Wednesday, September 5, 2007

What I'm Underlining

It's September. Time to shop for supplies with G. Back to school time. List time. Fall projects time. Which leads me to this post--an inventory of underlined passages in the books I'm reading.

This habit -- the underlining-notes-in-the-margin habit -- is left over from too many years of school. I can't read without a pen, without making some kind of mark as I make my way through the book. A star in the margin, a line under a sentence or phrase, an exclamation point or brief commentary. I tend to especially do this with non-fiction and poetry, less with fiction though the pen comes out when I'm especially fond of what I'm reading.

So my books are filled with markings. When I die and my books are boxed up and given to the library or local prison, some reader may come to know me through this marginalia, just as students of Dickinson learned of her love of Milton through the jottings she made in the margins of her copy of Paradise Lost. Not that I'll have students. But strangers who want to get a cheap book will encounter me through my underlinings.

So I propose: to make a regular, ongoing compilation of what I've underlined. To account for the markings so they don't get lost. To offer an overview, a perspective, a way perhaps to see themes or future projects or patterns.

From Forces of Imagination: Writing on Writing by Barbara Guest

There is always something within poetry that desires the invisible.

Ideally a poem will be both mysterious (incunabula, driftwood of the unconscious) and organic (secular) at the same time.

The reader is converted to the poem. (Invisible magic also passes between poet and reader.)

...but arrives from tensions placed on the poem's structure: variability of meter, fleeting moods of expression, trebled sound.

Each poet owns a private language. The poet relies on the pitch within the ear. The ear is also a private affair, and so is pitch. Much poetry betrays a tin ear.

Pitch and ear are the servants of language...

Quoting Cezanne: "the contour eludes me."

Mandelstam once wrote of "sound spilling into fingers." That could be the noise of a poem when it experiences an ecstasy of recognition.

To keep the poem alive after its many varnishings.

A sense of timing.

Mallarme regarded poetry as an art dedicated to fictionalization, an "art consacre aux fictions" where the concrete object is "bathed in a new atmosphere," lifted out of itself to become a fiction.

I want to emphasize that the poem needs to have a spiritual or metaphysical lilfe if it is going to engage itself with reality.

We have learned that words are only utensils. They are inorganic unless there is a spirit within the poem to elevate it, to give it "wings," so that the poem may soar above the page...

Words contain their own beauty of face, but they desire an occupation. They cannot exist on beauty or necessity alone.

And flesh of a poem. Even as a painting has flesh. The vibrancy of its skin.

De Kooning is telling us to beware of description or "subject matter." In other words to think of the poem itself.

Andre Breton said, "to imagine is to see."

She has even trained us to look for the apparitions of ourselves.

The poem's concealed autobiography.

An astonishment throughout the poem at the vibrations of its ego. "I" becomes the bystander and the poem is propelled by the force of the "person" stripped bare.

...the center where the writing rocks back and forth before taking its plunge into space.

Hidden arms are stretched pointing to the variations, the hollows, the deliberate judgements of time within the work of art.

Quoting de Kooning: "You have to keep on the edge of something, all the time, or the picture dies."

Design: extraordinary
color: cobalt blue

Painters are the revolutionaries to whom writers turn in their desire to break from the solemnity of the judicious rules of their craft.

Henri Bergson in Paris said: image is a locus between intuition and concept.

H.D was beginning her own struggle with what Williams in "Asphodel" calls "the tyranny of the image (wonderful phrase). Pound had firmly stressed that you did not work up to the image--no reflections, hesitations, equivocations, hints. The image strikes once with its full force--and brilliantly, "it occurs in an instant."


SarahJane said...

That's a wonderful idea. I love marking my books, too. It's territorial. I never understood the urge to keep books pristine. I have a friend who only buys hardbound books because they look nice (and they do) but I like getting used books, too, to see what other people have marked up.

You could make a poem of lines you've underlined from different books, like a cento.


Pam Hart said...

Thanks Sarah. I like the idea of a cento too. And thanks for visiting.
I have enjoyed your thoughts too.

Radish King said...

i love finding marginalia in library books and wondering about the person who wrote it. it gives the books another dimension.

Pam Hart said...

Library books definitely or old books found in a used books store. Or when I read my old high school english poetry book and meet the 15-year-old me who made notes in the margin of Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey based on what my English teacher was talking about that day. Like coming on an old photo of yourself that you'd forgotten about. Thanks for stopping by. I have been enjoying reading your blog for a long time now.