And if you have managed to graduate from college / without ever having written "Man vs. Nature" / in a margin, perhaps now / is the time to take one step forward.
April 14, 2010 7:16 AM   Subscribe

Poetry-filter: Who has written about writing in books?

I'm in the process of preparing a talk about how annotation has been studied in Library and Information Science for a bunch of humanities faculty and students. I came across the poem Marginalia by Billy Collins, which is terrific. I'd like to find a few more poems, or excerpts of poems, I can also mention in my talk. Can anyone think of similar poems that deal with writing in books, marking up texts, scanning poems, or otherwise coming across the residue of others while reading? Bonus points if they are in books that were beautifully typeset (as Collins's poem was-- it appears in Picnic, lightning). No need for the poems to be available online.
posted by activitystory to Media & Arts (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Here's another "Marginalia," this one by Deborah Warren, from her book Dream with Flowers and Bowl of Fruit (2008).

(Also, but not about writing in books, I want to link to my favorite poem by Mark Strand: "Eating Poetry.")
posted by steef at 8:30 AM on April 14, 2010


Here's a sad one—Gillian Clarke's "John Penri Williams (1899-1957)" (from her Collected Poems [1997]), which is about finding the written traces of her long-dead father in the margins of his old books, or scribbled randomly on stray bits of paper. This is the first stanza:
In the margins of books, poems printed
on foxed, bevelled pages; under the shelf
where we peeled back the old wallpaper;
lists; old letters; diaries; notebooks;
copperplate in blacklead and washable Quink,
the Conway Stewart with a golden lever
and its intake of sound as the ink-sac swelled;
commentary; schedules; signatures.
How, after thirty years, do I know his hand?
And here's another, more whimsical poem, Linda Pastan's "On the Marginality of Poets" (1998):
... on the margins of the page
it is all snow, no footfall yet.
Here is a perfect white frame
for anything, a place
where the sudden afterthought
is scrawled, or that brief star,
the asterisk. I want to live
in the margins:
those spaces neither here

nor there, like the crack
between my parents' pushed-together beds
where I used to lie ...

The history of reading's my academic specialty, so this kind of resonates with me. All the best for the talk!
posted by Sonny Jim at 3:54 PM on April 14, 2010


It's not a poem, so this may be a completely useless comment, but Edgar Allan Poe wrote in praise of marginalia. An excerpt:
In the marginalia, too, we talk only to ourselves; we therefore talk freshly–boldly- originally–with abandonnement–without conceit–much after the fashion of Jeremy Taylor, and Sir Thomas Browne, and Sir William Temple, and the anatomical Burton, and that most logical analogist, Butler, and some other people of the old day, who were too full of their matter to have any room for their manner, which, being thus left out of question, was a capital manner, indeed,–a model of manners, with a richly marginalic air.
posted by twirlip at 4:39 PM on April 14, 2010


These are all terrific! They address some of the points I'm planning to make quite well-- thanks for sending these my way.
posted by activitystory at 7:05 AM on April 15, 2010


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