Back in the 1990s, the National Poetry Library was a lifeline to me. I'd take the train up to London for the day on every trip over from Spain and cram in as many hours as possible in the South Bank Centre, poring over the latest issues of poetry magazines. I never spoke to anybody, but the mere fact that others were sitting there doing the same thing, with similar tastes and attitudes, seemed miraculous and made me feel far less alone.
And I know of many others who can tell similar stories. All capital cities are tough places for young people to live in, especially for newcomers who are often strapped for cash, and the National Poetry Library has long provided a safety net for countless poets who are just setting out, reassuring them that poetry is a welcoming, inclusive genre. I still feel I belong there as soon as I step through its doors.
For these reasons, I'm especially upset to learn today via social media and the National Poetry Library website that they plan to launch a new paid-for membership package that means new members will have to pay for the privilege of borrowing books from 2nd October onwards. Of course, there's an inevitable reminder that the mags and collections, etc, will still be free to browse. However, I can only say that such a membership model might well have put me off going in for the first time all those years ago, and I'm convinced it will have the same miserable effect on others if it is implemented in the future.
I can only express dismay that the National Poetry Library should be feeling "excited about this new option" as they claim on their Twitter feed. Here's hoping they backtrack in the face of growing criticism over the coming days from luminaries who are capable of exerting far more pressure than me...
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