As far as anyone can figure, there are only two all-poetry bookshops in the entire country. One of the stores is basically a broom closet near Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the other one is Open Books in Wallingford. Christine Deavel and John Marshall have been selling books in Seattle for over two decades, but they've been in business as Open Books: A Poem Emporium for exactly 15 years this week. Marshall says they evolved from general-interest to poetry-only partly in response to the enormous Barnes & Noble branch that opened in University Village. That specialization—the unwillingness to be a chain-store-style jack-of-all-trades—is probably what has kept the small store vibrant for so many years.
Open Books is a plain, uncluttered white room that feels expectant, like a blank canvas. It's a space that feels marvelously receptive to words. On the walls, up high, the trim is decorated with quotes from Gertrude Stein ("Successions of words are so agreeable"), Heather McHugh ("A poem is untoward"), and Walt Whitman.
Two carts in the center of the room are filled with books for an "Indoor Sidewalk Sale." Just a few seconds' browsing reveals two collections of poetry by James Dickey, the brilliant author of Deliverance, for $3.50 each. A couple of displays are set aside for chapbooks. Right up front is Maureen Thorson's Novelty Act, an accessible and attractive book of poetry for $5. And the walls are lined with thousands of volumes of poetry both old—just glancing at the iconic spare white and green spine of the indispensable Collected Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay brings a flood of her poems to the forefront of your brain—and new.
Deavel and Marshall are especially excited these days about Nox, a new, full-color foldout collage book by Anne Carson, and The Morning News Is Exciting, a vibrant collection of poems by a young local author named Don Mee Choi. With the possible exception of David Wagoner at the UW, Marshall and Deavel know more about poetry—local and international, spoken-word and printed—than anybody else in Seattle. And their store is a space unlike anyplace else, anywhere; Barnes & Noble sure can't make that claim.
When you're out and about this Saturday, make sure you stop by one of Seattle's many comics shops for Free Comic Book Day. Stores will be giving away free comics—including a gorgeous, disturbing sneak peek at Jim Woodring's upcoming "full-length graphic novel" from Fantagraphics—all day. Visit www.freecomicbookday.com for a store locator and more details.