In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reads the work of a neglected poet
One night in late October 1978, the poet John Riley was tragically murdered by muggers in Leeds, a horrific crime recently investigated in Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts’ Deaths of the Poets. Riley’s Collected Works were published two years later by Grosseteste Press, the publishing house he’d helped to set up, but copies of this hardcover volume remain few and far between (I am currently reading the copy from my university library; the stamps on the flyleaf tell me it’s been borrowed three times previously, in 1983, 1995, and 2000). For 15 years, Riley’s poems lay largely forgotten except by a few devotees. Then, in 1995, it looked as though John Riley’s posthumous reputation would be given a leg up, courtesy of an edition of his selected poems, brought out by the poetry publisher Carcanet. But barely a year later, in the summer of 1996, the Carcanet offices in Manchester were damaged in an IRA bomb explosion, and virtually all copies of John Riley’s Selected Poems were lost. At the time of writing, a single copy is available for sale on Amazon. It will set you back just £10,000. I cannot find any other copies available for sale online.
I was fortunate enough, having kept an eye out for one for some time, to pick up a copy of this hard-to-find volume a while ago, on Amazon of all places, not for £10,000 but for just