Sunday, June 15, 2003

Why Archy?
When I was still at the “maybe I should blog” stage, I wondered what I would call my blog if I had one. Looking at the other blogs, I tried out some of the common types of titles. The practical and descriptive: John’s Blog. The cryptic phrase: “…and he slowly sank into the oatmeal, never to heard from again.” Pretending to be edgy by using the word “rant:” Ranting Ranter’s Rants. A pun based on my name: Fresh from the John. None of them really worked. I liked my friend David Niewert’s use of the killer whale as a totem and title for his blog: Orcinus. I have a strong attachment to northern megafauna and thought a polar bear, arctic wolf, or moose would look great on a blog. However looking deep into my soul, I decided my personal totem is more along the lines of ursus theodorus pui, the bear of very little brain. Finally, I decided to call it “archy.”

Archy is not an alter-ego. I don’t claim to be Archy; my own name is there on the upper left of the page. Archy was a correspondent who sent his peculiar views on the state of the world in the teens and twenties of the last century to Don Marquis, the editor at the Evening Sun in New York. Marquis, desperate for material to fill his daily column, the Sun Dial, was glad to print anything Archy left for him. Archy is my patron saint. Or rather, he is my patron cockroach.

Marquis tells how he discovered Archy using his typewriter one morning:
We came into our room earlier than usual in the morning, and discovered a gigantic cockroach jumping about on the keys. He did not see us, and we watched him. He would climb painfully upon the framework of the machine and cast himself with all his force upon a key, head downward, and his weight and the impact of the blow were just sufficient to operate the machine, one slow letter after another. He could not work the capital letters, and he had a great deal of difficulty operating the mechanism that shifts the paper so that a fresh line may be started. We never saw a cockroach work so hard or perspire so freely in all our lives before. After about an hour of this frightfully difficult literary labor he fell to the floor exhausted, and we saw him creep feebly into a nest of the poems which are always there in profusion.

Archy, we were told was the spirit of a vers libre poet who had passed over into the body of a cockroach. He proclaimed, “expression is the need of my soul.” He had always been a writer and had one been a drinking buddy of old Bill Shakespeare. His politics were progressive and he opposed prohibition (“prohibition makes you want to cry into your beer and denies you the beer to cry into”). He introduces Marquis’ readers to a whole host of characters they would not have encountered at their job or in their church, including Freddy the Rat, Warty Bliggins, Pete the Parrot, and, most importantly, the free-spirited cat, Mehitabel. Marquis published three collections of the Sun Dial columns by and about Archy. Two more have been published since. The earliest collection, Archy and Mehitabel, has been more or less constantly in print since 1927.

Archy had many fans among the intelligentsia. I’ll let one of them, E. B. White, have the last word.
The details of his creative life make him blood brother to writing men. He cast himself with all I his force upon a key, head downward. So do we all. And when he was through his, labors, he fell to the floor, spent. He was vain (so are we all), hungry, saw things from the under side, and was continually bringing up the matter of whether he should be paid for his work. He was bold, disrespectful, possessed of the revolutionary spirit (he organized the Worms Turnverein), was never subservient to the boss yet always trying to wheedle food out of him, always getting right to the heart of the matter. And he was contemptuous of those persons who were absorbed in the mere technical details of his writing. "The question is whether the stuff is literature or not."

1 comment:

Hélène Wilkinson said...

Good evening,

My comment is not about Archy but I couldn't see where else to leave it. It's about the counter you have on your home page indicating progress you have made, expressed in the number of words, in writing your book. I'm probably being extremely naïve, but surely you have something to say and explain about the early discoveries of woolly mammoths and you will know the number of words it takes once you have written it?
Kind regards,