August 7, 2006

Writing in the Margins

Does marginalia seem marginal as a prompt? It certainly seems small as a starting place (not a bad thing) and sometimes those notes, doodles and editorial comments in the margin of a book are only personal reminders (let's skip over the ones you did in college to study for the exam).

It does get some serious study though - as in the Melville's Marginalia site that I referenced (the notes Melville made in his library of books in an attempt to uncover sources of his own writing) or that Fermat's last theorem was written in a margin. Have you ever actually starting to write a poem in the margin?

Read or listen to Billy Collins' "Marginalia" if you haven't already.

Like Collins, I wondered what we might be able to guess about the marginalia writer from their notes-

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
"Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love."

Let's look at the assumptions: it's a girl; she's beautiful; the pencil was soft; he'll never meet her. And what about the assumptive leaps Collins wants a reader to take in thinking about why her being in love and reading Salinger would pardon the stains. (I also find the line "Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love." to be very Salinger-esque.)

Here are some starting places for a poem to submit this month:
  • your own actual notes in a book (particularly interesting if they were written a long time ago by another you)
  • notes seen or imagined from another's hand (and the book they are found in is important - notes found in a guidebook to Venice vs. notes found in Love: Ten Poems By Pablo Neruda
  • your imaginings about the author of such notes
  • the practice of writing in the margins itself
  • It might be interesting to use the librarian's point of view (marginalia as vandalism).
  • Even if you don't feel inspired to write a poem for the site this month, perhaps you can contribute an idea (by commenting below) for another poet to use.

1 comment:

  1. a few ideas...
    - a poem that mixes the actual text with the marginalia at its edges (the form could be concrete)
    - marginalia as commentary on another poem
    - marginalia from books other than poetry & novels-- cookbooks, diaries, textbooks


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