Poetry, Books, and Book Clubs

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By Laura L. Hansen

Laura L. Hansen

Last month, as I was leading a book club discussion of Joshilyn Jackson's Gods in Alabama, I happened to flip to the last page of the book and found a poem I had written. I'd written it right there on the inside cover of the book. (Don't gasp. It was an ARC.) I later typed up the poem and printed it out, but I had -- until that moment -- forgotten when or why I wrote the poem in the first place. But there in its original context, it made sense, the poem growing out of the story I'd been reading.

I tell you this because it reflects the current confluence of my life: books, poetry, book clubs, and more books. It is the result I was hoping for -- at least in some measure -- when I left my life in corporate America and resettled in Little Falls to open my bookstore. Before I left my last position at NCR, I worked five to six days a week keeping things straight, organized, orderly, "accounted for." Then on my short weekends I would walk, stare at the trees, indulge in long drives along the river, over the ridges, and into the hollows, and then go home to spend what time was left to read, journal, and write poems. I wrote long, messy, untidy, disorderly, metaphor-strewn poems.

That was the dichotomy of my life. Weekdays I was "A Manager," everything organized and accounted for. Weekends, I was "The Poet," random abstract all the way. At some point this combination became untenable and I knew I had to find a way to put my work experience together with my other self, the language nut, the word freak, the reader.

It has been 14 years since I opened Bookin' It. My life is still hectic and I am often torn between all the things I need and want to do, but these days the things I am torn between are more similar in nature to each other than before. Now they feed each other. I read reviews of new books, recommending them to customers. I read for my own pleasure and find books that may inspire others. I read quality writing and am inspired to write myself. Sure, running the store still requires those old administrative skills I learned in college and on the job, but I am equally indebted to the Spanish literature classes I took side-by-side with economics and accounting all those years ago.

Today, I am trying to get ready for a book talk for the Sunshine Homemakers and the day has been nearly as hectic and chaotic as it gets. There is a crisis at the Art Center, (I am on the board) and the executive director has called four or five times for opinions and to set up meetings that are impossible in nearly everyone's schedule. The phone is crazy with people calling in search of every manner of book that I don't have in stock despite the excessively large order I put in to the distributor just yesterday. The lady that ordered the bread-baking book came in and bought something entirely different, leaving me to find space on the shelf for yet another title. The sticky notes telling me to call several vendors regarding shipping details and past due invoices are curling up at the corners and keep moving to new hiding spots under the books and other lists piled on the counter. (Ignore them.)

I am in the midst of preparing our fall brochure for mailing and the extra [Midwest Booksellers Association] catalogs have just arrived. They stand in a tower blocking access to the receiving area from the counter and begging to know when they will be addressed, too. Our ad rep just informed me we had arranged for a staff photo to be taken tomorrow for the winter visitor's guide, and I've forgotten to inform the staff. There are only four of us, but I can't seem to get the phone free to call the others. Speaking of phone calls, I promised my sister-in-law that I would find someone to repair my brother's 1957 Chevy as a surprise for his birthday next month. Who was I kidding anyway? I don't have time for this. Besides, right now the website needs updating.

So, as you can see, everything in my life is flowing in a fine confluence now that I am a bookseller. When I get too frantic I stay a half-hour later after the store has closed and pull the dog up on my lap and contemplate the how-to books. What might help? Quick Weight Loss Through Healthy Eating, Yoga for the Accident Prone, Pilates for Arthritic Knees, Feng Shui for the Disorganized Life and Home? Maybe Poet's Market will get me inspired to send some of those new poems off? I lean my head back, give my neck a good roll, and breathe.

When all is said and done and the lights are out, I don't like to leave. I get up and in the light filtering in from the street, I run my finger across the spines of books and feel their cool smooth jackets under my fingertips, a slow thwappety-thwappety-thwap that makes me suddenly less tired. I lock up and drive three or four blocks before I remember the mail still back at the store waiting to be dropped off.

Geesh, The Manager thinks, who left The Poet in charge.

Laura L. Hansen is the owner/manager of Bookin' It in Little Falls, Minnesota, and an award-winning poet. Her work has been published in Lake Country Journal Magazine, realgoodwords, The Talking Stick, ArtWord Quarterly, Sidewalks, and North Coast Review. Hansen's poetry chapbook, Diving the Drop-off, was nominated for the Midwest Booksellers Association Booksellers Choice Awards.