Random bullets of the book project
The thing about writing a book (and it feels like “writing a book” now, even though the phase I’m in at the moment is revising an article that will eventually become a chapter) is that it leaves virtually no writing-brain left for blogging. Everything’s getting channeled into the larger project, even if it’s just 15 minutes of typing first thing in the morning. But what good is a blog if you don’t use it to throw some weird ideas and fragments of drafts at the wall and see what sticks? So, in Random Bullets format, a list.
- I want to write something about the verse quotations on Celestial Seasonings tea boxes. I’m not the only one who remembers the era when the entire back of the Celestial Seasonings box featured a poem, am I? The ones I remember were all poems by the New England “Fireside” poets — Oliver Wendell Holmes’ “The Chambered Nautilus,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life.” The kinds of poems that appeared on those boxes were very much in line with the kinds of poems I’ve found in commonplace books. People still commonplace them, as it turns out. It would be a side project, maybe a separate article, maybe just a short interlude at the end of the book, but I’d rather like to see if Celestial Seasonings has an archive anywhere. (I know you can tour their factory; I should email them and ask if they have any records of how they chose those poems. Research trip to Boulder! Pity I don’t ski.)
- Another side project: I want to put together an anthology of my commonplacers’ favorite poems, probably online as a kind of accompaniment to the book project. I can’t quite imagine any publisher wanting to take a risk on a print anthology of forgotten Victorian and 18th-century poems, many of which were beloved more for their sentiment or the moral lessons they imparted than for their literariness. But I want to be able to talk about these poems and not make the reader of my book keep running off to Google to find the full text of “The Bride’s Farewell” or Charles Wolfe’s “The Burial of Sir John Moore at Corunna” or Caroline Bowles Southey’s “To a Dying Infant” (for example), and a lot of these poems are hard to find in print. So.
- In fact, I might try posting a few of those poems in this space, just for the hell of it. I’ve already done that with Longfellow’s “The Fire of Drift-wood“; there are lots more I could talk about.
- One lovely side effect of telling people that I’m working on a project about commonplace books has been learning, from various interlocutors, just how often people still do that. In fact I’m pretty sure the afterword to this book will be about all the ways commonplacing isn’t dead. I’m also thinking of doing a not terribly scientific survey to find examples of people who still keep commonplace books, or have done so at some point in their lives.
- (Obligatory self-promotion:) If you’re going to be at MLA 2015 in Vancouver and you want to hear me talk about a small part of this project, then come to panel 606, “Textual Assemblage: Readers, Remixing, and the Reconstruction of Books,” which I would be thrilled to go to even if I weren’t speaking on it.
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