I saw that Patti Smith has published her visual A Book of Days. It has photographs of her daily coffee, books she’s reading, gravesites of friends and the famous, and daily images accompanied by short text – “captions” but sometimes somewhat poetic. She is a poet, as well as a musician, photographer, and writer of other things.
A traditional or historical “book of days” was more like an almanac. They recorded past events, including Saint Days of the church, and famous people who were born or died that day. Sometimes each day had a little essay – not unlike a blog post.
For example, on November 19, you might find that Charles I of England was born in 1600, and that it is the Feast Day for St. Pontian, pope, and martyr, who died about 235. In Chamber’s Book of Days for this day, there’s a curious article about “Patching and Painting” a lady’s face. The beauties of the court of Louis Quinze would put gummed pieces of black taffeta on their cheeks to heighten the brilliancy of their complexions. The “fops” of Elizabethan England had long before anticipated them, by decorating their faces with black stars, crescents, and lozenges. The fashion prevailed and in 1640 it was written that “If it be a lover’s part you are to act, take a black spot or two; twill make your face more amorous, and appear more gracious in your mistress’s eyes.”
My own book of days went online in 2014. I called it Writing the Day. I wrote a short poem every day about something from that day. I had someone interested in publishing the poems as a book, and the question came up, “How important are the accompanying images?” Some of them are mine; some are open-sourced or public domain. In my podcast version of the website, the images get lost (as well as the links). How much is lost in this digital transfer?
A poem I wrote there (see below) was inspired by seeing an interview with Patti about her new A Book of Days. The project came out of her use of Instagram and acceptance of an iPhone as a camera. For example, she takes a photo of poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s hat or her partner Fred “Sonic” Smith’s guitar. Things from people she knew. If they have died, then the object remains unused. Objects she does use, such as eyeglasses, writing implements, and manuscripts, also are featured. Like Smith, if I am in a café, I have my phone and a notebook nearby and I record the day.
On day #338 in the year, Patti wrote “19 NOVEMBER: Bruno Schulz, the brilliant Polish writer, was shot in the street by a Gestapo officer on this date in 1942. Much of his writing, including a work called The Messiah, was tragically lost in the war. This is Jim Carroll’s heavily thumbed copy of Schulz’s masterpiece The Street of Crocodiles.”
Here is the poem I wrote for November 19, 2022, on my website Writing the Day.
Not about traditional saints and feast days,
not devotional almanac, calendar, or scrapbook clippings –
not my journal. Not any of those
but all of those. Life logbook through time.
Capture one good line, images, in words.
If you want to hear the podcast of this poem or many of the others,
click this Spotify link button or look at the other places where the podcast is available.