This summer I will be replacing the Marginalia exhibit in the Rural Oklahoma Museum of Poetry with one on Poetry in Autograph Books. I think finding poetry-worthy marginalia in old books was kind of a singular phenomenon, meaning, I am crazier about such a thing than most people. It may be that I am crazier about old autograph books than most people, too, but . . . here goes!
In researching the history of autograph books, I discovered that they may have their origins in Germany. The Max Kade Institute for German-American Studies had this to say about them:
“They represent a centuries-old German tradition of the Album Amicorum [book of friends], also called Stammbuch or, more recently, Poesiealbum.
Stammbücher appear for the first time in the 16th and 17th centuries in the German- and Dutch-speaking areas of Europe, where it had become fashionable among graduating university students to have one’s personal bible signed by classmates and instructors. Soon inscriptions went beyond simple signatures to include reminiscences of common experiences, good wishes for the future, or a favorite passage from literature or poetry. Publishers foreseeing a lucrative market printed bibles with empty pages and soon also turned out small decorated books with only empty pages.”
I have always loved these books, and they fit in well with the ROMP mission of exploring the poetry of the people, which these books certainly represent. I am also interested in why we stopped writing poetic verses in autograph books, which seemed to occur in the 60’s and 70’s.
The autograph book exhibit will have books representing every decade starting with 1880 (and will include my mother’s junior high book from the 50’s and my grade school one from 1974). And by the way . . . if you happen to have an autograph book to donate to the museum, I’d love to have it. The exhibit will also have a wall where you can write your own verse that will be on display and eventually bound together with other people’s in a book.
Some choice verses from the books I have:
When distant lands divide us
and you my face no more can see
just take a pen and paper
and write a line to me.–1892
Beware of the boys with eyes of gray
They kiss you once then turn away.
Beware of the boys with eyes of brown
They kiss you once then turn you down’
Beware of the boys with eyes of blue
They kiss you once then ask for two.–1939
When you get married
and live up the river,
send me a piece
of your old man’s liver.–1953
Down by the river
stood a big rock
with three words
Forget Me Not.–1974