One of my favorite things about the work I get do to for my books and zines is the sleuthing. Hunting down random (often misappropriated) quotes, getting permissions to reprint, finding hard copy proof. Evidence for my readers — and myself — that I have done due diligence to make what you hold in your hands valid and true to the best of my abilities.
As a student of English literature and journalism, and as a life-long writer and citer, I feel an incredible responsibility to validate as many of my references as possible. To remind my readers, for example, that it was Henry Stanley Haskins who wrote “What lies behind us and what lies before us are but tiny matters compared to what lies within us,” not Ralph Waldo Emerson or Gandhi, and not Buddha.
When I was writing LOOK UP! Musings on the Nature of Mindfulness, in which I used that quote, I actually spent six months researching and properly attributing quotes. That task included rabbit holes like the quote sourced to a 1970s motivational poster printed by an academic publisher in Texas written by a retired social worker in Oak Park, Illinois.
I get a little geeky when it comes to that kind of thing. Like a dog with a bone. Truth be told, I love it as much Alice loved going on her adventures!
My most recent adventure involved Leonard Cohen and a 60-year-old book.
While I was working on the spring issue of MANIFEST (zine): CRICKETS, I found a beautiful poem by Cohen called “Summer Haiku.” The poem appeared in his book The Spice-Box of Earth of which there was a rare, limited edition hardcover edition that included illustrations by Frank Newfeld, a renowned Canadian illustrator and book designer.
There were several copies of the book available online starting at around $200, which is a tad higher than my budget for the zine project. Less expensive copies did not include the Newfeld illustrations, and by this point in the adventure those were key.
I did find and purchase issue number 56 of The Devil’s Artisan: A Journal of the Printing Arts that featured Newfeld’s work on delicious, offset-printed, antique laid pages. It even included a letterpressed color keepsake of Newfeld’s illustration for Cohen’s poem “The Gift,” which appears in The Spice-Box of Earth.
I went on to find a bookseller in Canada, Steven Temple, who owns a copy of the 1961 edition. Searching through the 10,000 books he attends to in his home-based bookshop, he found and took the photo of “Summer Haiku” that appears in CRICKETS.
Of course, I was still curious. What did the rest of the book look like? How many poems were there? How many illustrations? How could I see it? Read it?
My local library did not have a copy of the book, nor did Google Books. According to a 2016 article in Toronto Life, the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library is “home to 140 banker’s boxes worth of Cohen’s archives” including “handwritten notes and letters, portraits, CDs, paintings, novel manuscripts, books, early drafts of his poetry and lyrics, and even art he made when he lived as a Buddhist monk.” Would it include a digital copy of The Spice-Box of Earth?
It did not.
Nor did the online Library and Archives of Canada or the Canadian Electronic Library. But on the Hathi Trust Digital Library website there was a helpful “Find in a Library” link that, when clicked, revealed some familiar and within-driving-distance names: Yale University, Wesleyan University, Connecticut College.
Lightbulb! I immediately emailed a woman I know at our local library, Deb Trofatter, who is the Associate Librarian for Reference Services and Technology, and asked…by any chance…can you get a copy of…
Which is how, on May 15, I came to have in my hands a 60-year-old hardcover copy of Leonard Cohen’s The Spice-Box of Earth to savor and share.
NOTES & LINKS
• The Spice-Box of Earth, illustrated by Frank Newfeld. (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1961).
The storm took so much it’s difficult to consider — gone the familiar, the known path. Feet so sure there was no need to gauge progress. It was how I became present again, how I stepped back in the moment.
It was where I could breathe, let go, release my rooted stride. Slough off thoughts. Embrace the solitude with just a heartbeat and birdsong for company.
But her wide canopy of solace is gone now, and I have been hobbled.
Those sacred spaces of breath and respite are changed.
And so am I.
So I take a different path this morning and it comforts me.
This rabbit will caretake the old path.
This turtle, hopeful, lays its eggs. As does the robin.
Part of this snake is here but its heart has moved forward,
and this spider writes her poems in the spaces left behind.