We’re sitting in an auditorium in the British Library’s conference center. The library, part of the British Museum until 1973, is housed in a huge modern building near the St. Pancras train station on Euston Road, just north of Bloomsbury but still considered central London. The auditorium’s seats slope down to the stage. It’s a good crowd, some 150 people, even if the auditorium isn’t filled.
We’re waiting for T.S. Eliot.
More precisely, we’re waiting for the two editors of a new edition of T.S. Eliot’s poems, published in Britain by Faber & Faber and simultaneously in the United States by Johns Hopkins University Press. It’s the 50th anniversary of T.S. Eliot’s death, and the dual publications mirror Eliot’s birth in the United States and his move and eventual gaining of citizenship in Britain. And the two editors mirror this as well – while both are Brits, one works in England and the other at Boston University in the United States.
The British Library seems to have taken this anniversary of Eliot’s death seriously. A few weeks previously, it held a reading of Eliot’s “The Waste Land” by actor Viggo Mortenson (Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy). That event was sold out, and the library scheduled a second reading, which also sold out. During British National Poetry Week in early October, organizers scheduled an “Eliot Walk” in the city, London’s financial district where Eliot worked in the 1920s (even then, poetry wasn’t a self-supporting proposition).