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.