August 26, 2021

A Former Free Verse Poet and a Cat



Archy and Mehitabel (styled as archy and mehitabel since they couldn't use the shift key on the typewriter to make capital letters ) are two fictional characters created in 1916, by Don Marquis, a columnist for The Evening Sun newspaper in New York City. Archy is a cockroach. Mehitabel is an alley cat. The characters appeared in hundreds of humorous verses and short stories in Marquis’ daily column, "The Sun Dial". 

Don Marquis said that Archy the cockroach was a former free verse poet who "sees life from the underside now." Mehitabel was a friend with questionable morals. She said that she had been Cleopatra in one of her former lives.

His columns were humorous but also had social and political undertones. Archy said, "a louse i used to know told me that millionaires and bums tasted about alike to him.” 

Archy produced free-verse poems which I read in seventh grade when I discovered a book of them in my school library. I was not a big reader of poetry and I'm sure that most poetry people don't rank Archy's writing very highly, but I was attracted to the oddness of it and the satire.

Archy tried punctuation after being criticized for not using it and  I liked this poem's start:

say comma boss comma capital
i apostrophe m getting tired of
being joshed about my
punctuation period capital t followed by
he idea seems to be
that capital i apostrophe m
ignorant where punctuation
is concerned period capital n followed by
o such thing semi
colon

Both characters had been reincarnated at the low end of the social scale. They roamed the streets of New York City in that time between the world wars. Marquis wrote the columns with them for 10 years and then collected them in book form.

Archy used the newspaper boss' desk to write in the after hours.

i climbed upon my boss his desk
to type a flaming ballad
and there i found a heap grotesque
of socks and songs and salad

Read more about Don Marquis and read some of his work at donmarquis.com


 



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