Friday, September 2, 2011

Archtyp* (for Archetyp*)

One morning in 1916, newspaperman Don Marquis (pronounced MAR-kwiss) came into his office at the New York Sun, where he had left a fresh sheet of paper in his typewriter, to find a large cockroach on it hopping from key to key. This was the genesis for the work he would become best known for, The Lives and Times of Archy and Mehitabel. It's a book of "vers libre" composed by an insect with the "soul of a poet." It describes his philosophy of life and assorted adventures with a cat named Mehitabel, who grandly lays claim to a previous incarnation as Cleopatra. "Toujours gai," she would say, "Toujours gai." Archy painstakingly produces copious copy for his "boss" every night, though always in small letters and minus punctuation since it was too hard for him to hold down the Shift key. This was not his actual preference, however; as E. B. White puts it in the introduction: "He was no e e cummings." In fact, in the poem entitled "CAPITALS AT LAST," he rejoices in a happy accident in which the Shift key had become temporarily locked. We sometimes see TyPoS like that ToO, but like Archy, can't do very much about it since our search mechanism doesn't discriminate between upper and lower case. We found 15 cases of Archtyp* in OhioLINK today, and 354 in WorldCat.

(Cover of my copy of The Lives and Times of Archy and Mehitabel, by Don Marquis, with illustrations by the great George Herriman.)

Carol Reid

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