Friday, February 09, 2007

Anthology

I missed putting up a poem on St. Brigid's Day. It must be an effect of creeping Buddhism. When I was a little Catholic kid, studying Lives of the Saints (it was always capitalized) was lagniappe to me and on most days I could tell you who one should be celebrating and in what grisly, picturesque manner he or she or they had died. This came in handy in college, when I was able to impress a professor or two with my ability to decode complicated Renaissance altarpieces on the fly.

Now that Buddha has taken up residence in the living room, however, the liturgical calendar isn't as much of a concern and I forgot all about Brigid. But why confine poetry to one day, eh?

I like poetry, good poetry, when I can find it. This happens less often than one might wish. When I do find it, I like to collect it.

This is an old habit of mine, begun in the mid-1980s. I can pinpoint the exact day.

I was in another interminable class at the dreadful high school, sitting around waiting for a test to end. I'd written my answers down on a sheet of notebook paper with fifteen minutes to go. I couldn't read, of course. And so I tried to pull a book out of my head: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

I realized I could see the opening page of the fifth chapter, "Advice from a Caterpillar," clear as day. And that I could remember words, as well. So I pulled out another sheet of paper and started writing them down. "The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence..."

It was the first time I ever realized that forming letters is, for me, a sensuous pleasure. The first stroke of the A in "Alice" sent a shiver up my spine. I completely forgot about the classroom, and the test, and lost myself in the writing. If there is such a thing as reincarnation, it's entirely possible that I spent at least one lifetime in a scriptorium merrily decorating the Book of Genesis or the Koran with arabesques or fleurs-de-lys.

After school that day, I stopped in at a drugstore and bought a black marble composition notebook. If I had enjoyed copying down Alice, I decided, it would be a lot of fun to copy down everything that I'd loved reading, all in one place. Choice excerpts, just for me.

I still have it. Here it is.

Old Faithful (Volume One)

I can state with certainty that I bought the book in 1985 because the first quote is a lyric from Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George, which premiered that year: "Work is what you do for others, Art is what you do for yourself."

The notebook went everywhere with me and filled up at an alarming rate as I copied in everything from one-line aphorisms to the entire first chapter of A Passage to India. For a long time I thought this was a practice I'd invented, until two years later I read Alberto Manguel's article "Sweet Are the Uses of Anthology" in the New York Times Book Review and found out that mine was a hobby quite popular in the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

(The article appeared in the August 23, 1987 issue–I know because I copied an excerpt into my book.)

There are things in this book and its successor that make me roll my eyes today, such as a lengthy piece from, dear me, the Reader's Digest, in which Aleksandr Solzhenitsin avers that everything evil in the world (especially Communism, natch) has arisen because mankind has turned away from Christianity.

And there's my handwriting...

Page One

I dotted my i's with little circles. Oy. I was but one YM subscription away from being a teenage girl.

And then there are things I am immensely pleased to see–things I encountered in books that were not mine, or in newspapers long ago crumbled that I'd no longer have if I'd not pinned them to the page.

Here's one. It's poem that against all odds made it into a textbook put into my hands by the dreadful high school. I discovered it on my own, flipping through the pages looking for something better than the Rod McKuen dreck the teacher had assigned. The first time I read it, it thundered.

I might have discovered Lucille Clifton on my own, later–but then again, I might not.

I know the St. Brigid reading was supposed to be silent, but this isn't Brigid's day and this poem is not to be read in silence. Stand up and read it out loud. Hell, stand up and shout. It'll do you good.

Miss Rosie by Lucille Clifton

When I watch you
wrapped up like garbage
sitting, surrounded by the smell
of too old potato peels
or
when I watch you
in your old man's shoes
with the little toe cut out
sitting, waiting for your mind
like next week's grocery
I say
when I watch you
you wet brown bag of a woman
who used to the best looking gal in Georgia
used to be called the Georgia Rose
I stand up
through your destruction
I stand up.

41 comments:

Nancy said...

Excellent choice! I'm extremely fond of poet Marge Piercy, as well. Can't imagine being assigned Rod McKuen. Sigh.

Marlisa said...

