Monday, May 15, 2006

Antarctic Traveller

I was looking through the poetry section at a used bookstore the other day when I found Katha Pollitt's collection of poetry, Antarctic Traveller. Years ago, long before she started writing for the Nation, my dad cut out a copy of her poem "Archaeology" from the New Yorker and taped it to his office door, so I think I've read that poem a hundred times since I was little (that link to the poem comes from a talk she gave called "Emily Dickinson Had the Worst Taste in Men," which is a pretty great title). I decided not to buy the book, though.

I like to check the inscriptions in used books (Antarctic Traveller was a Christmas gift from Tom to Renee in 1983). A couple of years ago, my friend Graham sat next to a guy who was reading the collected poems of Pablo Neruda on the subway. When the guy's stop came, he accidentally left the copy of the book on the bench. He remembered it at the last second and Graham tried to hand it back to him, but the doors closed and he could only shrug about the lost book. Graham found an inscription on the inside cover--from Sara to Jonathan, with an ambiguous message I can't remember now--and he spent days concocting a soap opera of lost love for them. Jonathan--if the man on the train was in fact Jonathan and not someone who had bought it used--had dog-eared some pages and put checkmarks next to some of the odes. Everyone had a different take on the sentimental value of the book and the inscription.

I'm not much for writing inscriptions myself. If I give a copy of Lorrie Moore's Birds of America to someone as a gift, I sometimes mark my favorite paragraph (about the feminist film club in "Four Calling Birds") and make a note about how that passage is why I love Lorrie Moore so much.

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