It’s day one of poetry writing month of 2023.
The prompt for today is:
And here’s our own prompt (optional, as always) for the first day of Na/GloPoWriMo. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but they never said you can’t try to write a poem based on a book cover — and that’s your challenge for today! Take a look through Public Domain Review’s article on “The Art of Book Covers.” Some of the featured covers are beautiful. Some are distressing. Some are just plain weird (I’m looking at you, “Mr Sweet Potatoes”). With any luck, one or more of these will catch your fancy, and open your mind to some poetic insights.
This prompt reminded me of a book I read recently, The Clothing of Books by Jhumpa Lahiri. Here is a quote from it:
The right cover is like a beautiful coat, elegant and warm, wrapping my words as they travel through the world, on their way to keep an appointment with my readers.
Books come to stand for various episodes in our lives, for certain idealisms, follies of belief, moments of love. Along the way they accumulate our marks, our stains, our innocent abuses, they come to wear our experience of them on their covers and bindings like wrinkles on our skin.
I like the romantic imagery of the quote above, but in my own experience, book covers have served a more practical/functional purpose. I respect them when they keep the books structurally intact while I scribble on the margins, or bend the covers back while reading.
I’m also reminded of one of the worst ways I’ve treated the ‘clothing’ of a book. When I was a philosophy student, Slavoj Zizek released a large book on Hegel (“Less than Nothing”). I bought the hardcover version, which also had a protective sleeve. It is a large book. That summer, the latch on my window also broke. It was a heavy window that you slid up to open. Anyway, although I did read a fair chunk of the book (around 1/3rd) my main memory of it was as a ‘prop’ to keep my window open during the summer months! It performed this job very well, and remained mostly intact. However, the book jacket/sleeve get quite torn up in the process.
The jacket kept your head dry
And hid the tears from view
While traces of light
Across the night sky
Lept into action
And passers-by formed rapid judgements
About books and covers
The jacket hid your elegant
clothing behind its dusty, torn blackness
You preferred it to baring
your personality full force
and liked that it combined
Us two in one covering
Your dress my jacket
The jacket held your scent
long after you'd gone
The jacket stopped the window frame
From scratching the book's body
As it maintained the opening
As I knelt smoking
And catching the summer breeze
Rolling off the Tay