to market, to market

Place Saint-Sulpice fascinates me. I’ve never really seen the square in front of the church because every weekend it is packed with market stalls.

And these are no ordinary markets; they are useless if you want practical things like stockings or eggplants. So far, in the short time I’ve lived in the quartier, the rows of white tents have offered to sell me antiques, ceramics, and…poetry.

Surely only in the chic heart of the Rive Gauche could you devote an entire market to poetry, and have people actually come, in the rain, to wander and peruse and discuss and listen and, ultimately, buy. Only here could you find enough poetry publishers to fill a square for a week.

I wander through the stalls in a state of rising anxiety. There is too much. I cannot afford to buy everything and I do not know where to begin. How can I choose just one or two books, support just one or two poets? How do I find the collection that I’ll most enjoy or learn from? It’s overwhelming; my brain has never before considered the possibility of a poetry market and it does not cope.

Poetry, to my mind, is a secret, personal nonsense, something to be read (or worse, written) in the privacy of libraries or barely solvent bookstores, or self-indulgent websites. Poetry is lovely and damaged and inherently unsaleable. But no one has told the Parisians. I am delighted and deeply confused.

I buy a copy of Le Paris des écrivains because it seems both generalist and somehow practical, and hurry home with it clutched to my chest.

A week later, the anthologies are replaced by armchairs and I go back to being an interested but unaffected spectator. I sit in my favourite cafe and write a bad poem about soccer (sorry, football) while olive-skinned Parisiennes in Prada shoes browse for 19th-century tea chests.

I can’t wait to see what will come next.


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