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WHITECHAPEL LIBRARY, ALDGATE EAST by Bernard Kops

Bernard KopsBernard Kops was born in the East End of London. Since The Hamlet of Stepney Green (1959), he has written over 40 plays, nine novels, and seven volumes of poetry including Grandchildren and Other Poems (Hearing Eye, 2000).

This poem on Whitechapel Library is reprinted here by kind permission of the poet and publisher. Bernard Kops will read from his work at the Nelson Street Synagogue on 4 September at 6pm.

How often I went in for warmth and a doze
The newspaper room whilst my world outside froze
And I took out my sardine sandwich feast.
Whitechapel Library, Aldgate East.
And the tramps and the madman and the chattering crone.
The smell of their farts could turn you to stone
But anywhere, anywhere was better than home.

The joy to escape from family and war.
But how can you have dreams?
you’ll end up on the floor.
Be like your brothers, what else is life for?

You’re lost and you’re drifting, settle down, get a job.
Meet a nice Jewish girl, work hard, earn a few bob.
Get married, have kids; a nice home on the never
and save up for the future and days of rough weather.

Come back down to earth, there is nothing more.
I listened and nodded, like I knew the score.
And early next morning l crept out the door.

Outside it was pouring
I was leaving forever.

I was finally, irrevocably done with this scene,
The trap of my world in Stepney Green.
With nowhere to go and nothing to dream

A loner in love with words, but so lost
and wandering the streets, not counting the cost.
I emerged out of childhood with nowhere to hide
when a door called my name
and pulled me inside.

And being so hungry I fell on the feast.
Whitechapel Library, Aldgate East.

And my brain explodes when I suddenly find,
an orchard within for the heart and the mind.
The past was a mirage I’d left far behind

And I am a locust and I’m at a feast.
Whitechapel Library, Aldgate East.

And Rosenberg also came to get out of the cold
To write poems of fire, but he never grew old.
And here I met Chekhov, Tolstoy, Meyerhold.
I read all their worlds, their dark visions of gold.

The reference library, where my thoughts were to rage.
I ate book after book, page after page.
I scoffed poetry for breakfast and novels for tea.
And plays for my supper. No more poverty.
Welcome young poet, in here you are free
to follow your star to where you should be.

That door of the library was the door into me

And Lorca and Shelley said “Come to the feast.”
Whitechapel Library, Aldgate East.

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