For Leonard Cohen

Heraclitus’ most irritating student noted that one cannot step into the same river even once. The original cannot claim to be a perfect version even of itself. The copy’s claim to perfection lies in its imperfection. In as yet unburned libraries I honour those I have forgotten through the work of those who have reminded others of this and that by careful anthologising and editing. Who reads Robert Howard today? And yet: ‘I attempt from Love’s sickness to fly in vain, / Since I am myself my own fever and pain.’ These refugee words from the past are new struck for every age. And as I write I read of a library burning in northern Iraq. The word becomes: what? Will fragments remain to inspire a new Ossian, a new Werther, a new Lover’s Discourse? We rebuild libraries as imperfect copies of ourselves, finding and treasuring scattered half destroyed leaves of poetry from editions of Omar Khayyam or Robert Burns or Christina Rossetti. Why? Because that is what we do. ‘The band is playing Auld Lang Syne / But the heart will not retreat.’ Cannot retreat. Is a library always just an ember? A burned thing still warm from the joy of the iconoclast, and a glowing coal of thought and love for they who reimagine it as looters come and go. Must a library sometimes be the most empty, most emptied, of things?

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