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ISBN: 9781915108197

Publication Date: 26 March 2024


Lydia Harris performs the not inconsiderable feat of blurring the boundaries between books and the natural world, words and the things themselves. These poems are testimony to how reading with attention can be a gateway to a compassionate and wise sensibility.




The Library at Trenaby

                               (Westray Free Library founded 1890)


formed from loop and digit 
from a blank of two hundred years


this library rose from psalms delivered as a set 
contains the words of ‘one newly returned from the dead’
this library grew from two scraps of vellum 
from a cargo swung onto a deck


this library is formed from the difference 
between a 6 and an 8 
a half moon, one stroke of the pen 
a blink and this library rose




“In the magical world of Lydia Harris’s poems, books are transformed into windows, hearts, birds, ghosts – even stars. History, landscape and love are woven together in poems which are celebratory, uplifting, reverential and sublime. Lydia Harris is a poet who brings new meaning to the word unique.” —John Glenday


“What better moment than this, on the brink of a digital, screen-facing age, to recover the almost supernatural power of early books – how physical materials, calf skin, pigment, quill pen, ink, could be alive with other times and presences, and all our human feelings, maybe even God? These poems perform that paradox – to be small, alertly at home in particular place, while opening on a wealth of worlds beyond. In them, boundaries dissolve – between the local and the universal, fact and fable, the colloquial and the biblical, the human and non-human, between the 16th century and today. Through the opening Henrietta steps, both grave and playful, with a bright rapt curiosity that feels like praise.” —Philip Gross


“What a delight it is to enter Henrietta’s world. Collating an imagined repository of knowledge from, and for, ‘the whole wide world’, she draws manuscripts, stones, seals, herons, boats, the earth and sea into her linguistic inventory. Like a word-farmer, she shepherds, cares for, and cultivates texts. Through Henrietta, Harris explores language and books as containers, explainers, archives, descriptors, and exchange. Her lightness of touch creates joyously airy music, fresh as a ‘newly caulked boat’. Precise, compassionate, and buoyant, Henrietta’s Library of the Whole Wide World reminds us of the hope inherent in the creation and collection of books, and our fundamental quest for shared experience and understanding.” —Heidi Williamson


Henrietta's Library of the Whole Wide World by Lydia Harris

  • Three Thousand Volumes


    she calls them her constellations
    sometimes they press against 
    the window as if to escape


    she frees them to do their offices 
    between the scarecrow 
    and the whitethorn




    William Tyndale teaches Henrietta Hebrew

    on the Old Road to Piggarth


    from the cave of his mouth
    he utters scores and dashes 


    this tongue of holiness
    this twelve geese risen  
    from the field’s mound


    some letters crowned
    some vowels scalpings 
    under their feet


    the very thing meant
    is the one whaup singing 
    a silver garland


    the first breath over waters
    is the blackbird’s alarm


    gorse petals murmur 
    we are what we are
    to the pimpled mushroom


    she lags, he strides
    she can’t tell cloud from sky


    he vaults the fence
    plucks a glossary, the sun makes him blind


    what can she tell him but promise 
    no gap between word and thing




    Henrietta’s Dead


    she shuts them between leather boards
    stitches their spines to cord
    weights them flat
    stacks them
    row upon row
    one end of the shelf to the other


    afternoons in the sun
    she riffles the leaves


    her dead rise from the space 
    between pages
    whisper to the window panes
    breathe on her skin
    they smell of ink gall 


    when she forces each volume shut
    she stops their ears
    locks their jaws



  • Lydia Harris lives in the Orkney island of Westray. Orkney was home to the oldest public library in Scotland and Lydia mistakenly believed that Westray hosted its own 17th library. There was a Henrietta in Westray who lived at Trenaby and she surely could have had a library. In the present day island Lydia hosts Westray Writers in her living room. Her first pamphlet Glad Not to be the Corpse was published in 2012 by Smiths Knoll. She held a Scottish Book Trust New Writer’s Award in 2017 and Maquette Press  published a second pamphlet Unbolt the Door in 2018. Another pamphlet A Small Space won  first place  in the Paper Swans Pamphlet competition 2019. Lydia’s first full collection Objects for Private Devotion published by Pindrop, was long listed for the Highland Book Award 2022. Most recently, another Westray inspired pamphlet collection, Hardly a Trace has been  highly commended in the 2023 Poetry Business International Pamphlet Competition. From her study window Lydia sees the Atlantic and North Sea and her house sits between a standing stone and a broch. Henrietta’s Library of the Whole Wide World is Lydia’s second full collection.

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