Notebook, Today I Think

I’ve been a keeper of notebooks since my undergraduate days at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. In graduate school at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop the habit became a practice. I didn’t like graduate school very much but I could joke to my friend and classmate Ken Weisner that Iowa City was a good place to drink tea and write on scraps of paper. Ken grew up to be a wonderful poet and teacher and I’m still largely a jotter of notes. Once upon a time I co-edited a volume called “The Poet’s Notebook” which is still abailable from W.W. Norton. Poets are all collectors of scraps.

Notebook, notebook, who’s the fairest of them all? Forget it. Paul Valery said: Love is being stupid together. Oh notebook I love you! You don’t mind that I think Karl Marx was only right about history or that I genuinely hate the fashion industry. You admit my fidelity to provincial cultures.


For a notebook to be any good at all it must glint like the scissors I dropped in the grass.




Merz is a nonsense word invented by the German dada artist Kurt Schwitters to describe his collage and assemblage works based on scavenged scrap materials.


Does the notebook stink, like old Kurt Schwitters who gladly stuffed his overcoat with objects from the gutter? Yes. The notebook is pungent and sweet like the dead thing in your wall.


Of course you copy things you like. I like the phrase: “the vital motions of Venus’ hair.”


What’s the difference between the notebook and rhetoric? The latter must be organized. The notebook is an unmade bed. Aristotle didn’t know about eiderdown.


My grandmother used to sing to a stuffed bird.


Lady Macbeth is part Hecate, part Medea. Hecate is her nicer part. In love with moonbeams.


I like the word “snaffling” as its about domestic thievery. I shall snaffle some of Norbert’s cherries.


There was the month in Iowa City when I played the same record by Odetta, over and over and read nothing but Catullus. Sweet and sour, laugh and cry. Spring rain at the windows.


I’ll take Shakespeare even on a bad day:

“O comfort-killing Night! Image of hell!
Dim register and notary of shame!
Black stage for tragedies and murders fell!
Vast sin-concealing chaos! Nurse of blame!
Blind, muffled bawd! Dark harbour for defame!
Grim cave of death! Whisp’ring conspirator
With close-tongued treason and the ravisher!”

Excerpt From: Jonathan Bate. “How the Classics Made Shakespeare.” Apple Books.


Since poetry says so, I bring my father back from the dead and then my mother with her broken laugh. My brother, gone since infancy, he comes along, though not in human form, he’s like the northern lights. “There’s nothing to be astonished about,” I tell them. “Let’s leave off where we were.” So we fall together like leaves in wind and sweep across the velvet ditch of fictive life—you know, the one we imagined we’d live and live.

Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

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