Monday, May 28, 2018

May 28, Spring 2018

Ooh, cool to learn about national and regional foods, their names and histories! Nice way to combine a map and foods.

The Taste Atlas.

Ambulant reduplication explains why "tock-tick" doesn't sound right

I love the artisans of bali paintings on eBay

Guys jumping rope precisely

A fabulous gif of Manhattan's population heartbeat as it transitions through the week.
The City is Alive: The Population of Manhattan, Hour-by-Hourvia citrusvanilla

This year I learned about Archy and Mehitabel

July 27, 2006

Seeing Things From the Under Side
Meet a cockroach with strong opinions about the screwed-up world
The Annotated Archy and Mehitabel, By Don Marquis and Michael Sims, ed. (Penguin Classics, 346 pp., $15)
It’s a fearful time in America. War is raging overseas. Anti-immigrant sentiment is growing at home, fueled by ethnic hatred. In the name of protecting the country from internal enemies, the government is eroding civil liberties. 

A lingering fin de siecleanxiety has people seeking certainty in religion of all stripes, from Bible-thumping fundamentalism to a new spiritualism that promises channeled wisdom from extraterrestrials and chats with the dead.
It all sounds eerily familiar, but the year is not 2006. It’s 1916, when Don Marquis, a popular columnist for New York’s Evening Sun newspaper, spotted a manic cockroach scuttling around his typewriter and began to do a little channeling of his own. The unfortunate Archy, a “vers libre bard,” reincarnated in a bug’s body, offered up his first poem in Marquis’ column on March 29 of that year. Shortly thereafter, Mehitabel the cat, another transmigrating soul previously known as Cleopatra (yes, that Cleopatra) began making star appearances in the odd-looking verse. (Archy was unable to work the typewriter properly, resulting in the total absence of capital letters and punctuation.

Archy and Mehitabel were wildly popular during their 20 years in Marquis’ “Sun Dial” column, and in the decades since they have continued to float through American literary and pop culture like the wandering souls they were. The poems have remained in print since the 1920s, and the characters have been featured in a Broadway musical, an animated film and an opera. Now Penguin Classics has marked their 90th anniversary with The Annotated Archy and Mehitabel, which features the verses in chronological order, as they first appeared in The Evening Sun. (Marquis did a bit of rewriting and time shifting in the later published collections.) Editor Michael Sims (author of the critically acclaimed Adam’s Navel, and former Scene writer) provides that publishing rarity, an interesting and readable introduction, along with extensive notes that explain the poems’ historical context.

A versifying cockroach and a kitty with delusions of grandeur may sound unbearably precious, but a brief rifle through this collection will dispel any fear of saccharine overload. In fact, you might well find yourself in need of a sweet moment after an hour spent with Archy. By all accounts, Don Marquis was funny and bighearted, but he was also a sad and angry man who had seen a lot of the mean world by the time he started giving voice to vermin. He grew up in small-town Illinois, son of a struggling country doctor, and began his journalistic career in Atlanta, where he covered the brutal 1906 race riots. Archy was his mouthpiece for dark thoughts and acid observations, as the inaugural poem suggests: “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.”

Things from the under side, according to Archy, are violent and chaotic, but also grimly funny.

…you simply cannot
keep a good bug down
as a cockroad friend
of mine once
remarked to a fat man
who had
swallowed him along
with a portion 
of hungarian goulasch
although the remark
i understand
originated with jonah…

Death, which lurks around every corner for a cockroach, makes him philosophical—not necessarily an asset when dealing with other bugs, who have “no esthetic sense and no imagination.” In fact, Archy’s plight is tragic. He is a beaten-down Everyman and at the same time an existential philosopher with an intellect that can’t help shredding every comforting illusion. He’s fully awake to his own powerlessness, and he has a very modern sense of the inescapable absurdity of life. Suicide is one of his recurring themes.

