Melinda Wilson is a poet, essayist, editor, professor, reading host, and all around creative superhero, and she graciously agreed to fill us in on what was once her favorite spot to load up on books!
Favorite Bookshop: Baldface Books (Dover, New Hampshire)
1. How did you discover the shop?
I heard about Baldface during my time as an undergraduate English student at University of New Hampshire. Dover was a stone’s throw away from Durham where the main campus is located, and many students chose to live off-campus in Dover. I was one of those students. Several of my friends with similar literary interests had raved about Baldface, and I eventually visited the shop.
2. What part of the shop was your favorite?
Baldface is…well, was…the storefront recently closed permanently and the bookseller now sells from his rare book collections online only and has a few racks of records at a storefront called Cracked Skulls in Newmarket, New Hampshire. Baldface was a crowded but delightful space with a mishmash of different types of shelving of different colors and sizes. Since it’s no longer open, I can probably say without causing backlash for the store that it was most definitely a liability issue. Any one of those top-heavy shelves could have collapsed on me as I browsed the lower shelves. Nevertheless, this was kind of the best part. The shop had character. I remember holing up in a corner of the poetry section, sitting legs crossed on the carpeted floor, god, that carpet must have been a century old, reading Plath, Lowell, and Berryman. The poetry section was at the back of the store in a somewhat narrow space, and often I would get sidetracked in the excellent vinyl section at the front. I remember my then boyfriend, now husband, having several lengthy and energetic conversations about Dylan with the bookseller…I think his name was Clyde.
3. What books have you bought there in the past?
I’ve bought a number of books there over the years: a couple of Seamus Heaney collections, Gary Snyder’s Turtle Island, some older editions of Anne Sexton’s early work, Louis Simpson’s A Dream of Governors, W.D. Snodgrass’s Heart’s Needle…I can’t remember them all, but grab any worn book off my shelves, and it’s got a decent shot of having been acquired at Baldface.
4. What was it about Baldface that made you really love it? What set it apart?
I was studying with the poet Charles Simic during the years I was a Baldface regular, and I could almost see Simic’s influence on the poetry shelves there. The Elizabeth Bishop collections he would tout in class were all over the stacks. James Tate’s books also feature prominently in my memory. My memories of Baldface are obviously tied up with my nostalgia for a period in my life when I consumed poetry voraciously, definitely more so than I do now, when my entire life was devoted to the study of poetry and my craft. Life has definitely gotten more complicated…or something akin to that… since those days, so thinking of Baldface now, I end up in a headspace of pure joy and enthusiasm for what the world contains. I’m sad that Baldface isn’t a brick and mortar location anymore. It’s sad to think I can’t revisit the physical space from which much of my poetry’s root system grew. I guess Baldface has always felt to me like a space in which I could converse with the past. So many of the books were second-hand with previous readers’ annotations, and even seeing the handwriting of someone who likely read the book I was reading decades and decades ago felt like a kind of communion. Because the books were used, they were often cheap, which also solidified my love of the place. Beyond that, Baldface was a space in which I felt welcome. Every time I walked in, I got the distinct sense that I was the audience for the product, this was my place, I belonged there.
Melinda Wilson is a published poet, critic and essayist. Her work has appeared in journals such as Verse Daily, The Cincinnati Review, The Minnesota Review, Arsenic Lobster, The Agriculture Reader and Coldfront among many other publications. She holds an MFA from The New School and a PhD in English from Florida State University. She is a Founding editor and current Managing Editor of Coldfront. (www.coldfrontmag.com)