Reading as Jogging

Every Wednesday morning, a group of PhD students and I spend two hours talking about writing and of course spend some time writing. It is called Writing Matters and it is led by Myna Trustram.  This Wednesday we were presented with some objects from MMU’s Special Collections to stimulate our writing, and gain perspective on the process that occurs when writing about objects. Now some of these intriguing objects were books (which made me particularly happy), as MMU holds a fantastic collection not only of artist books, but also fine press examples. Our goal was to select an object and spend time talking about it among ourselves, and then to write a response in relation to our senses or theoretical position.

After flicking through the various books and trying not to pick the rather bizarre femur stool, I settled upon a box, which contained Midsummer Morning Jog, a poem by Michael Horovitz with drawings by Peter Blake. I decided to write a subjective text that described my experience of reading, hearing, touching and seeing this book. Surprisingly slow, this is my jog through a book about jogging:

The box is heavy, weighted and enclosed. Its gold embossed title on the spine instantly conjures a fine press tradition of employing luxurious details. The front image of a gate is surprisingly unwelcoming, blocking my entry into the text. The uniformity of the green ink increases the organic boundaries of shrubbery, trees and plant matter.

I love the worn edges of the spine and corners, where it has been pushed against the shelf. Thumbs have gently worn the creases of the corners through the lifting of the lid. The brown is damp, like moist walls or rain soaked sofas left abandoned in the shrubbery. The box scratches subtly, grazing the sides with a soft stroke as the lid is lifted.

The inside covers of floating petals, ferns and seeds in pastel colours remind me of childhood experiments in flower pressing. I can imagine picking up the stalk of the seed bearing plant from the page, sliding my thumb and finger up the stalk and feeling the seeds bunch and break to scatter on the floor. This book is for Christmas, so the insert states. Already boxed and ready to give.

The book is thinner than I expect. I like the ribbed, textured, forest green cover. I wonder if anyone would pay this book much attention if it sat on a shelf, missing its shell of dampen card.  I pick the book up and realise the inside cover is real pressed leaves, seeds and flowers. One of the windmill style leaves has escaped from the paper, its crisp flesh delicate and frail. The small flutter of air caused by lifting the book for a brief moment gives it flight, only to settle again.

The cream paper is rugged and thick. The font of the title echoing the style of William Morris’s Kelmscott Press and the green of the cover. There again, above the first lines of the poem is the image of the gate with the words ‘A five barred gate’s straight lines assert, the stubborn human will’s survival.’ This seems to be the only still image in the book. Before long your jogging (or wandering, watching) with the author through the forest. The words miss obstacles in the blank spaces, playfully darting across the page. Water droplets and puddles occasionally appear opposite the text.  Reflections and shadows make it hard to tell the direction of sight. Are we looking up towards the canopy, or down to the puddles beneath our feet? There is no time to stop, the jog hasn’t ended.

I wish the pictures were among the text, not separated to their own pages. I wish I was within the forest, so I could feel the spray from grass as I jogged through the undergrowth, or heard the bracken crack beneath my feet. Or the sunlight catch my neon jacket. Because all joggers wear neon right?

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