poetry. The staff of the poetry library are pledged to this cause. They get paid in money. But their worth cannot, simply cannot be measured in terms of what they get paid.
SPL staff change, of course (though some of them have been there a long time). And yet somehow, the magic continues. The staff of the Scottish Poetry Library are remarkable people. They don’t just preside over books. They know about poetry. They delight in it. They laugh in it and romp around. They get excited. They track lost poetry down. They take it out into the world in golden wheelbarrows.
The library building is the power house and hub; the books are the secret source of power (they hum, they really do); but the activity that stretches out from there is vast – it reaches right across the world and back. So not just books. (But also books, thank the Lord, books. All shapes and sizes. All formats. Old ones. New ones. Fat ones. Thin ones.)
The SPL staff know stuff. They do modern things: blogs and podcasts and reading groups and events. They go out into the community with projects like the fantastic Living Voices scheme for older people. They create poetry posters for schools and libraries. They create the delightful Poetry Reader publication and the most aesthetically delightful Annual Review I have ever seen – you can be a Friend and get them sent! They have free printed guides. Marvellous. Honestly, download the one on ‘how to read a poem’, even if you think you know. Magic.
Back to where I started: money. The Scottish Poetry Library needs money now. They need money all the time of course. But it’s especially important right this minute because of the new building development, the ‘space for sound’.
If you’re reading this, and you’re in Scotland, there’s every chance you’ve already given some cash. You’ve probably already texted LEAF70 £5 to 70070 to donate £5 to the building fund campaign. Or done the business at the Just Giving site. So if you’ve already done it, please do it again. And if you haven’t, well, now is the time. Please give some money, and then come to the library. Come and see it. If you can’t come in person, go and ramble round the website. Next time you have a question about poetry you want answered, ask them.
There isn’t much time. The building developments are imminent. It’s touch and go and decisions have to be made. What happens depends on the amount of money raised. Lots has come in, but more is needed to make the necessary total. Money. Bloody money! Please send some of that stuff now. Not to me: to the Scottish Poetry Library.
And if you can’t, please tweet or FaceBook or PinIt or email (or whatever) the link to the Just Giving page (or even to this blog) to every person you know who has ever read a poem.