The Invisible Library

24 December 2014

The Invisible Library
by Paul Wilson
Published by Hagios Press
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$17.95 ISBN 978-192671019-8

There’s an image of a book on the handsome cover of Regina poet Paul Wilson’s The Invisible Library, and it couldn’t be more apt. This is a book about books, and one that word lovers should include in their libraries. It is my favourite book by this writer to date.

Wilson is a veteran poet, editor, and a winner of the City of Regina Book Award. He clearly reveres books, and possesses the imagination, craft, and intellect to enthrall readers with his own. Sometimes the narrator addresses his readers and offers gentle advice. In “The Invention of Paper: A Memoir,” he writes: “Please,\read these words like falling snowflakes: without aim or goal.\ See how they take the shape of what they silently settle on.”

As good poets do, Wilson pays attention to the things most people probably miss, like the “moist breath” of rice, and the “hair pins and the pennies\found in the dryer, and the lint too, purple, from the red shirts\and blue towels…” He writes that “Our finger-prints are small saline lakes\that will outlast us.” I love all of this. Wilson’s range swings from philosophy to domesticity, and it never feels false.

Many of the titles include the word “book.” In the section “The Typographer” we find “The Books of Repetitions,” “This Book is About You,” and “The Book That Swallowed Itself.” Paper, fonts, handwriting, librarians, prayer, a scroll, a menu, an almanac, a diary, a thesaurus, a compendium … this book is an extended ode, and it makes us consider books, writers, and even readers in fresh ways. It is also a cautionary tale, as books that one can hold and smell and don’t require a battery are disappearing in our “electronic universe”. Pity a world in which one can never again appreciate how books “unfold like tall animals waking.”

There are also experiments in history and voice. There is surprise. We read the fictional considerations of Leonardo da Vinci (“I smear blood on the page to imagine whirlpools\inside the heart”) and Govard Bidloo, a Dutch physician, anatomist, poet, and playwright who appreciates “the beauty\of the human spine, with back flesh pinned back” over Amsterdam’s windmills and tulips. We find visceral images of the body, including physical oddities, in several of this collection’s pieces. Even fingernails hold fascination, as we read in the poem “The Gospel According to Touch: A Natural History of Fingers”: “Fingernails bring doubt.\We suck on them, paint them, and read their small\white moons for assurance.”

If I had the space, I would include Wilson’s poem “Unfinished Things” in its entirety here: it has earned a spot in my list of all-time favourites.

Readers, this is not a book to breeze through. Save it for an afternoon when you have the time to treasure each precisely-placed word-every “falling snowflake”-and can fully appreciate the singular beauty of a line like this (which describes the used books in a hospital’s sale): “Each of these books was once held — an adopted child\with perfect posture, wanting love.”


No Comments

Comments are closed.