Stewart Conn, archy & mehitabel

April 9, 2010

Yesterday evening, Stewart Conn read from his new Bloodaxe collection The Breakfast Room here at the library, accompanied by John Sampson, the man of many musical talents. Stewart opened proceedings with a quote from Don Marquis: “Writing a book of poetry is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo”. I was unacquainted with Marquis, and any helpful references to archy and mehitabel passed me by too.

This morning, my desk was adorned by Lilias with archyology: the long lost tales of archy and mehitabel (not an uncommon occurrence, such poetical treats: only the other day it was Thomas Dekker’s ‘May’ – ‘O! and then I did unto my true Love say,/ Sweet Peg, thou shalt be my Summer’s Queen’.). The blurb explains: ‘One morning in 1916 newspaperman Don Marquis discovers a cockroach, jumping about on the keys of his office typewriter, tapping out a poem, letter by letter. The cockroach is archy, a free verse poet in a previous life. From archy’s poem he learns that the cat mehitabel was once Cleopatra. Thus begins a literary legend, the comic rantings of archy, whose poems use no capital letters, because the cockroach could not work the shift key on his boss’s typewriter. mehitabel is a racy, free-spirited alley cat . As she can’t type, archy, sophisticated wit, scandalmonger and whimsical philosopher, becomes her reporter…

Having written many popular books in the archy and mehitabel series, New York columnist Marquis’s archyology was only found when he died in 1937, having been packed into a trunk and left in a Brooklyn warehouse. Lilias says mehitabel is the queen of cats. Rebecca West called her ‘a divine creature’. So today, I feel doubly lucky: a chance last night to hear Stewart read from his new book with John’s music in the library packed with his many well-wishers, and two excellent new acquaintances in archy and mehitabel to join me for lunch…

3 Responses to “Stewart Conn, archy & mehitabel”


  1. O! Bless you for bringing Archy & Mehitabel, one of the great joys of my youth, to the attention of, perhaps, a new generation of readers. And thank you for bringing Stewart Conn to my attention. I’ll look for his work now.

    I wonder what Archy would think of computer keyboards? Not much, I think!

    Cheers to you at SPL!!


  2. […] kinds of ways, most recently just last night with a Nothing But the Poem session here with Ryan, Stewart Conn’s launch and the week before with Dark Matter: Poems about […]


  3. It was indeed a grand night; and what a treat that you dug up this fascinating info about said Don Marquis’ inventive mind.


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