July 23, 2006

The Romance of That Little Notebook in the Cafe

Moleskine. There is something about using that little black notebook and knowing all the writers and artists who have used it before you - Hemingway, Picasso, Van Gogh (that's one of his over there on the right), Bruce Chatwin, Matisse, Neil Gaiman...

Sketches in words or lines, notes, stories, poems, ideas, overheard dialogue.

You see it in films. Isn't that Amelie holding one? And even Prot (and he's from K-PAX - the other planet I want to visit) has one.

Sometimes it's used as a generic term for little soft black notebooks, the real Moleskine (pronounced mol-a-skeen-a) is a brand of notebook now manufactured by Modo & Modo, an Italian company.

Bound in oilcloth-covered cardboard (the "Moleskin"), it has an elastic band to hold the notebook closed and a sewn spine so that it lies flat when opened. It comes in several sizes, with lined or unlined papers.

Bruce Chatwin used them in his travels and in the mid-1980's his Paris source ran out, he discovered that they were no longer being made by the original manufacturer. They are back though and made in the same shapes and styles.

I'm a sucker for notebooks and journals. I always felt an optimism for the new school year with that fresh notebook in hand. Give me a moleskine and put me in a street cafe or bar (even a Panera or Starbucks will do it) and I feel some ex-pat writer being channeled through me. Now, I'm not saying that it creates great writing, but it creates mood.

As readers of this blog already know, I have small books for small poems but I have a number of these notebooks from their catalog for different purposes.

If you have never owned one, drop by a little bookstore or Amazon and buy one and give it a try.

July 8, 2006

Dorianne Laux, Antilamentation versus No Regrets

Our July 2006 prompt has the poem "Antilamentation" by Dorianne Laux (pronounced "low") as a model.

I realize that using it and the idea of "anti-" as a prompt might seem like simply being against something and I wanted your poems to be more.

I brought up the idea that lamentation is a fairly common poetic theme (probably more in older poems) and mentioned "The Song of Hiawatha Hiawatha's Lamentation" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Butler Yeats' "The Lamentation Of The Old Pensioner", as well as the contemporary "Hornworm: Autumn Lamentation" by Stanley Kunitz.

And if her poem is against lamentation (mourning), then is it like Donne's poem "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning"? It's not quite that black and white.

I do think Laux is rebelling in her poem against lamentation, the lamentation traditionally found in poetry. She is also promoting her case for no regrets.

Relax. Don't bother remembering
any of it. Let's stop here, under the lit sign
on the corner, and watch all the people walk by.

I think she is recommending another approach to life. Is she recommending another approach to poetry?

I listened to the poem being read again and thought I heard something of Laux's own early life doing "ordinary" work before she attended college-

to sweep stuck onion rings
across the dirty restaurant floor, to wear the frayed
coat with its loose buttons, its pockets full of struck matches.

and the small things we do that seem now a waste of precious time -

the cruel novels you read
to the end just to find out who killed the cook.
[Not] the insipid movies that made you cry in the dark,

as well as the big things that we really regret

the nights you called god names and cursed
your mother, sunk like a dog in the livingroom couch,
chewing your nails and crushed by loneliness

and I heard some acceptance of all this as the path to Now, to a good place at which she has arrived. Should I call it Fate? I'm not sure that's it, but it's a starting place.

What are your thoughts?

photo of Dorianne Laux
by her daughter, Tristem Laux