I've welcomed having time to sit down with three great poets during this past week: Jehanne Dubrow, Deb Ager, and Ethelbert Miller. One of my chief pleasures of living in DC is having access to so many other writers. One of the chief perils of living in DC is not always making time to see them.
Whenever I sit down with Ethelbert he has several newspapers on the table in front of him. He dissects: pulling out each page, folding it over, creasing it. He devours: sports, arts, local, national, stocks, forecasts for places he's never been. And he decorates, scribbling away with his ballpoint as we talk: accent lines are transformed into timelines; a key word in a headline is circled, and becomes a hub for a plan; a cast of characters is defined in shorthand, "Ob___" and "EA____" and "CJ____." Everything is translated into diagrams, squiggles, and arrows, and it's electrifying to watch.
That has me thinking about nonlinear, even nonverbal, modes of response. There's an artist and writer named Austin Kleon who does "mind map" book reviews. Check out his interpretation of Oliver Sacks' most recent book, Musicophilia:
...and in a similar vein, here is his record of a conversation with a friend, following the occasion of a reading by author Michael Chabon:
I love the way these drawings capture imprecise values--priorities, relative amounts of attention, random associations, postures and energy--in a way that would be lost by a strictly verbal transcription or response. I've never been one to keep a diary. But if I could get in the habit of using this format...maybe.
[Both images (c) Austin Kleon]