Saturday, August 13, 2011

expression is the need of my soul

talking about archies the other week put me in the mind to re-read the wonderfully hilarious poems of archy and mehitabel by don marquis. archy is the reincarnated spirit of a free verse poet, now a cockroach living in a new york newspaper office. at night he scurries out and types poems by jumping and slamming his wee cockroach head onto the typewriter keys - hence lack of capitalisation and most punctuation. the idea is that the newspaper men happen upon the poems in the morning and start printing them as a column.

and here's a piece, a selection, from right near the start:

"expression is the need of my soul
i was once a vers libre bard
but i died and my soul went into the body of a cockroach
it has given me a new outlook upon life
i see things from the under side now
thank you for the apple peelings in the wastepaper basket
but your paste is getting so stale i cant eat it
there is a cat here called mehitabel i wish you would have
removed she nearly ate me the other night why dont she
catch rats that is what she is supposed to be fore
there is a rat here she should get without delay"

archy's poems give a beautifully satirical view of life in nyc in the twenties and thirties, the excesses and toughness of those decades. the poem "certain maxims of archy" is particularly memorable and includes stanzas like this:

"don t cuss the climate
it probably doesn t like you
any better
than you like it"


"prohibition makes you
want to cry
into your beer and
denies you the beer
to cry into"


"boss the other day
i heard an
ant conversing
with a flea
small talk i said
and went away
from there"


"the bees got their
governmental system settled
millions of years ago
but the human race is still

alley cat mehitabel, in her many previous lives, once lived much more grandly than she does now (once she was cleopatra). but she's toujours gai, darlinks, toujours gai even when she's down on her luck and or burdened with kittens. mehitabel never intended a life of matrimony or motherhood:

"the life of a female
artist is continually
hampered what in hell
have i done to deserve
all these kittens"

archy interviews pharaohs in the museum, has a radio interview with mars and one time finds the shift lock (caps lock) key and experiences the JOY OF CAPITAL LETTERS. hilariously funny yet sometimes tragic and cynical, you must get a copy without delay. and what's more, the best of archy and mehitabel is going to be published in october! go, demand your local bookshop order it in! i am placing an order for at least twenty-three as i type this.

go to the don marquis website for more on archy.

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