Midweek Muse: What’s in a name … or signature?

In addition to being a published author, my husband (Kevin) is a collector of books. Many many books.

A partial view of Kevin's library...
A partial view of Kevin’s library…

Of particular note are those books with interesting signatures, like that of Robert P. Tristram Coffin, the New England poet who not only signed his name but frequently left original artwork next to his signature in the front cover.

Coffin's signature with original artwork
Coffin’s signature with original artwork

Kevin also collects music. And with his music, he’ll seek out signatures when he can get them. Over twenty years ago he obtained one of the more interesting signatures I have seen. Mark Heard signed his name backwards on Kevin’s copy of Dry Bones Dance.

Mark Heard's backwards autograph
Mark Heard’s backwards autograph

Cool or what?

I am thinking about all of this now because, oddly enough, I now find myself in the position of having to sign books. (Pinching myself – yes, I have a book, in print! Wheee! Still not professional enough about this to play it cool.)  Nice problem to have, I must say. But, I’m not nearly as clever as Coffin and his cartoons, or Mark Heard and his mirror-image signature. In fact, I find myself freezing as open-handed readers, kindness personified, hand me their copies of my book (!) and say, “Could you please sign this for my daughter’s best friend’s Great Aunt Matilda? Oh, and my copy, too…”

My unsigned copies...
My unsigned copies…

There’s this unstated expectation that, being a poet, I am also on-the-spot clever enough to come up with the perfect combination of light-hearted infinite truth that meets the reader’s state of nature, both now and forevermore as my book graces a sturdy bookshelf … and yet of general interest enough that if (when) the book gets donated to Goodwill or the public library, it will make sense there, too. Unfortunately, I am disastrously short on that sort of wit.

No pressure. Of course, nobody is putting this pressure on me but yours truly. And as I naval gaze my signature (with awkward metaphor), I begin to unravel a bit of compassion from my ball of stress-string – compassion for all those public figures out there who are expected to move seamlessly from performance to “authenticity” at a moment’s notice.

How about this: I cut myself and the rest of the universe some slack on the cleverness quotient, and if you are kind and generous enough to ask for my signature, you will be satisfied with just that. Sound good?


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