I've completed four 2-page openings of an erasure/overpainting of Bartleby the Scrivener, "Bar by the Riven." I'm no Ronald Johnson, nor even a Tom Phillips, but take an intense joy in the process – exacto-ing apart the pages, gluing them down on heavy waterpaper stock, pulling out phrases and words that catch my eye, and then painting over the whole in vivid acrylic colors & designs (at this point, mostly vaguely Suprematist, but I've got a good deal of the story to go, & look forward to trying out all sorts of graphic styles). The designing is the smallest part of my pleasure: I love the texture of the paints, the sensation of laying down the colors with my smallest brushes – even the final step of embalming it all under a high-gloss varnish, bringing all the colors out into an eye-popping clarity.
Lisa Robertson's XEclogue (1993, my copy New Star Books, 1999) is 10 eclogues, more or less. "Nancy" and "Lady M" exchange letters; the "Roaring Boys" sing roisterous adaptations of the Pervigilium Veneris. The pastoral shades here, as it so often does, into the gardening poem, but always remains on the uncultivated side of the hedge. Robertson, as one of the most theoretically sophisticated poets writing, knows the centrality of the pastoral to Western thought (John Taggart said somewhere, recently, "the pastoral is the Western tradition"): it's the most fundamentally political of genres (cf. Empson), the field in which one steps out of the social/urban precisely to take stock of society. Robertson's is a pastoral of gender relations and the socio-psychoanalytic construction of the subject. Oof, that sounds MLA-ish, doesn't it? which doesn't get at how weird and intriguing a book this is, how pitch-perfect her voice is as she veers towards & inevitably avoids the conventionally lyrical.
A copy of Anathem, Neal Stephenson's latest door-stopping epic of speculative fiction, has fallen into my hands. I've turned it over a few times, contemplating all the word-of-mouth intelligence I've received, & the few reviews I've read ("huge," "daunting complex," "too clever by half"), & have compromised: I'll certainly tackle this sometime over the summer, but for now it's China Miéville's The Scar.
The people at Otis College of Art and Design are producing some exceeding beautiful books under the Otis Books/Seismicity Editions imprint. I am at the moment enthralled by the first stretch of Ray DiPalma's The Ancient Use of Stone: Journals and Daybooks 1998-2008, a decade's worth of notebooks – so it would seem; one always wonders, reading a published daybook/journal/commonplace book, how much retouching has been applied to the messy pages of the original. Right now I'm still in "The Ancient Use of Stone," the earliest of DiPalma's daybooks here collected – part journal, part commonplace book, part bibliographical checklist (mostly of early modern imprints). It has precisely the miscellaneous character I enjoy in these things, shifting from quotation to observational prose to verse, often in the compass of a single entry. And I can't resist looking ahead: the later daybooks are even more miscellaneous – multiple columns, typefaces, graphics, etc. More later on this large & beautiful book.
The notebook as word-hoard, prose-hoard, treasury of lines & passages. Thoreau's journals as the vast quarry from which he excavated his books; Emerson's as the practice room in which he tried out the various virtuoso passages to be included in his essays. My own shelf of notebooks seems to grow exponentially: I realize, soberingly, that I probably now own enough blank pages to keep me busy for the rest of my life (solution: write more!). The ones I've filled are of distressingly little interest: hundreds of pages of journalizing, repeated drafts of poems (I copy back & forth from notebook to notebook, keeping track – when I don't lose track – by arcane numbering schemes), passages of prose for whatever assignment happens to be on my plate at the moment. Unlined notebooks encourage me to doodle, even to draw, which makes them rather nicer to look at; lined notebooks encourage more voluble word-production.