The First Exhibit

I have completed my first exhibit in the museum. It is called Marginalia—and it was inspired by Billy Collins’ poem of the same name and made possible by a 1928 textbook called Selections from English Literature. This textbook, which I bought in a Salvation Army in Bartlesville, around 1998, is littered with marginalia written by its owner, one Irene Chaffee.

Almost all of the notes are not about the scintillating literature therein, so they do not classify as what is commonly considered marginalia—notes in the margin about the actual text. However, Irene’s marginalia is the stuff of poetry. Included in the exhibit are the various conversations she has with another girl in the pages of Chaucer’s Prologue, a note slipped inside the pages that eventually turned them brown, and the entire lyrics to “I Must Have That Man” which she copied on the back inside cover.

All of the notes are about pining (yes, I shall use that verb since it is one from Irene’s time) for a boy. The following are one-line notes written on a series of pages:

Page 83, Act 3 of Macbeth

I wonder what B.M. is doing tonite

Page 143, John Milton’s poetry

I am going to let him know I like him.

Page 209, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” by Thomas Gray

The words “hopeless love” double-underlined

Page 213, William Cowper poetry

Love me still? Impossible?

Page 233, Robert Burns’ poetry

He looks sweet to-day.

These lines make a poem:

Hopeless Love

I wonder what B.M. is doing tonite.
I am going to let him know I like him.
Love me still? Impossible?
He looks sweet to-day.

Thank you, Irene, whoever and wherever you are.

–Shaun Perkins

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