The alternative reader

By lead poet Lisa Matthews

Spontaneity and serendipity have always been important to me both as a reader and a writer. Rarely starting a book at the beginning, I will often enter a story somewhere near the end, middle – or at a random point in the text. With novels this can be confusing, but in poetry there is the room and freedom to jump into a collection anywhere.

And while poetry books do have structure and narrative flow, the spaces in the individual poems and sequences make it possible to read in random ways, as well as in more traditional front-to-back, start-to-finish ways. For a dyslexic reader like me this also helps deal with some of the difficulties I have with lots of text.

As part of my first NPL residency I wanted to interact with the collection by entering it in some random ways, and using what I found to inspire some new poems.

A walk on the wildcard side

Over a four-week period in Jul/Aug 2015 I challenged myself with two random poetry activities, something I began to call “The Accidental Tourist”. Each day I chose four random books from different points in the A-Z author sequence. Two books would be used for Random Poem #1, the other two for Random Poem #2. My original plan was to use the lines to inspire new original works. However, the more I watched the list of single lines grow, the more I became intrigued to see if the final poems – i.e. when I finished the residency and stopped the exercise – would/could make any sense without any editorial intrusion.

Could randomly selected line of poetry, lots of them, build to a poem that makes some kind, any kind, of sense?

My main aims and objectives with this random selection were a) to see if I could create new poems out of randomly-selected lines from the NPL stock and b) to use the citation lists as two new reading lists that library staff can offer to NPL readers and new library users. The NPL stock is large and it is often difficult to know where to point new readers – using these random methods no-one’s taste has influenced the selection.

A man will turn over half a library to make one book.Samuel Johnson, writer