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A Pilgrimage to Manchester

March 6, 2013

Yesterday was the sixth anniversary of the bombing of Al-Mutanabbi Street, the winding street of booksellers and stationers in the old part of Baghdad. All the books made to commemorate this event are on show until 9th July in the wonderful John Rylands Library in the centre of Manchester.


This shows the entrance and reception area, and one side of the original building.


Inside, it’s all Gothic carving and flights of stairs and corridors and leaded windows. And books, of course! There was a whole exhibition of books illustrated by William Blake.

I discovered that I could travel there by public transport in time for the tour at 1pm, and back to deepest Somerset, all in one day!

My journey, too long to describe here,  is documented in the page “March the Fifth 2013”.

To see the books as a collection under one roof was to realise how powerfully alive and creative this project is. Each book is the product of thought,  empathy and imagination as well as research and technical and artistic skill. I feel so privileged to be a part of it.

About twenty people joined the tour. Many of them asked useful and intelligent questions.

Sarah Bodman, Angie Butler and Pauline Lamont-Fisher spoke eloquently and movingly about the project and about their own and others’  books. Mike Nicholson gave an introduction to his three zines for the project, and I was invited to speak about my book. I was feeling rather overwhelmed with emotion, but was all right as soon as I began. As I had brought a recently-bound copy for Pauline, I was able to read the poem below.



This book is more fully described in the page “Small Editions”.

The tour ended with three readings from the Anthology, Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here. At least two of us were wiping away the tears as we listened. I recommend this book. The proceeds go to Medecins Sans Frontiers for their work in Iraq.

All the books made for the project can be seen here. See also here.

Beau writes:

The Guardian Newspaper has just published this thoughtful and supportive article about the John Rylands Exhibit and the project in general. Many thanks to my co-coordinator Sarah Bodman, UWE, Bristol, who spoke with this reporter.

We will do this together! We will not walk away from this, we will open this street to others through every art discipline that we can think of. And one day we will stand there shoulder to shoulder with Iraqi poets, printers, artists, writers, and readers.
There is a link to a photo gallery of some of the artists’ books at the bottom of the article.
2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 6, 2013 8:58 pm

    I very much hope to visit this, Manchester being my ‘home town’ (a long time ago)

    • March 6, 2013 9:12 pm

      I hope you will, Jo, and I hope you’ll have longer to absorb it than I did!

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