Thank you for sharing that poem. Wonderful! And I blushingly admit that while giving a lecture on Post-Impressionism a few weeks ago, I actually said, "Who was at the zoo, George? The monkeys and who, George?" Damn you, Sondheim!

Melinda said...

Love your anthology. Clifton's "speakin of loss" is the one that stopped me in my tracks years ago. It was years after my dreadful high school. An astute friend realized I needed to read it. Thanks for this gift today.

I need orange said...

You unvented anthology.

Cassie said...

You have wonderful handwriting. Just so you know.

Rita said...

Thanks for your post today. I love it. You made my weekend.

Mary Lou said...

Except the teenaged girl would not have Yukio Mishima in her anthology... I laughed at the lives of the Saints. I loved the grisly tales. But since I could read well before I could understand much, when I read about St. Lawrence being roasted to death on a gridiron, I imagined him being rolled down a football field -- did those white lines have chemicals in them that burned? Oh the questions of a Catholic Girlhood...

Yarngineer said...

I love Alice in Wonderland! And I used to keep a quote book too. Sometimes I think I should go back to doing that, as it is a nice way to relect upon things when life gets you down.

I respect Solhznetsin (I was even lucky enough to meet him once when I was a teenager), but maybe he was mistaken. Maybe mankind left behind faith in general, or a belief in something bigger and grander than just one's own selfish needs. An ethos that truly values man's possiblities, not just the base nature. Anyway, I have not had enough coffee yet, so don't throw stones. :)

Aidan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aidan said...

Thank you for the poem. I really loved it. I could see Lee Goudy sitting on the steps of the Art Institute...

It's a very good thing that St Briget delivered you to Beekman Place. You make the banquet a lot more satisfying. Namasde.

Beverly said...

One more former note-book-keeper. Mine started with unfamiliar words and definitions! Of all the nerdy things! I even have a couple of lame jokes recorded in mine.

sappmama said...

I mean to read more poetry, esp Lucille Clifton. Thank you.

Sarah said...

The whole first chapter of A Passage to India definitely deserves the full-chapter quotation. Thanks for sharing -- you were one of my inspirations for the "Read Your Stash" project I started on my blog.

Sean said...

It's amazing to me how much presence of mind you had as a child. I knew nothing of poetry save a poem we read in 6th grade...something about a Tin Soldier. And, more amazingly still is that you SAVED these thing!

I continue my opinion...you're an amazing individual! Simply amazing.

Tactless Wonder said...

Oh high school notebook habbits...mine were my journals cram packed with quotes and all of my brilliance...and stuff...oh memories...

The "dreaded HS"? Small world...I applied to teach there a few years ago before deciding to stay on the Big Island instead...

Daphne said...

Oops, I screwed up again. Read every last damn one of those poems out loud.

Thanks for this one.

JoVE said...

Some of the homeschooling bloggers I read do Poetry Fridays. I don't see why you need to homeschool to participate (though maybe the sock yarn needs educating, who knows).

thanks for posting that. And the discussion of your anthology. Copywork is also big in some of the hs circles but I imagine it is much better when self-motivated.

Tess said...

I taught at Iolani! (Any HS can be dreadful for a certain individual at a certain stage of life. I would have been better off being one year older at mine.) Wish I'd had the presence of mind to collect my quotations in a bound book instead of notecards that have scattered to the winds....

Kathy said...

YOu are such a lovely man, Franklin.

I'm glad you have that composition book; it will help you revisit the person you were as you grow and become what you will be... isn't that what's lovely about life? We get to grow... and to be reminded of parts of that growth in such a tangible way (so much better than inscriptions in yearbooks, i must say!). Lucky you.

This is the reason I cling to my LP's, to every book I read in High School (mine wasn't at all dreadful -- I graduated from Radford in 1981! Haole-wood, as it were).

April said...

Thank you for introducing me to Lucille Clifton. I think her and I are going to be good friends.

marcia in austin said...

Without a doubt, there needs to be a font called Young Franklin's Hand.

maire in florida said...

my kids and i call that black notebook, a serial killer notebook.
thanks for showing me that beautiful poem. i'm touched.

