Marginalia

Sunday, 27 November 2011

sea at night

sea in the evening

Marginalia

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive -
"Nonsense." "Please!" "HA!!" -
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
who wrote "Don't be a ninny"
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls "Metaphor" next to a stanza of Eliot's.
Another notes the presence of "Irony"
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
"Absolutely," they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
"Yes." "Bull's-eye." "My man!"
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

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.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird singing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake's furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents' living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

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."

-Billy Collins

I went to beach on Friday evening to finish a rather hot, humid and stressful week with a dip in the sea. After sinking into the water, I sat huddled in my towel on the sand and read, and read, and read, until there was no more light. I finished reading The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, and devoured poems by Billy Collins. This will have to become a summer ritual for me.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends, I hope it was suitably delicious and warm.

18 comments:

Nancy Baric *negfilm said...

lovely.

Kill The Cat said...

beautiful!

kori said...

I've only recently discovered Billy Collins so his poem here was a real treat to read. Love it! And especially loved your own paragraph at the end, capturing what for me would be a pretty great day too.

SARAH said...

That sounds like a perfect evening, definitely luxurious ritual material. One of my favorite Collins poems is "Sailing Toward Bethlehem," from the collection The Art of Drowning. Poetry academia likes to hate on Billy C, but there's no denying his magic (and immense success).

Olga said...

I loved the poem, thank you for sharing! I'd be curious to hear what you think of the Marriage Plot, i really enjoy your book reviews and would love to hear more about the books you read and loved... Swimming and reading are among best things in the world.

rooth said...

I'm jealous of your lovely spring / summer day at the beach. Have a great one

P R I M O E Z A said...

that ritual sounds like a good one.

fifth floor apartment said...

i am a hugehugehugehugehuge billy collins fan. i actually just saw him speak a couple weeks ago. i love coming across other fans :)

lovely photos :)

Diana Sudyka said...

Oh! I adore Billy Collins. He has kept me company on many a sleepless night. Can't wait to read The Marriage Plot, and hopefully your review of it as well. Speaking of marginalia: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/21/books/21margin.html

Lovely post!

hila said...

nancy: merci lovely nancy :)

kill the cat: it's a great poem, huh?

kori: if only I could spend all week like that.

sarah: eh, I'm tired of poets and authors being dismissed by snobs. I don't have patience for that sort of stuff :)

olga: I agree, the reading calmed my head, the swimming calmed my body. I will definitely do a review of the marriage plot - I just need to let the novel mull around in my head some more.

rooth: well, I'm generally jealous of everyone's winter treats this time of year.

primoeza/elizabeth: it is indeed, I'll have to repeat it.

fifth floor apartment: oh you lucky duck! is he a good speaker?

diana: he's been keeping me company too :)

Niina said...

Thank you for posting this poem. You know poetry is a little difficult for me but for some reason I am yet unable to grasp I really -truly- love this poem. I think I will go on and read some more...

Ana said...

Thanks for introducing me to Billy Collins. It was a long and hot week around here too, I wish the beach was closer because that definitely sounds like a lovely ritual :)

gracia said...

Sounds the perfect way to end the day, to read until there was no more light by which to do so.

Here's to summer rituals of all sorts.

g xo

hila said...

niina: billy collins is so easy to relate to, that might be why niina. He doesn't try to be blatantly esoteric.

ana: that's the nice thing about living in perth, the beach is always close :)

gracia: maybe we should add ice cream of all varieties to this summer ritual ... xo

andrea despot said...

First, thanks for sharing that poem! The concept of "marginalia" is absolutely sublime; definitely something I can relate to. Though I haven't read much, I find Billy Collins very relatable, or in the very least, very understandable. He gets the point across, yet still stands to be profound. I really loved this!

Second, I was so excited to find out that Eugenides wrote a new book! Suicides and Middlesex are two of my absolute, long-time favorites.

hila said...

andrea: yes, he is pretty relatable - I find some poets go out of their way to be obscure.

Unknown said...

My ex would always mark up his books, and I once wrote a poem about it:

One day I will open a book
and see your handwriting in it,
Neat corners and curly queues,
slowly penned in slick ink.
The cross and kiss stars,
underlines with bleeding new veins,
are fingerprints and birthmarks
I can identify. I will smile
to see that these caresses of the pen
Do not stop before
The End.

Hila said...

Unknown: I love this poem, thanks so much for posting it here.