Mehitabel, by contrast, is a throwback to belle epoque gaiety. She often reminds Archy (when she’s not threatening to eat him) that her own descent from Queen of the Nile to mangy alley cat is far more drastic than his transition from poet to cockroach. But despair is alien to her; she’ll make her hard life a party, or die trying:

i know that i am bound
for a journey down the sound
in the midst of a refuse mound
but wotthehell wotthehell
oh i should worry and fret
death and i will coquette
there’s a dance in the old dame yet
toujours gai toujours gai

Though Archy and Mehitabel are timeless archetypes in the tradition of Aesop’s fables or the Br’er Rabbit stories (Marquis, not incidentally, was once an editor at Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus’s Magazine), they are also very much of their time. And the striking parallels between Don Marquis’ era and our own give the poems a renewed resonance. Many of Archy’s reports, such as “Archy in Washington,” would not be the least bit out of place on The Daily Show:

…from official
circles here i learn
that things could not well be worse
with regard to the war situation and that
this is no time for
pessimism as we have
the enemy licked to a
frazzle everything
is gloom and america
is about to save the

Like all great political humor, these little poems have you laughing even as they force you to confront a big question: should we ponder the ills of the world, fight off our own despair, and speak truth to power à la Archy, futile though it may be? Perhaps it’s better to emulate Mehitabel—embrace the promise of pleasure as a duty, keep consuming and ignore the refuse mound by any means necessary.
xxv mehitabel dances with boreas

well boss i saw mehitabel
last evening
she was out in the alley
dancing on the cold cobbles
while the wild december wind
blew through her frozen whiskers
and as she danced
she wailed and sang to herself
uttering the fragments
that rattled in her cold brain
in part as follows

whirl mehitabel whirl
spin mehitabel spin
thank god you re a lady still
if you have got a frozen skin

blow wind out of the north
to hell with being a pet
my left front foot is brittle
but there s life in the old dame yet

dance mehitabel dance
caper and shake a leg
what little blood is left
will fizz like wine in a keg

wind come out of the north
and pierce to the guts within
but some day mehitabel s guts
will string a violin

moon you re as cold as a frozen
skin of yellow banan
that sticks in the frost and ice
on top of a garbage can

and you throw a shadow so chilly
that it can scarcely leap
dance shadow dance
you ve got no place to sleep

whistle a time north wind
on my hollow marrow bones
i ll dance the time with three good feet
here on the alley stones

freeze you bloody december
i never could stay a pet
but i am a lady in spite of hell
and there s life in the old dame yet

whirl mehitabel whirl
flirt your tail and spin
dance to the tune your guts will cry
when they string a violin

eight of my lives are gone
it s years since my fur was slicked
but blow north wind blow
i m damned if i am licked

girls we was all of us ladies
we was o wotthebell
and once a lady always game
by crikey blood will tell

i might be somebody s pet
asleep by the fire on a rug
but me i was always romantic
i had the adventurous bug

caper mehitabel caper
leap shadow leap
you gotto dance till the sun comes up
for you got no place to sleep

i might have been many a tom cat s wife
but i got no regret
i lived my life as i liked my life
and there s pep in the old dame yet

blow wind out of the north
you cut like a piece of tin
slice my guts into fiddle strings
and we ll have a violin

spin mehitabel spin
you had a romantic past
and you re gonna cash in dancing
when you are croaked at last

i will not eat tomorrow
and i did not eat today
but wotthehell i ask you
the word is toujours gai

whirl mehitabel whirl
i once was a maltese pet
till i went and got abducted
and cripes i m a lady yet

whirl mehitabel whirl
and show your shadow how
tonight it s dance with the bloody moon
tomorrow the garbage scow

whirl mehitabel whirl
spin shadow spin
the wind will pipe on your marrow bones
your slats are a mandolin

by cripes i have danced the shimmy
in rooms as warm as a dream
and gone to sleep on a cushion
with a bellyfull of cream

it s one day up and next day down
i led a romantic life
it was being abducted so many times
as spoiled me for a wife

dance mehitabel dance
till your old bones fly apart
i ain t got any regrets
for i gave my life to my art

whirl mehitabel whirl
caper my girl and grin
and pick at your guts with your frosty feet
they re the strings of a violin

girls we was all of us ladies
until we went and fell
and oncet a thoroughbred always game
i ask you wotthehell

it s last week up and this week down
and always the devil to pay
but cripes i was always the lady
and the word is toujours gai

be a tabby tame if you want
somebody s pussy and pet
the life i led was the life i liked
and there s pep in the old dame yet

whirl mehitabel whirl
leap shadow leap
you gotto dance till the sun comes up
for you got no place to sleep


-don marquis, "archy & mehitabel" (1916-1927)


Pictures Of People As Young Adults And 100 Year Olds (12 pics)

1 comment:

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