The Junk in Space

Posted by Expert Gadget Reviewer on Sunday, 25 February 2007

Not that kind of space: we're talking the white space surrounding a poem. For in the wonderful words of Ros Barber, I’ve been wading through the margin notes of idiots.

The growing workload each week devoted to my dissertation (which is now taking form on paper, rather than existing as a bunch of garrulous and contradictory arguments bouncing inside of my head) has lead me to close reading (what an ugly, academic phrase) the selected poems and collections of a number of contemporary poets, borrowed from Sheffield Uni’s library. And the things I find scrawled in the margins of the pages are either pitiful, depressing, or downright stupid. You’d think, given the lack of attention paid to truly contemporary poetry (I’m talking post social atomisation, here, not post-war), that these collections and anthologies would remain largely untainted by vapid scribblings that provide little or no insight into the work in question whatsoever. Most contemporary poetry isn’t covered until the third year, and by then, you’d hope everyone on a degree level course at a redbrick uni would have the sense to 1) not write things like schizophrenic or paranoid next to the line ‘The little people in the radio are picking on me again’ (Duffy, ‘And How Are We Today?’), 2) not underline and circle alliterative and assonantal effects within poems to the extent that they’re barely readable, or 3) write in pencil rather than bloody biro if they feel their thoughtful and certainly-not-thought-up-on-the-spot musings really must be communicated in needlessly large handwriting to the next lucky reader.

Apparently not. And so I have such insightful comments as objectified next to Duffy’s ‘Standing Female Nude’, reflection next to ‘the looking glass’ in ‘Psychopath’, and definitely supports the underdog next to ‘Selling Manhattan’. Oh, thanks: if it wasn’t for your twattish little scribbles I would never have figured out that pitiful summation of the poem’s complexities by myself in the first skim reading. But seriously, and listen up here whoever the hell you are, why did you write image of himself next to the line ‘I watch my gloved hand twisting the doorknob’ (‘Stealing’)? Who is that insight really benefiting? Could you not have just kept it to yourself, or scribbled it in an essay cobbled together in order to scrape a pass? You really think that the voice of the Christ child in ‘The Virgin Punishing the Infant’ proclaiming ‘I am God’ is self righteous? Really? Oh no, wait, you scribbled a question mark in afterwards, so I suppose you’re not so sure after all. Then why did you put such a half-baked suggestion down in the first place? When I’m reading I want to get to know the poem, and in some cases, the poet, but definitely not the thoughts of somebody who was only paying partial attention to what they were reading / analysing / mentally destroying at the time. Is that too much to ask? We’ve all done it at some point: scribble inanities that is, but most of us learnt our lesson after we ruined the NEAB poetry anthology back at GCSE. Why do you minority (please, please let you be a minority) insist on being academic arseholes, then? Maybe the solution would have been to choose a more obscure dissertation topic, then, or at least one so contemporary the book bludgeoning idiots wouldn’t have had chance to sharpen their pencils.