Browsing in one of my local charity shops this morning, I was astonished and delighted to find, side be side on the shelf, A Donald Justice Reader: Selected Poetry and Prose (Middlebury College Press) and Geoffrey Hill's The Triumph of Love (Penguin). Both in near-mint condition, priced at a mere £1.99 each - naturally I snapped them up. And this charity shop was in Wallington, not Carshalton (South Londoners will appreciate the difference). It seems the neighbourhood is looking up...
By way of celebration, here's a lovely sonnet from the Reader, one of Justice's piano poems, looking back to the agony and ecstasy of learning.
Picture me, the shy pupil at the door,
One small, tight fist clutching the dread Czerny.
Back then time was still harmony, not money,
And I could spend a whole week practising for
That moment on the threshold.
Then to take courage,
And enter, and pass among mysterious scents,
And sit quite straight, and with a frail confidence
Assault the keyboard with a childish flourish!
Only to lose my place, or forget the key,
And almost doubt the very metronome
(Outside, the traffic, the laborers going home),
And still to bear on across Chopin or Brahms,
Stupid and wild with love equally for the storms
Of C# minor and the calms of C.
I am busy re-learning the piano myself, with the aid of a high-end digital keyboard that sounds remarkably like a grand. This time around, I'm really enjoying it, partly because I have listened to and loved so much more music now, partly because I am free this time from the nerve-shredding horrors of 'grade' examinations - and indeed 'the dread Czerny'.
But now I am off to my spiritual second home in Derbyshire for a few days...