At the used-book sale the other day I bought a YAPM ... Yet Another Poetry Manual. This one was a hardback, remaindered from the County Library's collection, spine broken, some pages taped up a bit, but otherwise apparently sound. At $1, cheap entertainment while waiting outside one of my kids' music lessons. Maybe a source of inspiration.

When I had a chance to start reading the YAPM, however, I was both disappointed and delighted. The content was pedestrian: cookbook advice on how to keep a notebook of ideas, standard exercises in writing various forms of verse, and chirpy encouragement to keep working through inevitable frustrations. Worse, the examples of poetry that the book offered were, with a few exceptions, boring. They might as well have been prose, just typeset in short lines with ragged right margins. Most seemed to come from the author or his buddies.

But in contrast, the YAPM itself as a physical artifact was fascinating. An inscription, rubber stamped, revealed that it came from the Detention Center branch of the Library system --- the County's maximum security prison. A rough environment. And that began to explain the scars that the book bore. Two-thirds of a chapter called "Love Poetry" was ripped out. A violent act of passion, or a passionate act of violence? A page bearing a poem by reporter Terry Anderson, written while he was held hostage in Lebanon (1985-91), had vanished --- sliced neatly out at the binding. Whose knife did that mutilation? Was the blade smuggled in? Where did the missing page go? Did somebody serving hard time take comfort in Anderson's words, or sneer at them?

And on page 28 an anonymous prisoner had read and bracketed in the margin, with a single proud bold pencil stroke, the defiant lines:

Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage.
If I have freedom in my love,
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty.

--- a 17th Century cock-crow by Richard Lovelace titled "To Althea, from Prison".

So what seemed to me a mere YAPM had actually, in an earlier life, been an escape tunnel ... a window on the outside world ... maybe even a virtual get-out-of-jail-free card ....

TopicPoetry - TopicLibraries - 2002-01-20

I want to believe that a hand is offered, that a word is whispered when there is a need. That battered book so lacking in profundity is most profound. -- Judy Decker

addendum: on page 306, in pen, someone has circled the words "I can't escape my life."

(correlates: IllusionOfControl, MakeItShorter, HowToSucceed, ...)