Thursday, April 5, 2012

Robert Southey and the Art of Gathering Everything

April begins with Romanticism. Not because I'm trying to be cute or that I'm testing out some kind of metaphor. It's true. For me. 

It's so secret that I love the Romantic Era. I cried like a baby while watching Bright Star. I wish I could get away with wearing a poet's shirt in public. And, for sure, I open my heavier-than-an-elephant college textbook way too often just to read snipits of closet dramas and love letters (Oh, Keats. You're so charming). 


In fact, while we're on the subject of English Romantic Writers: Second Edition by David Perkins, let me just tell you that this book if hefty enough to kill someone - like, in the way that Clove gets it in The Hunger Games. But the anthology is an excellent collection (even though I stub my toe on it way too often). My graduate textbook can't come anywhere close to being as cool. 

A project in my grad class is finally coming due, and so, with my head high, I'm working very hard to prepare it. It's strange to be in a literature class when my goal in school is to study and produce creative writing; it's fun in some ways, but stressful in others. The gap between college literature classes and graduate literature classes is a big one. And I've always been a tiny person. 

The most important man in my life right now is Robert Southey.

“It is with words as with sunbeams—the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn.”
—Robert Southey, Poet Laureate of England, 1813 - 1843.

Robert Southey:
the man who is causing my fingers to cramp from all
of the research I've done.
All of my research, my sleeping hours, and the duration of driving to and from school is dedicated to him. After all, the due date is fast approaching, haha. Southey is one of those underdogs, I think. He's not a part of the big canon of popular poets and writers of the time, like Blake and Wordsworth and Lord Byron. Even though he actually knew them and even though he had written a ton of work and was named Poet Laureate. Well, good for him. Southey should be proud. 

A quick search will tell you that he explored almost every avenue of writing - from epic poetry to travel narratives - and he's written tons of letters in between. Being ambitious but distracted by too many ideas, Southey became a very interesting person the more I read about him. 

The one thing I learned about him that stood out the most is that he was an avid collector of words. He loved obscure texts and strange things, and kept common-place books to store everything he found in his research. He was also very meticulous, giving each scrap of text he squirreled away a proper citation and heading. Wow. When I look at my own chaotic collection of ideas, I can't help but feel like a slob. However did he gain such a habit of keeping everything so organized?  

I am a OneNote addict and I'm sure that if Southey lived today, he would be too. Whether I've found a really striking quote or an idea that keeps me up all night, planning, I put it in my OneNote files. It's such a great program where you can drop and arrange words, images, and links like you would if you were creating a scrapbook - that kind of manageable chaos is appealing to me. Before OneNote, I kept a dozen little notebooks and scribbled stuff in there. Never to be found again. I was always missing my notebook when I needed it. Now I have tabs for each book I'm working on, with subtabs underneath so that each character gets his or her own huge blank page to fill up with inspiration and notes. But I've gotten out of hand. Spring cleaning for me also involves cleaning those tabs up. 

When I write my stories, I usually start by mashing up different images or ideas. It's really fun. But by reading about how Southey tried, and sometimes failed, to patch what he collected into poetry, I felt like I met a kindred spirit across the ages. In one of the articles I'm looking at called "Poetics Of The Commonplace: Composing Robert Southey," author D. Porter said that Southey recognized the weaknesses in his hoarding tendency - that he collects too much because he thinks he'll use it someday, when really he hasn't used half of the quotes and tidbits of information he's gathered already. Ah, word-hoarding. Not quite like the physical television show. His theory, Porter explains, was to read and collect, “the ‘skeleton’ of a work, which he then made into ‘flesh, blood and beauty’ by arranging and digesting the materials he had transcribed in his notebooks” (28). 

I love that image. Because I love skeletons. It makes perfect sense, haha. 

Even though I think I'm getting sick and I've been away from writing anything creative in the last couple days, I'm still glad for the opportunity to have studied Robert Southey. I'm adding his common-place books to my summer reading list, for sure. 

That's right. He's that cool.
BAM! Citation:

Porter, D. "Poetics Of The Commonplace: Composing Robert Southey." Wordsworth Circle 42.1 (n.d.): 27-
33. Arts & Humanities Citation Index. Web. 4 Apr. 2012.


  1. I reallyreallyreally need to watch Bright Star! I keep forgetting, grrr.

    I had never heard of this chap before, but he sounds like a man after my own heart. And look at that noble posture!

    I've never really used OneNote before, but you're making me think I definitely should. I mean, it's languishing on my laptop! Why not try and put it to good use?

    "...he collects too much because he thinks he'll use it someday, when really he hasn't used half of the quotes and tidbits of information he's gathered already."
    Ha! Ha... ha! That doesn't sound familiar at all...

    I hope you're not getting sick! Drink lots of tea! Ingurgitate Vitamin C! Take a cold bath at dawn! Hm... on second thought, scratch the last one.

    1. Haha, it's really good. Visually stunning, but also sad in the best of ways. Because I had read Keats' biography (which was amazing!), I knew how his life had turned out in great detail (a friend of his, only briefly introduced at the end of the movie, had actually chronicled the last few weeks of Keats' life as he accompanied him to Rome). With that knowledge, I was totally prepared for what was to come. And what beautiful grief. It really felt real. I can't help but cry every time.

      Yes!!! He's quite good-looking :D

      Oh, you have it? That's great! I had no idea what it was, but a friend of mine used it for her plotting notes and printed it out to show me (I've never printed anything yet... hmmm). I found it on my computer too and it was love at first use, haha.

      Hahahahaha! Thanks. I have been drinking tea and trying to go to bed early. I feel a little better today, but I think that after next week, I should be able to recover. This whole Southey project is very taxing *sighs*

  2. "My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains/My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk/Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains"

    You mention my favorite poet, I quote him. I love how Keats turns to drugs after his heart's broken. But because it's a Romantic era poem, it's not some shady ghetto story, it's classic high art. XD

    Anywho, I'm gonna have to check out Southey now.

    Yay Romanticism! (You wouldn't believe the arguments I've gotten into with my friends, trying to convince them the Romantic era was awesome ..... I'm a dork aren't I?)

    1. Yeah, Keats always has a good line to spare for any occasion! I think he's tied with Shelley as my favorite poet from that era. I hated Shelley until I got to college, though I think it had a lot to do with how I was taught in high school - I had to reread a lot of the stuff I thought I didn't like and discover that I actually liked it. So, yeah, Keats and Shelley are awesome.

      I also love the incredibly obscure Thomas Lovell Beddoes - his poetry can be dark, but it's beautiful.

      Haha, well, you'd think it wouldn't be too hard to convince someone of that :)

  3. It's that letter to Charlotte Bronte that did it - literary scholarship's had it in for him ever since. But it doesn't actually say what most people think it says...