Today I finished updating jubilat.org with content from the new issue--our twenty-second. Much of the process is a little mundane, like figuring out (with my extremely limited html skills) how to best represent a poem's irregular form. It's a puzzle, but not an especially artistic one.
On the other hand, once all that formatting's complete, I get to move on to my favorite part of making a new issue: determining how to index the poems. We do have an index of contributors' names, but the "index of ideas" is where I get excited. Might I associate a poem with already-existing terms like meat or money? Or does the poem demand the addition of new terms to the index? While I was working today I realized that--to my great surprise--ghosts had not yet made it onto the list. It took this particular group of haunted poems to push the word forward in my consciousness.
It's a strange way to read, moving my eyes over the poems and back into my memory through some alternate dimension. If I typically read a poem with my eyes on the poem, reading to index lets me read through them. It's like discovering an elevator in the middle of an ice skating rink. And down I go.
I'm an irresponsible indexer. I don't pretend to be complete or consistent. Nor do the other index-makers I admire. The other day, reading the final chapter of Alberto Manguel's A History of Reading, I ran into this passage, which describes the index of the book Manguel says he hasn't written, but would like to read--titled The History of Reading:
I know it possesses a copious and curious index which will give me intense delight, with headings such as (I fall by chance on the letter T) Tantalus for readers, Tarzan's library, Tearing pages, Toes (reading with), Tolstoy's canon, Tombstones, Torment by recitation, Tortoise (see Shells and animal skins), Touching books, Touchstone and censorship, Transmigration of readers' souls (see Lending books).
I rushed to the actual index of A History, and felt first disappointment, then a kind of thrill to see that no such terms were to be found. In their place? Very useful and proper headings: Torah, translation, troubadour. This straightforward collection meant that I could invent my own copious and curious index for the rest of the alphabet. It was not limited by actually existing; it was the largest index in the world.
At times, for fun and self-instruction, I've indexed my own poems, taking a cue from my friend Zachary Schomburg (hi Zach), who has included an index in all three of his books, helping readers notice the presence of Blood in the trees, Bravery, and Baseball (see also Sports). Baseball appears, by the way, in the jubilat index as well.
Not yet have I attempted the poem as index, but the late Paul Violi did. More than attempted! He recognized that an index is a tremendously revealing form: an imperfect x-ray of a book's soul. (Or sometimes an autobiographer's.)
Do you have a favorite index? Don't say Harper's! I really do want to know.