Marginalia, Weekend of July 7th, 2013

Every voracious reader commits some act of graffiti as they read. Noteworthy moments are either scrawled on paper, illuminated with highlights, hallowed as marginalia or (at the very least) inscribed on the walls of memory.

I generally commit any of the above, plus, will type (or copy/paste) these moments into Day One, my journal app. It struck me as stingy not to share so I decided to post these here each week. They can come from anywhere: the book I'm currently reading, serendipitous stumbles found in my library, articles via my RSS Reader, podcasts, audiobooks, conversations with friends, or the wild, worldly web. When possible, I will link to the source:

  • A captain, as Will White of Emporia said (he knew a captain when he saw one, his own mother was a captain), must have a first officer, who does a lot the captain never knows about to steer the boat through rocks and reefs.“It takes two to write a book”, was another line of his creed. - Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant, Willa Cather (a memoir), pg 202
  • She said, still, that her novels were transcriptions of love for people and places. - Ibid, 203
  • Ever since One of Ours she had declared her belief that “writing” should be so lost in the object that it doesn't exist for the reader. Self-consciousness was a mistake - the writer should be just an eye and an ear. Proust was better when he wrote that way. At this time she thought of prose as allied to the other arts: the ear, especially, must be attuned to the cadences of music and poetry. Her new book, she told me (I doubt if she gave its title then - The Professor's House- to was) was based on a musical form. - Ibid >> Derek Walcott said something similar in his Paris Review interview.
  • Experimental poetry that turns out to look like something we expected, something we can predict in advance, to me is not experimental. - Peter Cole, Video: Dictating the Form
  • I knew who I was, and I knew my worth, but I was completely unknown to almost all my colleagues at Berkeley, except, of course, the Slavic languages professors. I was an obscure professor in an obscure department. I became well known to students only when I started to teach Dostoyevsky. There is a story that summarizes those years. I was at a literary dinner at Stanford with Jerzy Kosinski and, of course, he was quite famous. There was a woman, a fan of Kosinski’s, who was my neighbor at the table. She felt obliged to be polite and asked, What do you do? And I said, I write poetry. She snapped in reply: Everybody writes poetry. I didn’t mind that much but it still hurt. It represented my situation for years, the sufferings of ambition. - Czeslaw Milosz, The Art of Poetry No. 70
  • Poetry is an exploration of man’s place in the cosmos. - Ibid
  • If one writes in free verse - and one should - to subvert Western Civilization, surely one should write in forms to save oneself from Western Civilization? - Agha Shahid Ali, Ravishing DisUnities: Real Ghazals in English, pg. 13 >> Would that the post-modernist would see even the avant garde in the supposed conventional (like Frost).
  • Were it not for coffee one could not write, which is to say one could not live. - Honore de Balzac, The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee
  • Many people claim coffee inspires them, but, as everybody knows, coffee only makes boring people even more boring. - Ibid
  • "cryptogamous life of the retired bourgeoisie" - Ibid >> Flaubert's labor of seven years is evident here; still, I like it.
  • If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; if this is tea, please bring me some coffee. - Abraham Lincoln
  • "To your third question—do I deliberately utilize devices of rhyme, rhythm, and word-formation in my writing—I must, of course, answer with an immediate yes. I am a painstaking, conscientious, involved, and devious craftsman in words, however unsuccessful the result so often appears; and to whatever wrong uses I may apply my technical paraphernalia, I use everything and anything to make my poems work and move in the directions I want them to: old tricks, new tricks, puns, pormanteau words, paradox, allusion, paranomasia, paragram, catachresis, slang, assonantal rhymes, vowel rhymes, sprung rhythm. Every device there is in language is there to be used if you will. Poets have go to enjoy themselves sometimes, and the twistings and convolutions of words, the inventions and contrivances, are all part of the joy that is part of the painful, voluntary work.” –Dylan Thomas, as found on The Volta Blog >> Peeling back the curtain to reveal the Great Oz (though Thomas was a genuine wizard with few ropes and pulleys)
  • Peugot hatchback: it was painted with blue stars, a telephone number and the words AMBULANCE FLAUBERT. The writer as healer? Unlikely. I remembered George Sand's matronly rebuke to her younger colleague. 'You produce desolation,' she wrote, 'and I produce consolation.' The Peugot should have read AMBULANCE GEORGE SAND. - Julian Barnes, Flaubert's Parrot, pg 6
  • "I've the eye of an American." Flaubert's character, Lheureux, exclaiming the shabbiness of Madame Bovary's dress, Madame Bovary >> What did this mean? I googled, to no avail. What were French sentiments about Americans then? Likely unfavorable?
  • I like things that are difficult to write and difficult to understand. I like "redeeming the contraries" with secretive images. - Dylan Thomas as quoted in The Redress of Poetry by Seamus Heaney >> This is where the poet loves his craft, the artist with his crucible and stubborn, unmalleable work.
  • "In every case the response was one of delight. Ovations greeting him as he came on and as he went off were tremendous, but the sweat on his brow flowed no less copiously either time. It was my first full and striking knowledge of the fact that Dylan was alone, that he had been born into a loneliness beyond the comprehension of those of us who feel we live in loneliness, and that those recognitions of success or failure by which we can survive meant nothing to him. - John Malcolm BrinninDylan Thomas in America, pg. 18
  • (E.E.) Cumming's poetry, both Dylan and I knew, had for years met with determined or outraged resistance in Endland; often with but a puzles and tentative interest ... He (Cummings) had been so moved by Dylan's reading the previous evening, his wife told me, that he had left the auditorium to walk the streets alone for hours. - Ibid, pg 20 >> Would loved to have lived in Cumming's head just then...
  • His poems were always written when he was sober - a fact which emphasizes, partly, his respect for his art, but more significantly allows of careful discrimination between Dylan and the conventional alcoholic. His drinking was not a means of denying or fleeing life, not a way to making it tolerable, but of fiercely embracing it. When he was creatively alive, his genius was his whole stimulant. - Ibid, pg . 37
  • We began to speak of working methods. I had noticed that on many of his manuscripts Dylan would add a single word or a phrase, or a new punctuation, then recopy the whole poem in longhand. When another addition or revision was made, no matter how minor or major, he would then copy the whole poem again. When I asked him about this laborious repetition, he showed me his drafts of 'Fern Hill.' There were more than two hundred separate and distinct versions of the poem. It was, he explained, his way of 'keeping the poem together,' so that its process of growth was like that of an organism. He began almost every poem merely with some phrase he had carried about in his head. If this phrase was right, which is to say, if it were resonant or pregnant, it would suggest another phrase. In this way a poem would 'accumulate.' Once 'given' a word (sometimes the prime mover of poems were the words of other poems or mere words of the dictionary that called out to be 'set') or a phrase or a line (or whatever it is that is 'given' when there is yet a poem to ''prove') he could often envision it or 'locate' it within a pattern of other words or phrases or lines that, not given, had yet to be discovered: so that sometimes it would be possible to surmise accurately that the 'given' unit would occur near the end of the poem or near the beginning or near the middle or somewhere between." - Ibid, pg. 100 >> Exhausting! But no doubt, this greatly enhanced his oratory!