Definition

One must make a distinction however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not poetry, nor till the autocrats among us can be “literalists of the imagination”—above insolence and triviality and can present for inspection, imaginary gardens with real toads in them, shall we have it.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Toad's Favo(u)rite: Archy & Mehitabel

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

. . . .

don’t you ever eat any sandwiches in your office
havent had a crumb of bread for i dont know how long
or a piece of ham or anything but apple parings
and paste leave a piece of paper in your machine
every night you can call me archy
excerpted from “the coming of archy” by Don Marquis, 1927



Don Marquis, Archy & Mehitabel. An enormous influence on young (and present-day) Marian. As may be apparent to anyone who reads my writing. Ahem.

I discovered Archy & Mehitabel in a magazine in my young teens, and eventually found a copy of the 1927 book. I read it backward and forward, enthralled with Archy’s view from the under side. I memorized whole sections, dropping lines from Archy in casual conversation ("leave a sheet of paper, you can call me by my real name," "transmigration is the game!").

E. B. White (another important influence, naturally) objected to the use of the word “humorist” to describe Don Marquis:
“Archy and Mehitabel” is, to my  mind, a distinguished work in American letters, and whether it is a classic or not, it doesn’t deserve the adjective “minor.” There is not a minor word in it. (From Letters of E. B. White, New York, Harper & Row, 1976.)

there is always
something to be thankful
for you would not
think that a cockroach
had much ground
for optimism
but as the fishing season
opens up i grow
more and more
cheerful at the thought
that nobody ever got
the notion of using
cockroaches as bait
excerpted from “certain maxims of archy” by Don Marquis, 1927

man eats the big fish
the big fish eat the
little fish
the little fish
eat insects
in the water
the water insects
eat the water plants
the water plants
eat mud
mud eats man
my favorite poem
is the same as
abraham lincolns
o why should the spirit
awaiting your answer
i am and so forth
“My Favorite Poem,” from Archy & Mehitabel by Don Marquis, 1927.
thank your friends for me for
all their good advice about how to
work your typewriter but what i have
always claimed is that manners and methods
are not great matter compared
with thoughts in poetry you cant hide
gems of thought so they wont flash
on the world on the other hand if you press
agent poor stuff that wont make it live
my ego will express itself in spite of
all mechanical obstacles having something
to say is the thing being sincere
counts for more than forms of expression thanks
for the doughnuts
“Something to Say,” from Archy & Mehitabel by Don Marquis, 1927. 
This has been my rule for writing and expression since I first read Archy’s words as a teenager.

If you are unfamiliar with Archy & Mehitabel--and if even if you are!--I encourage you to browse around on the Don Marquis site and get to know his writing. Enjoy!

24 comments:

Kay L. Davies said...

Oh, Marian, I totally love archy and mehitabel. My favorite part is warty bliggens the toad.
I used to want to be a vers libre bard like archy but I was too big to jump off the top of the typewriter and land on the keys with my head.
Fabulous fabulous choice!
K

Cloudia said...

Oh THANK YOU for reminding me of these old friends! American Classics!


ALOHA from Waikiki
Comfort Spiral
~ > < } } ( ° > <3

Kay L. Davies said...

Me again. Here's the link to warty bliggens, one of the best things I've ever read, ever.
http://donmarquis.com/warty-bliggens-the-toad



Susan said...

O! I, too, read and loved "A and M." I had forgotten. This calls for a visit to the library and a reread. I wonder what happened to my copies?

Jinksy said...

Hehehe! Humorist is a label I like. In my somewhat later world of the forties/fifties onwards, rather than the twenties, I do believe 'The Compleet Molesworth' by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle, had a similar effect on my psyche as I was growing up. Sadly, Molesworth can't spell... I may have to introduce him to Blogland in much the same way as you have introduced Archy. :)

Outlawyer said...

Wonderful. Thank you Marian. I've never read very much, but it feels right up my alley. K.

Outlawyer said...

This is Manicddaily by the way. Http://Manicddaily.wordpress.com. On mobile devices blogger wants me to use blogger id. K.

Marian said...

This makes me very happy. :)

sharplittlepencil.com said...

I have that same volume of Archy and Mehitable. I'm sure Marquis influenced my Kitty Poems, spoken in the voice of my late cat Missy the Black. As she has just whispered in my ear, "That Don Markwis sure done good wif wordle and such... but he gave that helldamn cockaroacha all the KWALITY lines. We know kittis so much smarter and more refeened than bugs, what the fork?"

Kerry O'Connor said...

Just before I logged on, I killed a giant cockroach that had dared to enter my personal creative space. Now I shudder to think it may have been a relative of Archie's, scuttling away on my return after banging out poetic thought on my PC!

Love this choice, Marian. Such a fascinating concept, and doesn't this just say it all about poets?

my ego will express itself in spite of
all mechanical obstacles

Marian said...

it really does say it all. love, love.

also love warty the toad, too, Kay! xo

Mary said...

I loved Archy and Mehitabel since I was first introduced to them in high school. I wonder if Archy would find it easier to use a computer than one of those old-fashioned typewriters (which some of us DO remember...LOL). My favorite is the one about a moth flying into a light-bulb. I love the wisdom simply expressed!

Sherry Blue Sky said...

I so enjoyed this post AND all the wonderfully quirky comments. I do see his influence on your writing, Marian. This was a wonderful favo(u)rite!

Grace said...

I appreciate this Marian ~ Thank you for introducing him to me ~ And I agree, I do see a bit of his style on your writing ~

Happy day to all ~

Kerry O'Connor said...

I want to write some cockroach poetry too. Anyone else up for it?? If so please share next Monday on Open Link!

Hannah said...

How wonderful this series is proving to be!! I love meeting new-to-me- poets! Thank you, Marian for bringing us your favo(u)rite! :)

Marian said...

i will, Kerry!

you know, we shoulda thought about including a challenge as part of our favo(u)rite poems posts.

okay, challenge: cockroach poems or as i have always thought of it, observations from the under side.

Ella said...

Wow he did influence your style!
How magical his poems are...I love this~
I will write cockroach poetry!
Next Monday!
Thank you Marian
@>----------

Fireblossom said...

Hey! Don''t forget Mehitabel...she's the reincarnation (reinCATnation?) of Cleopatra, you know!

I love Archy and Mehitabel!!! I found the book in a used book store just ages ago, back in the 80s. I loved it then and love it still, and, like you, certain phrases stuck in my head forever. I love when Archy address a mummy as "your royal dryness".

I gave this book to my then-15 yr old niece, thinking she'd love it, and my (much older) brother made her give it back as "unsuitable". Insert huge eye roll HERE.

Fireblossom said...

PS--I LOVE when Amy does the cat tawk.

PPS--yes, Kerry is right, let's all do archy poems next Monday!

wkkortas said...

My personal favorite Marquis poem is "freddy the rat perishes." Marquis is a woefully underrated and underappreciated writer. A lot of lazy critics, focusing on the cockroach/alley cat angle, lump him in with second-rate dialect and novelty writers like James Whitcomb Riley and Robert Service, and he's head and shoulders above them.

Isadora Gruye said...

excellent choice, some one I am not familiar with, but will soon acquaint myself. Viva la

Marian said...

the death of the rat is extremely memorable, yes, indeed.

Kerry O'Connor said...

I am thrilled that this feature is inspiring our writing without the pressure of a challenge or prompt. I have not yet thought of my insect-angle but I do want to try some archy style poetry.