Love and the Blank Page

Never mind romantic love–let’s talk about love affairs with paper and pencils and words!

Julie Larios writes about the beauty of pencils. Snippet:

I was a seven-year-old who loved school supplies…

Me too, me too! Pens and pencils. Paper, notebooks, erasers, paper-clips. I loved them all. I loved my father’s old Remington Portable typewriter with its clackety-clack keys. I was a goner from the moment I realized that the wall was not the only place I could apply a crayon. Putting writing implements to paper made me feel as if a part of myself were melting into words and images and ideas.

My seven-year-old self felt no terror at the blank page. That’s the kind of thing that changes with time. As Rachel Vorona Cote writes about the paradox of the blank book:

It invites our most intimate scribbles while its creamy, pristine pages cast doubt upon the merit of our words. What ideas burn so brightly that they should besmirch generous, bare pages? Yes, blank books promise—but they also protest.

img_1061True. When your handwriting has degraded to a scrawl, it seems as if form and content have both deserted you, leaving you looking especially stupid.

Yet when people find out you’re a writer, they give you these gorgeous gifts of journal notebooks. The notebooks then sit on your shelf in a row and mock you with their deliciously smooth, blank pages.  So when I started teaching at VCFA back in 2006, I took one of these gifts to residency. I took notes during faculty and graduate student lectures. I doodled. I wrote down fragments of thoughts when I felt moved or puzzled or annoyed. I grumbled when I needed to. Later, I dared to read some of the entries. Most were inane. Some were filled with unexpected memories of particular moments. I was surprised to see that a few threads have managed since then to find their way into now-published stories.

Now I have a fountain pen and a few colors of ink to choose from. And I take the notebooks with me whenever I travel. I write in them occasionally even during alternate semesters, when I don’t teach. There’s something satisfying about letting a thought go from brain to arm to fingers and then onto a page. Imperfect. Incomplete. But still, organic. Real.

Julie Larios on Michelangelo’s Aching Back



Portrait of Michelangelo by Daniele da Volterra (Public domain) via Wikimedia Commons

Among the many great European artists of the Renaissance, he is thought to be have been the greatest. Who doesn’t recognize the storied ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? Some of us even remember the collective gasp of horror that echoed around the world when a vandal broke the nose of the Pieta.

Children’s nonfiction buffs will remember Diane Stanley’s cleverly illustrated picture book biography of Michelangelo.

But a poet?

Courtesy of Numero Cinq, here is a wonderful piece by Julie Larios on Michelangelo, poetry, the doctoring of texts, politics, love, and translation.

She quotes translator John Frederick Nims on the pleasures of translating this body of work:

“Fun” is a word that Robert Frost often used of poetry. If it offends anyone when used in the aura of the divine Michelangelo, as Vasari called him, we could retrieve from ancient Greece the favorite motto of Valery…which he translates as pour le plaisir. I kept translating for the pleasure of it.

Fun. Worth remembering, as a criterion for work. It can put aching backs into perspective.