Friday, 5 October 2012

Post a Stub: On Mirado Black Warriors and Marginalia

One of Erika's Alvin inkwell-shapreners and a newly sharpened Mirado ready for action

Erika Stefanutti from boutique bindery contributes to Palimpsest’s Post-a- Stub series a piece about her favourite Mirado Black Warriors. Erika writes on desk accessories and decorative arts on her blog Parvum Opus and sells her creations on Etsy.

On Marginalia and Mirado Black Warriors

The choice of the humble pencil rather than any of my beautiful and worthy fountain pens seems somehow fitting given the thousands of hours we've spent together conversing with the great (and a few not-so-great) authors. Whenever I sit down to read, one of my dozens of Mirado Black Warriors accompanies me. I have several snug reading spots in my home, and each is equipped with a pencil cup crammed full of my graphite companions, an Alvin inkwell-shaped pencil sharpener, a pile of handmade bookmarks, a small commonplace book for important notes, and a coaster for my tea. With all of my tools at the ready, the conversation between scribbler and author can begin!

Palimpsest’s readers will already be familiar with the Mirado Black Warrior, and I agree with the legions that it is a very fine pencil. Its line is crisp and dark, it sharpens beautifully, and importantly, the eraser does its job efficiently with hardly a trace left behind. Brilliant.

One of my pencil cups, holding dozens of freshly jacketed Mirado Black Warriors

Some years ago, I began jacketing my pencils in the fine papers left over from my bindery commissions, and now any pencil in my collection seems naked without the addition of these beautiful papers. The paper wrapper makes the experience of reading and of scribbling in the margins denser, more tactile, pleasant, noticeable, celebratory.

A thicket of paper-wrapped Mirado Black Warriors

Scribbles new and old: new notes in my Baudrillard, and perhaps the oldest notes in my library, from my ca.1790 edition of the complete works of Rabelais. This five-volume set has an added bonus: two ex Libris plates—a fantastic find!

As to the author-reader conversation, I wish I had the words to convey the romance of it for you, but thankfully for all of us, I need not try.  Thank you (again), Billy Collins!

Marginalia - Billy Collins

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive -
"Nonsense." "Please!" "HA!!" -
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
who wrote "Don't be a ninny"
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls "Metaphor" next to a stanza of Eliot's.
Another notes the presence of "Irony"
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
"Absolutely," they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
"Yes." "Bull's-eye." "My man!"
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written "Man vs. Nature"
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird signing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake's furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents' living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
"Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love."

- Billy Collins


  1. Hello Lito,
    Thank you for the wonderful invitation to contribute to Palimpsest-- it was a pleasure! I'll post a link on my own humble blog asap.
    With warm regards,

  2. Dear Lito,

    I've come to your site via Parvum Opus, and have enjoyed looking through your posts. Certainly I will be back!


  3. I've really been enjoying all your pencil posts lately! :)

  4. Thank you, Erika and thank you Mark. John, I know I have neglected pencils lately. This will change. :)

  5. Hello, Lito ~
    I'm visiting via Parvum Opus. Wonderful guest post, Erika. Very civilized and refined. Thank you for introducing us to your favorite items.
    Greetings from DC,