Riin said...

I've always meant to put my favorite quotes together in one place but never got around to it. I use my favorite Dorothy Parker quote a lot when I'm at work: "What fresh hell is this?"

Charles said...

Lovly poem!!

Anyway...You could help me with this one~~
See my blog more info!!

Thanks

Christina said...

Dear Franklin,

This comment has nothing to do with your post (my apologies) but with Chicago. I'm coming to visit your fine city in a few weeks, and would love to know if you've see either Cosi fan tutte or The Dialogues of the Carmelites at the Lyric Opera House. Also, where is your favorite place to eat in Chicago, or what do you consider a "must" for a visitor? Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Franklin, can you please advise what the quote is from Mishima?

thanks
A Lurker

dragon knitter said...

wow. i don't usually read poetry because it's too short (or too long, lol). it's part of the reason why i don't like to read magazines. not enough meat for the bones.

but this: amazing. i will have to seek lucy out.

i missed st brigid's too. i'm thinking of posting a poem my son wrote for a class, that has absolutely resonated with everyone who has read it. he's 14. when his teacher read it, she almost cried.

Kristen said...

Pssst. It's Solzhenitsyn.

Anonymous said...

have you ever visited www.DoverPublications.com?

spouse’s uncle told us about it. they have reprinted knitting/crochet/tatting books under the “crafts” heading.

check it out!

anne marie in philly

Susan said...

Lucille Clifton came to one of my lit classes in college! We read Quilting in class, and it was the closest thing to a celebrity experience I'd had thus far in my sheltered, young life. I remember feeling it was so generous of her, to answer our silly freshman questions and share the source and inspiration for her poetry. It was the first time I really appreciated poetry.

Elizabeth said...

I thought I was the only one who did that...Thanks, Franklin!

Becky said...

Hey, Kristen, pssst ... actually it's Сольженицын

How you transliterate it is anybody's ballgame. Which reminds me of when I asked my friend Chuck how to correctly spell Channukah and he replied, "in Hebrew". heh

Anonymous said...

Hi Franklin - I love your sense of humor and your taste in books. Have you read Suds In Your Eye and the subsequent books? It seems to me they would fit in with your sense of humor delightfully. Delores and her attitude is very much like some of the characters in this series. The story takes place in San Diego after WWII. A small group of ladies find each other and attack life with humor and beer. Including growing flowers in the front yard in old commodes. I grew up with these books and thought everyone knew of them. I will look up the name of the author and the rest of the books. Defintely a fun read. Best - Hester Knits from Atlanta -
HesterKnits@earthlink.net

Leigh Witchel said...

The girls in my awful high school dotted their i's with puffy little hearts. If it's any consolation, circles are a soupcon more butch.

I see from the link that your was named after Fr. Damien de Veuster, but I'm wondering if he was named after St. Damien of Sts. Cosmas and Damien. If so, it's a wonder every boy that graduated from there doesn't dot their i's with hearts and circles.

Iris said...

Love your poem.

Iris said...

Love your poem.

David said...

I assumed it would be:
"White, a blank page or canvas..."

Jennifer said...

You have such wonderful taste in literature....and I can relate to your burgeoning bookshelves (although unlike you I can't bear to discard any of my books, which is kind of a big problem). Noticed that your library does not contain any Robertson Davies. If you have not read any of his novels, I highly recommend them! Difficult to describe his style except that I believe he himself once described it as "magical realism" and it is highly informed by his own interests in the theatre, music and opera. Seek him out if you get a chance.....and enjoy!

Brenda said...

Great poem! I must look up more of her work.

I wish I had kept an anthology. I inherited my mother's near-photographic memory. She warned it would fade; I didn't believe her. She was right.

I'm reading Mary Oliver currently. I like that she is unsentimental when she writes about nature.

Jessica said...

I have piles of notebooks filled too. I love looking through them now, even if most of my handwriting looks like a gerbil on speed did it instead of me.

Lucky Canuck said...

Best thing I ever copied down:

I've often had a piece of toast,
Particularly long and wide,
That falls upon the sanded floor
And always on the buttered side.

Can't remember the author of that one!