Measured Extravagance

2000-10-02 - 5:57 p.m.

I spent the past weekend aboard the Katy Leigh, my father-in-law’s boat. One of the books I brought along was Laurence Kushner’s Eyes Remade For Wonder--which turned out to be an apt choice not only because of the High Holidays but because of the rabbi’s fondness for sailing.

A perfect moment: sitting in the bow of the boat, book in lap, Kushner’s almost-giddy paean to the letter "lammed" resonating in my head, collie flopped down next to me, watching the sunlight glint across the lake and over the trees about (but not quite, not yet ready) to flame out into color.

The other book I brought along was Billy Collins’ Picnic, Lightning. Collins is a fun poet. It’s not every bloke who can pull off (so to speak) a meditation on undressing Emily Dickinson, describe his conversation with the Buddha as they shovel snow ("’After this,’ he asks,/’Can we go inside and play cards?’"), or fancy himself reincarnated as "an enormous piano."

I particularly like "Marginalia." I’d be predisposed to enjoy the poem anyway, given my deplorable (but unapologetic) habit of using many of my books as stationery and coasters, and my equally deplorable (but unapologetic) predisposition for literary voyeurism – I love letters, I love journals, I love examining the rough drafts of poems. Call me the anti-collector—I enjoy used books that bear the scrawls of their previous owners. Collins’ catalogue of the different kinds of marginalia is both vivid and hilarious, including his memory of

"…once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
who wrote ‘ Don’t be a ninny’
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

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