Attic treasures: found poetry

We’re having our roof redone, and today, while the roofers were stripping off the old skin but before they’d had a chance to begin re-plywooding the surface, it began to rain, a  light sprinkle through the shiplap of our old house. Most of our attic storage is in plastic bins, but to be safe, I started hauling the fabric-covered luggage and a few cardboard boxes into our bedroom. Which is when I found this loose, torn scrap of notebook paper shaken loose from the attic boards.

The paper is foxed and yellowed but, apart from some severe tears and a few missing hunks, it’s in fairly good shape and doesn’t appear to be terribly old. Our house was built in 1929, but this doesn’t seem remotely that aged. Previous owners renovated the house sometime near mid-century, in the late ’40s or early ’50s, but I’d be surprised if this page was even that old.

We do know that sometime in the ’60s or ’70s, a woman who worked as a lunch-lady in the school down the street from us raised her own kids in this house. And I would believe this paper might have come from that era. But I don’t know that it’s hers, either.

Whoever wrote on this page, the thing that drew me to it — the reason I’m writing this post here on my blog — is that one side contains notes on various forms and eras of poetry (there’s a reference to the god Muse and to Petrarchan sonnets, something called a “child poem,” and a kind of self-punishing “biting truant poem,” which might be a reference to Philip Sydney: ““Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite: / ‘Fool!’ said my muse to me, ‘look in thy heart, and write.'”); the other side of the page is a kind of rough-draft journal poem, part love poem and part frustration at the inability to write a poem.

Here’s what the back side of the page says, as best as I can read it:

Looking and [something stricken out] desiring to show my love in a poem
That the dear will appreciate my efforts and pain of writing
Out of pleasure she may read, and by the reading
she may know, I may win her pity by this.
[missing] and gain her favor, I looked for
[missing] illustrate my feelings — searching
[missing] please her — often reading others
[missing] ideas that I lack

[missing] words limp forth causing me to continue
to search for words

Others poems do not seem to help me.

Thus trying hard to write
Biting pen — should be writing — beating self for spite
Look in heart and write — write from the heart.

What a fabulous artifact to find in our attic! And how apt that of all the detritus of previous lives lived in this home’s nearly 90-year history, the one scrap I find is literary and love-lorn.

And how hard this poet worked! The slight revisions — and eventual frustrations — of the poetry-side of the page would be impressive enough, but the other side contains so much research into how to go about such a poem! I do so hope that “the dear will appreciate [the poet’s] efforts and pain of writing,” because whoever wrote this page worked hard at this, and that effort and pain is beautiful.

Published by Samuel Snoek-Brown

I write fiction and teach college writing and literature. I'm the author of the story collection There Is No Other Way to Worship Them, the novel Hagridden, and the flash fiction chapbooks Box Cutters and Where There Is Ruin.

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