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In Praise of the Moleskine
a renshi by Valerie Josephs and Vera Chok
It’s the middle of February in Soho,
there’s a coal fire in the Georgian house
in Dean Street. The chill is relieved
with absinthe to remind us of Rimbaud
and Verlaine, though we are there to hear
the poems of Victor Hugo and songs
by French composers who had set his words.
I’ll add this day to my Moleskine notebook,
with its brown cover, that I’m never without.
Bruce Chatwin wanted to live inside an egg.
Yellow around runny self
I have a Moleskine
I don’t have the pen to right –
I’m hungry for
Maybe potato print my insides, heart and brain
I think too quickly – I trip – to write
Deep down words as solemn anchor?
Everything goes in my notebook: to-do lists
rub shoulders with more lofty thoughts or lines
of poetry I might develop, books I should read.
Exhibitions I ought to see, sketches once there
and notes on how to mix paints, how red, blue
and yellow make brown. How Picasso loved
mixed media, hence the cracks. That gouache
is between water colour and acrylic paint.
Mix Burnt Umber and Prussian Blue for black.
I don’t revisit scribbled faded landscapes.
Everything changes form.
I fight with accurate time and place no grid will help:
What was then, is now, and when?
Now, if dreams, tales, fables and fantasy –
Now, if lines with the right pen
feel pure, pleasure pressed in palm and hand –
What is correct, true and blue,
Is nothing more than point of view.
The rainforest hides a tree, I’m told.
It screams when it’s cut
paper and wood melt in heat and wet
through time words written and unwritten come and go
while ink runs my mind acts the role of a landing strip in the DMZ.
There’s that bird that has no feet
There, old letters alight
Shine light on some sort of cracked mirror.
I was, still am, and ever will be
Reflected, reflective, described, and distorted
In so many words.
Chatwin left eighty five notebooks, the black moleskines
he ordered from Paris. Before he set off on a journey
he would pick up whichever notebook was to hand.
In a single book would be a gallimaufry:
journeys in different countries, doodles and maps.
Who he’d met or had lunch with and snatches
of conversation and his wife would sometimes write
shopping lists, recipes or make a note of her chores.
That’s what I like about a notebook, you’re not restricted
by a certain space for a day, so that you feel you have
to fill the space. In a notebook you are free to write
notes to yourself, make sketches or record something said.
No pencil, stained water left mistakes on paper.
History of precious marks showing through.
Light coming off the page, the white of the paper
gives luminosity. Paper ‘breathing’.
Use a limited range of colours.
One coat enough for sky. Slight haze for distance.
Brodsky: The real biographies of poets are like those of birds.