Tuesday, 22 January 2013


This time last week I had no idea that scribbling on books had a name but week three of my poetry challenge ended with Billy Collin's alerting me to the art of Marginalia through his poem of the same name. And with startling synchronicity The Huffington Post ran an article on 22nd January on the same subject.

I am a bit of a book purist and the thought of even dropping a flake of chocolate in the creases of a book brings me out in a clammy sweat.  However the discovery that this is common place, even an art form reminded me of the time when I was thrilled to find scribbling of a superior kind.

It happened when I was researching motivational quotes in Glasgow's majestic Mitchell Library. The only book I could find on Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, thought to be the founder of Taoism, was in the Edwin Morgan Collection. Edwin Morgan, one of Scotland's greatest poets, died in 2010. At the time of my research he was still alive though very ill.  The books in this collection are kept in some special far away place.  A request form is completed and the precious book is brought to you. Pencil only can be used to take notes and I would hate to think what punishment is delivered if the librarians sniff a whiff of ink. The feeling of being watched is unnerving.

With all the high security I was amazed to find in this edition fine spun pencil marks in the body of the text and margins - questions marks, affirmations and the odd additional wise word. I was being treated to a lecture by two great men.  It could be the marginalia did not belong to Edwin Morgan, it did not matter, he allowed the marks to stand and that was enough for me. I assume they are still there and no one has rubbed them out.

Post script on this subject:  Is there an art form of dead finds in books?

Today I opened a borrowed copy of Oscar Wilde's Lord Arthur Savile's Crime and found on page five pressed across the bottom two lines, a very dried, squashed spider. Being a confirmed arachnophobic I could neither destroy the relic or read the page. It gave a whole new meaning to the term page turner.

 Poetry Challenge Update

My week spent with the poems of Billy Collins was a delightful and rich experience and I have no doubt I will return to his slick brand of philosophy some time soon. Thank you Poem Hunter for providing the free ebook of his poems.

In Week Four of my poetry challenge I will explore poet and poem Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám translated by Edward FitzGerald.   The copy I have is a 1909 (3rd edition) of the first version by FitzGerald and is a great find. It cost me £1.00 in the wonderful chaotic bookstore Voltaire and Rousseau in Otago Lane, Glasgow.  The poem can be read in one sitting but I plan to read it many times this week to absorb the beauty of the language and also to learn a little history of the poem and its many manifestations.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Resolutions of a Transient

At the beginning of every year since I don't know when I have listed goals and resolutions and for the most part I have met those goals.

Because I am a realist I don't list goals of weight loss, alcohol reduction and an increase in fitness - these are ongoing battles for me to win and lose.  My annual goals have been around my writing, learning new skills and my garden.  I never realized until this year that goal setting relied on a certain amount of stability and routine.

2013 will be for me a disruptive year. I will probably be spending about 60% of my time in Paris, returning to Scotland only to meet necessary commitments.  I had already resigned myself to the fact that my vegetable garden would have a fallow year and my greenhouse will be used to store logs.

My whistle playing has all but ceased due to the proximity of my neighbours in the Paris 3rd floor apartment and even when I am at home domestic chores take priority over learning new tunes.

My 2013 resolutions needed to be quiet and portable.

Number one is to finish my ongoing novel project.  This is top priority with a self imposed deadline to finish in the first quarter of the year.  I also want to write a rough draft of another novel in November during National Novel Writing Month. This has worked for me in the past so I am ready to give it another whirl.

My learning goal is obvious - improve my terrible French. I try to do a little each day but it is not easy outside of a class.  If the novel goes to plan I intend to enroll in an Alliance Française crash course in the summer.

But I also want to improve my writing.  Long projects can grind me down,  I fall in a rut, sometimes things need spiced up.  I hit upon an idea to read at least one poem a day and choose a new poet every week.  As an ex accountant the numbers appealed to me. It would add up to more than three hundred and sixty five poems and fifty two new poets by the time the bells bring in 2014.

Where to start?  I was away for New Year so chose my first poet from what was available on my Bookeen book reader.  Poems of the Past and the Present by Thomas Hardy included some war poems and seemed a good opener. Many of the poems made me cry, many I couldn't understand but loved the beauty of their language.  My favorites from this collection were The Colonel's Soliloquy, The Mother Mourns and 'I said to Love'.

I don't intend to review the poems I read but hope that by the end of the year I will have a better understanding of form and can learn from the experience of reading varied poets from many eras.

Because many poets are among my Facebook friends I asked there for recommendations.  I now have a list list of about twenty poets.  The over whelming suggestion was for a poet I already had on my list,  Kathleen Jamie.   Her collection The Overhaul has been awarded the Costa Poetry Award 2012 and my copy arrived just as I was leaving for Paris. I started the book on Monday night and it has been difficult not to gobble this masterpiece up in one sitting. It is a delight.  Every poem has merit but The Gather is my favorite. It is gentle of voice yet strong in character and emotion.

Although this is prescribed reading I know I will return to these collections time and again.  The prescriptive nature is necessary to reign in my flighty nature and open up new worlds to me.