Pet Book 3 – Scrapbooks

With this week’s focus of scrapbooks and the way that certain pieces of text and clippings are put together to create a narrative, I started to view my PET book in a different light. As a book of poetry, it is in some ways a collage. Isaac Hill sought out certain poems that create a narrative, like that seen in many scrapbooks. In certain scrapbooks, there is an obvious focus of the author. In Writing with Scissors, Ellen Garvey describes scrapbooks as an opening for different types of authorship – ‘one could be an avid reader, but not a skilled writer’, and therefore scrapbooking was a way of creating an opinion.

Thus, this form of authorship held great importance in two social movements, the civil rights and women’s rights movements. Newspapers in the 19th century acted as a flagpole of social interaction, with news of African-American life and ‘ferment around women’s rights’ appearing in a daily press. Scrapbooking allowed those in ‘position of relative powerlessness’ to create their own story in history, something that a lot of published writing was not. As an example, a misogynistic advertisement for cooking or cleaning products may be cut out and put into a scrapbook. This isn’t the author condoning this social assumption of women, but ‘they saved printed matter and arranged it in ways that expressed their own ideas’. This is an example of showing their opinion on the way that women are viewed at a particular time in history. Furthermore, civil war scrapbooks acted as ‘battlefields of propaganda’. African Americans were able to write histories unavailable in books, the scrapbooks ‘expressed national grief and rage in a private domestic format.’

Scrapbooks act as collages of social critique. This could also be applied to my PET Book. The separate poems were selected for a desired response, all poems acts as social commentaries. Robert Blair and Thomas Gray in The Grave and Elegy in a Country Courtyard are of the 18th century poetry genre coined ‘graveyard poetry’ that focused on death. This genre is typical of meditative tones that hold a philosophical view of the morality and human nature. Gray’s Elegy highlights the inevitable nature of death; death is unforgiving and doesn’t care about your salary or position within society. Similarly, Blair’s The Grave focuses on human mortality. There is another book that contains both poems, The Grave by Robert Blair, To which is added Gray’s Elegy in a Country Churchyard. In the preface it reads,

‘every son and daughter of Adam must sooner or later die […] their bodies be consigned to the gloomy mansions of the grave, it is highly necessary […] for every one, whether young or old, rich or poor, seriously to reflect on the brevity of life, the certainty of death, and that eternal world, on the brink of which they are hourly standing.’

These poems appear to come as a pair when considering poetry of social critique. This causes me, yet again, to question the addition of Oliver Goldsmith’s The Deserted Village in this collection. This poem does not look at death but is in the style of an elegy. It focuses on community and how the British Government ruined the natural environment and good citizenry of the farming villages in England. Although an elegy is typically a lament for the dead – this elegiac style in this poem may be suggesting the ‘death’ of the village, and the stable social order.

Nonetheless, it is fair to say that these poems create a particularly morbid tone. Perhaps Isaac Hill had a passion for this genre of poetry and was focused on making ‘real life’ poetry more accessible to all. Whilst scrapbooks created a narrative that gave a voice to the minorities within society, this book creates a social narrative of its own – to be aware of the transient nature of life and the beauty of simplicity within communities.

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