I was introduced to the work of Jorge Luis Borges back in 2009 when I started my Creative Writing MA at Cardiff University. Richard Gwyn, who later became my PhD supervisor, used Borges’ writing in one of our early seminars. I cannot remember which piece he brought but I remember the sense of cracking open. I remember the feverish internet searching I did to find more of Borges’ writing. Early on, I remember getting lost in his short piece, Borges and I, and now, years later, I return to it again and again.
Recently, when talking about my goal to spend this year rereading all the poetry books on my shelves, a friend reminded me that Borges was a famous rereader. Even in his story, A Weary Man’s Utopia, one of Borges’ characters says: ‘No one can read two thousand books. In the four hundred years I have lived, I’ve not read more than half a dozen. And in any case, it is not the reading that matters, but the rereading’.
Borges reread rigorously in his own life and, in particular, he reread the works of Edgar Allen Poe. Out of curiosity, I sought out a few journal articles about Borges’ relationship with Poe last week and found this quote particularly interesting:
Poe is a constant in Borges’ reading life — he read Poe in his youth, he continues to re-read Poe, and he will read Poe again. The presence of Poe in Borges’ past, present, and future, Borges’ claim that he cannot recall the number of times he has read ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’, and his suggestion that his last reading of the story has not yet arrived recall Borges’ own obsession with the concepts of infinity and eternity throughout his essays and fiction. The two authors stand side-by-side between two facing mirrors that cast their joined images infinitely in both directions. (Esplin, 2010, p. 260).
I am now left thinking about the impact that rereading has on all of us. What does it mean to perpetually reread the same poems, stories or books? What can this teach us? At the moment, I am enjoying returning to different poetry collections as well as the process of putting aside the ones which I plan to revisit again in the future. For those of you other rereaders out there, what books do you return to and why? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
I will keep thinking about the impact of rereading as I go on and share any insights that might come from this. As promised, I’ll also post a short round-up (like this one) every month highlighting the books I chose to revisit. If you’d like to read the poems I selected this year already please head over to @writetoempower on Twitter or Instagram. You can follow the hashtag on both platforms (#mypoetrybookshelf) and even post any poems that you are currently rereading.
For now, please enjoy these photos of the 29 poetry collections I revisited in February. Two books are missing from this stack — The Andrew Poems by Shelley Wagner and The House with Only an Attic and a Basement by Kathryn Maris — which have recently been loaned out to friends.
I thought that I would also add a special mention about the last collection I reread in February: A Scattering by Christopher Reid. Unlike many others which have been part of this #mypoetrybookshelf project, I have reread this collection many times. I thought a new poem might speak to me on this rereading but, in reality, I was called again, as I always am, back to the title poem (pictured here). This poem has followed me for years — so much so that it is even referenced in the notes section of my forthcoming collection, How to Carry Fire. So here it is, borrowed from my leap year post on Twitter. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.
Esplin, E. (2010). Reading and Re-Reading: Jorge Luis Borges’ Literary
Criticism on Edgar Allan Poe. Comparative American Studies An International Journal, 8(4), 247-266. DOI: 10.1179/147757010X12773889526064