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Roaming Readers: Ella Jolly takes poetry on the road

Written by Chris Routledge, 16th September 2008

Ella Jolly, reader in residence at Bibby Line Group, is on the move.

It is possible to draw many literary allusions out of my somewhat nomadic situation as Reader-in-Residence for Bibby Line Group. Some days, days when the trains are delayed (or worse, cancelled), when my laboriously photocopied sheaves of extracts vanish, when the skies seem to do nothing but rain and rain – it is tempting to compare myself to the long-suffering Willy Loman from Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. As I wander from office to depot, peddling poetry and other literary goods, I realise that what can often make or break the deal is not the poem itself, but how I present it. Those days I feel more like a salesperson than a reader.

And then there are the precious hours, the golden days, where I can be appropriately figured as the wide-eyed speaker in Keats’ sonnet of discovery, On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer. Firstly, the references to travelling are particularly fitting as during the last three months I have voyaged through ‘realms of gold’ and ‘many goodly states and kingdoms seen’. It would also be accurate to describe my whole life so far as a sort of quest for literary engagement, and one which was heightened by three years devoted to the study of literature. Yet it is only in recent months that I have felt like Keats’ speaker, ‘some watcher of the skies’ discovering a ‘new planet’, or ‘stout Cortez’ glimpsing the blue of the Pacific Ocean for the very first time. This is, I think, not necessarily because I am reading new literature, but reading in new ways.

One of the most popular texts for Get Into Reading groups in Bibby is e.e.cummings glorious poem of celebration, I thank you God for most this amazing day. Whether we’re reading in a credit control office wearing suits, or a warehouse wearing high-visibility vests, each reading feels like the first. The diverse and various opinions inspired by cummings’ poem constantly remake my reading of it. Literature is capable of dispersing a myriad of intellectual and emotional responses in the same manner that a prism refracts white light and creates a rainbow. Those days I feel like both reader and intrepid explorer. And I look forward to many more rainbows in the months to come (as well as, of course, delayed trains*, lost extracts and, this being Britain, lots and lots of rain).

* Even as I write this, I’m sitting in Crewe Railway Station, waiting for a very late train!

Posted by Ella Jolly

Edit 16 Sept 2008, 2pm: Through Ella's work Bibby Line is getting into reading in a big way, promoting the upcoming Shipping Lines Liverpool Literary Festival on its website.

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