Why a journal? Well, I like writing that spills over. I want to live as much as possible at the ends of my fingertips rather than, say, in the capillaries of the brain.
Into my notebook goes anything that is interesting enough to stop me in my tracks — the slump of a pair of shoulders in a crowd, a newspaper entry, a recipe, "chewy" words like ragamuffin or Maurice . . . For me, it all begins with a notebook: it is the well I dip into for that first clear, cool drink.
Working notebooks are reassuring because it's easier to start from something rather than nothing. In notebooks, writers feel free to be awkward or polished, silky or sullen. To try opinions without commitment: without anyone watching. Notebooks are dedicated to a perpetual sketchiness, and that's their charm.
One of the pleasures of "notebook" writing is, of course, that the writer is free to make indefensible utterances — and it is then up to her or him, or to authorized literary executors, to censor them (or not). You can say anything. It's all right.
A notebook is for jotting down unfinished ideas. These ideas seldom go any further, perhaps for the best. There seems to be even a kind of idea we could think of as a notebook idea, pure and simple. Such ideas may have in fact their own charm, their own seductiveness, just as the fragments of unfinished poems sometimes do. If the ideas are any good in themselves, they would have some value for others; if not, not.
For me, there has to be an absolute flexibility in maintaining a notebook. My notebooks are really scrapbooks — pieced together with fragments, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, long and short passages, magazine and newspaper clippings, postcards and these items seem to dictate their own coherence. Some are like jumpstarts for the imagination; others function more like jumpcuts — little bridges that spring up between ideas and feelings. Connectors. Accidental linkages. Surprises.
Why do I record these scraps? So that, later, when I've forgotten what impulse led me to record them . . . or write them, I can pick them up and see them as if they were freshly found rather than long hoarded.
Notebooks are like attics, a place for treasures which sometimes turn out to be junk, but take you anyway to another time and place.
Keeping [notebooks] provides a faint illusion of tidiness, and the thought of so many opposing impulses sleeping peacefully face-to-face when the book is shut, remains oddly satisfying.
The words do not take me to the reason I made the entry, but back to the felt experience, whatever it was . . . It is the instant I try to catch in the notebooks, not the comment, not the thought.
A foyer. The place for introductions — some otherwise impossible.
It is partly the unpolished quality of the notebooks I find so beautiful. One finds in them the record of a struggle, full of rough edges.
The head of a [notebook keeper] is more like the town dump than the town library.
A "poet's" notebook? Hardly. Rather, a compost heap. It's difficult to pitchfork individual hunks of material out of it, because they're all in the process of settling in together and undergoing a chemical/physical change that sometimes results in poems.
Quotes from The Poet's Notebook, edited by Stephen Kuusisto, Deborah Tall, and David Weiss.