Scott Zieher is a New York-based poet, artist, and gallery owner (he co-owns the gallery that represents my work in New York). He is also a highly accomplished finder of amazing things on the street, from important but forgotten old books to overheard snippets of conversation. I asked him some questions about his rather deep relationship with notebooks.
PLUMB: What kind of notebooks do you use?
SCOTT ZIEHER: Mostly old. I prefer something with a past life, even if it’s partially scribbled in. I have large ledgers and small pocket calendar handouts from banks and automotive supply dealers. There’s always some agglomeration of paper on my person at all times. I’ve lately been partial to old crumpled notepads with loose sheets.
PLUMB: What do you use them for?
SCOTT ZIEHER: Writing. Drawing. Reminding myself.
PLUMB: What do you do with them when you’re done? Do you look at them?
SCOTT ZIEHER: I typically look over the written portions of these books once I’ve finished one, and transcribe what might be valuable later for a poem.
PLUMB: Have you lost one? Did it matter?
SCOTT ZIEHER: I have lost many, and luckily found them again in all but two occasions. I left a massive journal on the subway platform in grad school, but returned (anxiously, 3 a.m.) to retrieve it where it sat on the step. And I left a nearly full notebook on a Metro North train only to have their lost and found contact me to say it was returned (Metro North says 75% of its lost and found ends up unclaimed, always try to find it!). I was apoplectic about that one, as it had a year’s worth of quotes from my 2-year-old son that I never would have been able to replicate. One 1910 daybook I never recovered. It was cloth bound and truly gorgeous, part of a sequence of 7 annual diaries written in by Dewitt Howe, the lawyer for Mary Baker Eddy, $10.00 for 6 volumes(!) bought in Keene, New Hampshire. Random and weird and awesome, I’d just begun it, so it wasn’t quite as devastating, but now there’s a gap in that otherwise pristine row of careworn tomes. I left it on a bench in Riverside Park. The other was left in a taxi cab en route to De Gaulle airport in Paris. It contained my daily ponderings as my mother died and as I was falling in love with my wife. Plus the happy flaneurial spirit from whence the idea originated. I got over myself, because upon returning to New York I picked up the diaries of Delacroix, and picking up where I left off learned that Eugene Delacroix did the exact same thing in the 1840’s. Literally left his sketchbook/diary in a horse carriage . . . The world remained after Delacroix lost one of his masterpieces. It’ll do without one of mine.
PLUMB: What’s the difference between how you use a sketchbook and how you approach making something freestanding, like a book of poems or a series of collages?
SCOTT ZIEHER: The notebooks are with me all the time, are for quick flashes and ideas or drawings that are cursory or experimental in nature. Making a “finished” work requires some quiet and a whole bunch of stuff I find impossible to have on the fly.
PLUMB: What are your ideal work conditions for drawing?
SCOTT ZIEHER: I’ve slowly learned to be able to draw and write anywhere, any time.
PLUMB: Whose notebooks or sketchbooks would you like to look at?
SCOTT ZIEHER: William Shakespeare. Walter Benjamin. Saint Jerome.