“We love the things we love for what they are.”
I am a collector of quotes, if there can be such a thing. This is a picture of a book I've had for a very long time. Actually I got it when I was thirteen so I've had it for about fifteen years, which is a long time to me. It's a first edition of the Oxford Book Of American Verse, but, as you can clearly see, I have not treated it as a sacred first edition. In fairness it wasn't pristine when I got it, but that doesn't matter because it has become something much more than a book of poetry.
As any reader can tell you, different books mean different things at different points in our lives. A novel you could not wrap your head around at nineteen suddenly speaks to you at twenty four or, vice versa, a poem you hoarded in the midst of your teenage angst is a stranger in your thirty. When I was given this book at thirteen, one of many dropped at the foot of my bed by my mother, I flipped through the pages and discovered Carl Sandburg. He was honest, human, and sounded like smoke stacks and narrow streets. I needed that as a teenager and his poems became anthems that I memorized and repeated to myself. I also began writing particularly good quotes in the margins, next to Sandburg's lines about mobs and, as "the years ticked off their say so", I kept finding new poems and new authors, writing down quotes from others along side them as well. By my late teens I'd found Whitman ("And whether I come to my own tomorrow or in ten thousand or ten million years I can cheerfully take it now or with equal cheerfulness I can wait") and in my early twenties I discovered Randell Jarrell ("In bombers named for girls, we burned the cities we had learned about in school-- till our lives wore out"). Each time I picked the book up there was a poet that I had skimmed over and a poem just right for the mood I was in.
The book has been everywhere with me. In every apartment, on every major trip, trucked around in backpacks, stuffed into glove compartments. There are pictures pasted inside and the cover feels like it might turn to dust. It's now held together with duct tape and some of the original quotes I wrote fifteen years ago have almost rubbed off, but it is a more honest history of my life than any journal I've kept.
When my sister and I were living in Oregon we came up with a game that provided us with free drinks a few nights a week. There was a chalkboard next to the pool table and we would start writing quotes on it. Some guy would inevitably try quoting Bob Dylan or the Dalai Lama and we would bet them that whoever ran out of quotes first would pick up the others bar tab. We never lost, though some would overuse song lyrics and others couldn't site the author. I served us better than betting on our pool skills.