Start a commonplace book
PostedApril 24, 2004
Since the Renaissance, devoted readers have been copying their favorite poems and quotations into notebooks to form their own personal anthologies called "commonplace books." These collections can be a source of enjoyment and solace, reminding the keeper of favorite books and poems, and can even become family heirlooms. You may devote a corner of a regular journal to jotting down quotes or poems that strike your fancy or obtain a blank book just for this purpose.
As Max W. Thomas says in "Reading and Writing the Renaissance Commonplace Book: A Question of Authorship?", "commonplace books are about memory, which takes both material and immaterial form; the commonplace book is like a record of what that memory might look like." Or, in Jonathan Swift's words:
"A commonplace book is what a provident poet cannot subsist without, for this proverbial reason, that 'great wits have short memories:' and whereas, on the other hand, poets, being liars by profession, ought to have good memories; to reconcile these, a book of this sort, is in the nature of a supplemental memory, or a record of what occurs remarkable in every day's reading or conversation. There you enter not only your own original thoughts, (which, a hundred to one, are few and insignificant) but such of other men as you think fit to make your own, by entering them there."
—from "A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet"
Today, find a small notebook to record poems or fragments of poems that you come across in your reading. As you add to your own commonplace book, you will be drawing a map of your life as a reader and thinker, creating a valuable portrait of your memory and time.