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.