A New Bookstore in the Latin Quarter Is Selling Poetry By the Gram

"Quelques grammes de poésie" or "Few ounce of poetry." Photo © Jacques Paugam, shared in partnership with Le Point

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It’s in a new space with walls freshly painted that Lahzar Nahal, the editor of his publishing house, welcomes his first visitors to Librairie Lettres, open since February 10. Here there are no ceiling lights; only discreet lighting fixtures illuminate the covers of the books in plain and pastel tones, made by of Éditions Aden, which he runs. “I hate direct light,” he confides, almost timidly, in this large room in the Latin Quarter, which is a part of the City Hall in the 5th arrondissement. The lover of letters, a fine connoisseur of poetry, is along with his wife, a hospital oncologist, the creator of an original initiative in the publishing world: poems by the gram.

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An innovative concept symbolized by a scale in the great tradition of 19th century apothecaries. Once weighed, ten grams comes to eight poems written in black ink on sheets of thick paper called “vergé,” which shoppers can pull like leaflets on the shelves. “It’s the weight that gives it a more refined side,” explains the bookseller, observing the fragile balance achieved by the scale.

Rimbaud, Pierre de Ronsard, Giacomo Leopardi or Matsuo Bashô… there are plenty of choices between classical poets, romanticists or haiku authors. And though all the world’s poetry is not summed up in the few hundred poems arranged in order on the shelves, “we had to choose various languages,” says the bookseller. Algerian authors rub shoulders with the great English and French classics. The common theme of the poems is love.

Photo by Actualitté, CC By SA 2.0 (this photo has been cropped and lightened from its original)

On poetry, this lean relative of literature, Nahal notes a revival of the genre: “People are more open. I think they’re coming back a bit from technology and looking for something that speaks to the soul. They see and they come in.” One of Nahal’s experiences with this brings a small to his face: “One afternoon, a lady comes running in and says, ‘I want to buy 41 grams of poems, my friend is going to be 41 years old.'” Almost poetic.

Among the visitors of “all ages,” a large number of students come to assemble, alone or accompanied, their bunches of grams of verses as they leave Paris IV, the nearby university. Hence the idea that the poems they could write might resemble some of the poems made available… “A bit like an introduction, it’s less intimidating than a book sold individually,” explains Nahal, while congratulating himself on the welcome he has received in the 5th arrondissement of Paris, which has long been a paradise for booksellers.

At the price of 5€80 per ten grams, the craftsman of words is almost like a grocer when he slips the eight precious pages into a bag stamped “A few grams of poetry” and thanks his customers like any good shopkeeper. Nevertheless, part of the profits will be donated to a humanitarian project on Île de Roume, that small strip of land with less than a thousand inhabitants off the coast of Guinea. The island is said to have inspired the eponymous treasure island in R. Louis Stevenson’s novel published in France in 1885. The objective? To set up an infirmary and perhaps buy a boat for the crossing between the neighboring islands. A welcome help in this small West African country rich in resources but whose GDP per capita is less than 1,000 dollars. Proof that words have weight.

Librairie Lettres, 49 rue Lacépède, 75005 Paris. 10 grams of poems costs 5€80

This article was first published on Le Point.

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